I had an incredible conversation with Assistant Superintendent Evan Whitehead on his work focusing on “Balance, Boundaries, and Breaks.” There were so many takeaways in our chat, but I want to focus on a couple specifically.
1. Evan discussed the importance of building in social-emotional time for educators into daily schedules as “compassion fatigue” can be overwhelming. According to this article by Katy Kamkar on the “20 Warning Signs of Compassion Fatigue,” here are some examples of emotional symptoms:
•Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless or powerless when hearing of others’ suffering
•Feelings of anger, irritability, sadness and anxiety
•Feeling detached from your surroundings or from our physical or emotional experience
•Feeling emotionally, psychologically or physically exhausted, burnt out or numbness
•Feeling hypersensitive or insensitive to stories we hear or to emotional material we might hear or see
•Limited tolerance for stress.
These symptoms do not only affect our performance at work but can permeate in all aspects of our lives. So what can we do to help those we serve?
I remember a strategy, or more like a way of thinking, that seemed simple at the time but made a huge difference. When I first started working at a new school, I noticed a couple of veteran teachers on staff walking out of the school during their prep time, and I asked them where they were going. They told me that they needed Starbucks, and at the time, I was worried they would get in trouble with our principal, not knowing the culture of the school at the time. They shared that the principal would have no problem with it as she encouraged people to use their prep time to do what they needed to get better. One of those strategies for people was getting away from school for a few minutes and just having a moment for themselves.
Here is the thing…Their planning always got done. But do you know how hard it is to get things done when you feel overwhelmed? Sitting in a room and “planning” can feel impossible when you can’t think straight. When I became an administrator, I explicitly shared that if people needed time to get away during their prep time, to do so. No one ever abused it or didn’t show back up. In fact, I feel people did better because they felt valued as professionals to do what they needed to do in a way that made sense for them.
It seemed simple, but I remember how much it helped. I am glad to see more and more administrators are recognizing the importance of taking that time, as we all know how emotionally overwhelming teaching can be.
2. Evan also shared the following message with me, and I think it is powerful.
The importance of advocating for yourself, and sometimes that means advocating to yourself, about your own well-being.
We often give our best advice to others, but don’t take it ourselves.
Of the three concepts Evan shared regarding “Balance, Boundaries, and Breaks,” I was especially interested in the idea of “boundaries.” What Evan had shared was that we have to be thoughtful of how often we say “yes” to others, while perhaps saying “no” to ourselves. I had written about this before and shared the following:
Is it possible to say “no” to everyone? Absolutely not, nor should you. Too often though, educators end up saying yes to so many others, and we also sometimes pile more onto the educators that tend to say “yes” more often. It is almost a punishment for being reliable. But we have to be able to filter to take care of ourselves.
I also shared this article, “The 6 Questions I Ask Before I Say ‘Yes’ to Anything” by Jess Elkstrom, which provides tips on how to filter out what to say yes to, as there is only so much energy any one person can expend:
I became more selective about where I put my time and energy. Just as I might work with an accountant on allocating my funds for different projects I want to pursue, I wanted to direct my energy where it was needed. I wanted my glass each day to go toward things that meant something to me, not just because I felt like I had to say yes.
Evan’s perspective on “Balance, Boundaries, and Breaks” reminded me that we can focus on the success of our students and colleagues, and it doesn’t have to come at the cost of our well-being.
I encourage you to check out the entire podcast. You can watch on YouTube, or listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Soundcloud. Please make sure also follow Evan on Twitter as he has a lot of great things to share!