My previous blog post about burnout focused on how we need to do work on systemic change as well as work on ourselves as individuals. I wanted to expand a little more on this concept and talk about how bouncing back isn’t enough – but it’s a good place to start. And it starts with getting vulnerable with the one thing you will always take with you: the thoughts you create in your brain,
CIRCUMSTANCES + THOUGHTS = FEELINGS
Burnout doesn’t just come from the negative aspects of teaching, the circumstances – workload, being seen as a professional by parents and other people in the community, the tiny chairs (my chiropractor is not a fan!!). The emotional turmoil of one minute having pure joy when a child CLICKS! and makes an amazing discovery or demonstrates understanding about a skill that they didn’t before…to being completely heart broken when you hear a disclosure from a child about something horrible that has happened to them and you have to make that call to hopefully help protect them. It can definitely be a roller coaster – even without a global pandemic thrown on top!!! I salute you educators!!!
All of these things can be catergorised as our thoughts. The things we think in our mind that create feelings of burnout – “I have too much on my plate”, “Nobody respects me as an early childhood educator”, “These chairs are too damn small!” The things we think about ourselves and our environments (whether that be work or home or elsewhere) can create feelings of stress, overwhelm, anxiety and depression. All these roads can set you up for a trip to Burnout Town. When you add in more circumstances, structural oppressive systems like low wages, discrimination against marginalised groups such as BIPOC and LGBTQ+, inadequate access to health care and laws that work in favour of white supremacy and the patriarchy…you could start to think that there is no hope for change. That is when your thoughts really come into play because “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right,” – Henry Ford.
OPPRESSION & STAYING SMALL
Systems of oppression keep our voices small. They keep us static. They don’t allow us to be vulnerable. We put others needs above our own and we start to not look after ourselves. We become weaker when we spend all of our time giving, people-pleasing and sticking within the lines that have been drawn. But change happens when individuals are able to use their thoughts to work for them. They think things that create feelings of inspiration, power and positivity. They sometimes take actions that speak these thoughts out loud so others hear them. When others hear these words, they have similar thoughts of agreement and then maybe they take action too. When more and more people speak up, change is more likely to happen. It may take time, but the one thing that stops change from happening is when people give up. Liberation comes when you liberate yourself first.
When we feel out of control, helpless or like nothing we are doing is ever good enough, we don’t recognise the tiny acts of self-care that create change. A 5 minute walk. A glass of water. Putting your phone on do not disturb for 10 minutes. The belief that you as an educator aren’t good enough, or not doing enough, or not being appreciated enough can creep up on even the happiest and most positive teachers (Hello! *waves enthusiastically from deep experience*) Your self-belief and understanding that you can grow and change when facing obstacles, rather than feel like you’re the worst teacher that ever existed is a key part to teacher resiliency. The irony for me is that we teach children this all the time. I have been talking to children about resiliency, bouncing back and self-belief for YEARS but I never realised how much you need to understand it as an adult, BELIEVE it and work on it continuously. This is where bouncing forward is key. You can’t bounce forward if you can’t even get back to the baseline. But the baseline shouldn’t be the end goal. Resiliency isn’t a final destination. You aren’t either resilient or not. It’s a journey and part of getting better at being resilient involves stepping into that forward space and truly enjoying and excelling at this thing we call life.
HOW TO TAKE ACTION
Everything we do or do not do is driven by a thought and a feeling. A desire to want to do something or a desire to avoid something. That’s it. It really is that simple, Our brains often want to keep us from doing something because they think it’s not safe – from an evolutionary standpoint our brains want to conserve energy and not take risks because if you choose to step out of the cave to scavenge for food you might get eaten by a tiger. So it’s best to stay in and stay warm and stay safe. Our brains haven’t fully evolved for us to realise that the tigers don’t exist – they just wear different outfits now, like when someone knocks at your door unexpectedly in the middle of the night or you get a phone call and you don’t want to answer it because you know that something that person says might upset you. We don’t take action because we are scared of what thoughts and feelings might come up for us. So we stay quiet and stay small and stay safe. But those feelings and thoughts can’t hurt us. Yes, they might be uncomfortable and it might feel like you will die from this anxiety, but most of the time the feelings will pass.
The problem I see with educator burnout in particular is when you are in a system where self-care and mental health and wellbeing is not valued, it creates an extra hoop for you to jump through. It requires more actions. It’s harder to find thoughts that create feelings of calm when you are being yelled at by a parent who thinks it’s okay to do that in front of the children (or let’s face it, at all!). It’s harder to find thoughts that create feelings of happiness for your job when you have teachers coming to your office every day complaining about their co-workers instead of talking to them directly. It’s harder to find thoughts that create feelings of self-worth when you get zero feedback about the job you are doing day-in and day-out.
THINK NEW THOUGHTS
That’s why bouncing back isn’t enough. Yes, we need to work on things to get our educators out of depression, stress and overwhelm. But we also need to give them tools, strategies and REAL management techniques that help propel them forward. You’ve heard the phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” before, right? When I think that thought, I feel a sense of shame or self-judgement. Like, “Oh I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time?!” I would much rather think, “I can decide how to fill my cup and I want it to be overflowing with _______.” That thought makes me feel excited! It makes me want to take action and create love and happiness and confidence! We want to fill those cups so much so that when something unexpected happens, it’s more like a spillage than a drought. Your cup is empty because you, and the systems you exist in, have poured more out than you have poured in. The one thing we need to fill our cup with more than anything else – is new thoughts! Creating healthy workplaces that value what they are taking out of your cup and what they are pouring in will make a difference. Giving educators tools to examine their thoughts and feelings, understanding how to creating and believe new ones on purpose gets them to take action which will create results they want. The ability to process their emotions in healthy ways that undo years and years of ineffective usage will not only benefit them, but it will benefit the children in the classroom who can also learn these tools. But none of these circumstantial things work if you don’t think they will!
All of these things can be done when self-care AND community care go hand in hand. You have to have buy-in from the admin and the staff for this to work well. You can do the individual work, and of course this will spiral out into other aspects of your life (win-win!) but to change the systems in your workplace you need to have collaboration. If you don’t have the support of your workplace, don’t think that you should just give up, Do it anyway. Take the action for YOU because you deserve it. Whether that means staying at your job or leaving is a separate issue. Your job is just a job. Your brain’s thoughts will go with you wherever you go. You can be replaced by another warm body. But YOU as a human being are irreplaceable.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What things get your cup overflowing? I’d love to know what you do to create a full cup! How do you show vulnerability with your colleagues? How are you vulnerable with yourself? Leave a comment below or get in touch via email.
Want to take a deeper dive into collaborative self-care in the classroom and beyond? Hire me to do a workshop for your next staff meeting or training day or work with me 1:1. I can help you figure out a plan to create wellbeing for all staff, strategies for when someone is having a hard time and tools to bounce you and the children forward.