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How to prioritise self-care

As a teacher experiencing my second year of working in a school, believe me when I tell you I have learned the importance of self-care. I've had to, to help me perform my best during a busy, and sometimes emotionally demanding, work environment. When embarking on any new journey the learning curve is often steep, and at this stage in my career self-care is of the utmost importance to me.

When people outside the profession talk to me about their outlook on teaching, they always mention the intense workload and the level of patience you need to teach students. They're not wrong! I learned very quickly that your rest is of equal value as your work. Self-care is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Contrary to popular belief, your works is not the sum of your worth but rather, just one expression of yourself. To really perform well in one area of your life, you must take care of many areas of your life. So I take a holistic approach when considering how best to take care of myself at work.

My job revolves around other people's wellbeing and progress, but I realised that the best way I could look after others is by first looking after myself. Below are some practices I make sure I stick to in order to perform my best at work.

1. Protect your sleeping schedule

Sometimes the workday never feels done. No matter what was accomplished during the day, there is always more to do. For teachers, there's always more attention you can pay to particular students, more strategies to support learning, more lesson planning for future lessons. But for everyone, sleep is vital to functioning well; it's when our body has a chance to repair itself. I make sure I have a cut off point from work and a set sleeping time, so I wake up feeling refreshed.

2. Ask for help

No man is an island and this rings particularly true in the teaching profession. There are may stresses put upon us to always perform our best, and best practice comes from learning and observing that practice from others. Finding a mentor in or outside your organisation who can assist you with your progression, and observing and learning from others who are experienced in an area you would like to improve on will help you feel on top of things. Above all, don't hesitate to let your bosses know when you are struggling. Being transparent with your struggles allows others to support you.

3. Have a self-care day

I am very precious about my self-care days otherwise I would work 7 days a week. This was true before the pandemic but has a greater level of importance now. We are now constantly behind our screens and have had to deal with so much change: a global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, social isolation and economic difficulty. It's so important that we are being more vigilant in checking in on our mental, emotional and physical health, and taking time to unwind. Some of my favourite ways to unwind are:

  • Lighting incense and candles

  • Doing yoga accompanied with music

  • Meditation and breathing exercises

  • Doing my haircare and skincare routine

  • Cleaning (particularly my bedroom – there is something very therapeutic about the process)

Most importantly, avoid anything work related. The day is for you to check on yourself and your loved ones, it is a day when you are on no one else’s time but your own so enjoy it!

4. Plan a week in advance

The workload of a teacher means that at certain points the workload may dramatically increase and I may have to mark upwards of 250 books within a week. I always try to plan a week in advance where possible; working on next weeks' work helps keep me on track for the week ahead.

5. Be patient with yourself

It's important that through it all you are your biggest supporter, instead of your biggest critic. Sometimes the to-do list won’t get done, at times you may not have executed a task as well as you could have done, but have patience, cut yourself some slack and adopt a growth mindset to help you stay grounded and feel valued. Self-compassion is important.

Deborah Owusu-Ansah