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Educator Development, Teaching Resources

Self-Care: Wellness and Summer Break

Summer break is meant to be a time for students and teachers to relax and refocus toward the future. However, it doesn’t always end up having the de-stressing effect that educators would like. With professional development obligations, second jobs, family life, and a myriad of additional responsibilities, it seems like summer is over in the blink of an eye before teachers can even get a chance to relax.

While it can be easy to let busyness and schedules prevent educators from decompressing, it is important to allow for some time to recuperate from a long, stressful year before getting back into the classroom. When teachers don’t take the time to relieve their stress, they can end up struggling to be effective in the classroom.

Making the physical, mental, and emotional wellness of educators a priority is absolutely vital to our education system. Good health and well-being, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 3, has real value to today’s students and their teachers, many of whom will eventually get to see the impact it makes on global society.

Much like airplane safety instructions, educators need to put their oxygen masks on first before they can assist others. Teachers need to focus on caring for their wellness before they can adequately support and care for their students.

Let’s take a deeper look at why it is important to prioritize rest in the summer and how self-care can help promote holistic learning in the classroom.

Self-care helps teachers be present in the classroom

It may seem counterintuitive to take time away from school to improve classroom performance, but it is absolutely essential to ensure the best environment for both students and teachers.

According to a study conducted by the Mid-Atlantic Laboratory for Student Success, several of the top predictors of student success are unrelated to school curriculum or general intelligence. Instead, factors like student-teacher social interaction, classroom climate, and school culture all play a huge role in student learning.

The way teachers engage students is important. However, it is often difficult to ensure that those interactions play a meaningful role in a student’s education. Thankfully, teachers and educators have always found a way to carefully and creatively navigate these nuanced relationships.

In order for teachers to successfully manage these connections, they need to be mentally and emotionally present in their classrooms. This means that teachers need the opportunity to relax from their work in the summer so that they can reenergize and reengage when the next school year starts.

When the pressures of everyday life compound with the sometimes overwhelming struggle of teaching, educators aren’t able to focus on their students and their lessons. By practicing self-care and taking breaks to actually relax, teachers are better able to stay present when they are in the classroom.

Self-care prevents teacher burnout

Teaching is a rewarding but often very stressful job. A survey by the American Federation of Teachers found that 92 percent of teachers reported their jobs as being stressful at least sometimes, with 61 percent of teachers claiming their jobs are often or always stressful. Those are huge percentages.

It is no wonder that the US Department of Education found that nearly 20 percent of teachers leave the profession after five years. While there are a variety of factors that contribute to teacher attrition, educators are struggling to cope with the stress of their jobs, and without an avenue to alleviate this pressure, they may end up choosing to leave education altogether.

This high level of turnover is a serious issue, as talent, knowledge, and experience are lost when teachers choose to call it quits. While high stress and high burnout rates are a major problem, there are ways that educators can use self-care to combat these issues.

The University of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center explains that self-care techniques such as self-compassion, self-kindness, and mindfulness help teachers to prevent feelings of burnout and the desire to leave their jobs. This provides hope that with a small amount of investment into self-care practices, we can provide teachers with the resources and power to continue making an impact on students’ lives.

To begin implementing self-care techniques, start by taking some practical first steps:

  • Take some alone time
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
  • Learn to say no
  • Eat well
  • Get some light exercise

All of these ideas are great first steps on the journey to improve self-care.

Self-care leads to a better quality of life

While it is important to talk about the ways that self-care helps teachers to be present and prevent burnout, it is also important to recognize that educators are human too, so it is important to care for their needs beyond simply improving their job performance.

Researchers at City, University of London studied the value of midterm and holiday breaks on the well-being of teachers, and in their study, they found that these breaks play a vital role in teachers’ psychological health. Dr. Paul Flaxman, a senior lecturer of organizational psychology at the university, explains that emphasizing the value of breaks is an essential aspect of caring for the mental and emotional health of teachers.

Additionally, researchers led by Gunnar Aronsson from the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University found that educators who failed to unwind and recuperate “showed more symptoms of ill health [and] illness-related absences that were due to sickness.”

In order to adequately care for the physical and psychological health of educators, it is essential that they receive and accept the opportunity to take breaks to relax and de-stress from their work. Caring for teachers in this way will be fundamental to the strength of our communities and our future.

Participate Learning advocates for the health and well-being of teachers in part because we know that cared-for and supported teachers play a vital role in educating the next generation about those values on a global scale. To see this in action, check out this blog post which highlights how the personal teaching experience of one of our employees supports the well-being of our cultural exchange teachers during their time in the US.