Helping Educators Prioritize Self-Care in Their Planning to Create More Calm and Impact this School Year.
by Katie Raher, PhD, PPS
Please raise your hand if you get super excited any time you have a new planner. Yeah, my hand is up too! I get it. I’ve spent much of my career holding on to hope that finding the “perfect” planner or using it in just the right way will make it a little easier to manage the ridiculous amount of tasks that come with educator territory.
Now, sometimes I wonder if something is just me. In this case, I’ve been watching the topics in my educator forums this summer, and I know I’m not alone here. Finding the “perfect planner” has been one of the most frequently discussed topics I’ve seen. Will it be Erin Condren? Plum Planner? Something customizable from Teachers Pay Teachers? One of the many other options? It seems like many of us are trying to find the “perfect” planner.
Don’t get me wrong. Finding the “right” planner can certainly make a big difference in keeping you organized and bringing a sense of predictability to your world.
And…what if there is another major part of your planner that could make a critical difference in how well this year goes for you and your students?
I’ve got great news for you. There is another major factor that can make this year better for you and your kiddos. This is where you come in…I mean, where YOU literally get written into your planner.
If you’re anything like I’ve been most of my life, you might have just laughed out loud when you read that last sentence. Where in the world does this lady think I’m going to fit ME in? Has she seen my schedule?!!
I understand. Given that it’s the end of August, you’ve probably already gotten (or very soon will be) busy filling in your planner with all the many work tasks – Back-to-School night, lesson plans, paperwork, meetings, professional development, testing, fire drills, assemblies, and much, much more. Not to mention all the events in your personal life, especially if you’re a parent too.
It’s easy to look at your jam-packed calendar, and think there’s no way you’re fitting yourself in, and since you’re being of service to others, it’s okay to take one for the team.
Here’s the deal though. When we neglect ourselves (as I did through most of my career), it becomes harder to handle all the events, plans, and emotional drain of the work.
No matter how amazing your planner is.
We are more likely to feel frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed, and we are less likely to be as calm and centered as our students and colleagues need. And there’s even far too big of a chance that you’ll get sick (it’s beyond disheartening to tell you how many educators I know that are dealing with some type of chronic illness or major disease, myself included).
On the flip side, adding you to your planner will bring you more energy, more wellness, more clarity, and more inner calm from which you can pull when needed – which is most of the time as an educator.
When we feel better and have more capacity to pull from, we are so much better at responding to our students with compassion, connection, and creative solutions, and in turn developing the type of positive relationships they need to thrive in our classroom. It’s a win-win when we prioritize our own needs.
Hopefully you’re seeing my point, but you might still be wondering why in the world you need to “add you to your planner.” Why can’t you just spontaneously decide to do something for self-care every once in a while? Isn’t that enough?
I wish it was so simple. (If you’re already rocking self-care, then do you, and keep on chugging along.) Because many of us have some deep, dark patterns of putting ourselves near the bottom of the to-do list (if we even make it on the list at all), we often need more tangible action to start changing the way we support ourselves.
Let me explain. I’ve been working on prioritizing my own well-being for the past four years (essentially, after chronic illness forced me into it), and I’ve seen some fascinating patterns in myself and most every other woman I’ve met on my recent journey (I’m not saying men don’t struggle with this as well…I am saying many women certainly do seem to share my struggles).
Although plenty of us finally get around to having good self-care intentions (which is an important start), far too many of us don’t actually keep up the practice of honoring our own needs, and the intentions get forgotten or put by the wayside. Things get tough, or busy, or someone else asks for help, and we quickly, subconsciously move ourselves back to the bottom of the list. We self-sabotage. You’re behind in your paperwork, your administrator needs you to stay late for an extra meeting, or your own kid has an extra practice you need to bring them to. Whatever it is, we are so quick to say yes to those other things and people, and drop ourselves from the priority list.
Interestingly enough, though, I’ve found that when we literally write ourselves down in our planner, when we first and foremost say yes to ourselves, it can transform our ability to truly honor our needs. Once it’s in writing, it becomes a commitment. We’ve officially added ourselves to the to-do list. It can feel so good (and scary when this hasn’t been your norm).
I dream that someday, I’ll get really good at just spontaneously doing self-care without the need for a plan. Until that gets manifested, I’ve found that I have to prevent myself from self-sabotaging, and there’s something about writing myself down in my planner that consistently turns my self-care into a reality. If you had a specific lesson plan, staff meeting, IEP meeting, and so on that you had down in writing, you would do your absolute best to make it happen (I know I would), and if you're anything like me (and the majority of women I've met on my self-care journey), having yourself written in your planner somehow makes you work that much harder to make your self-care happen.
Plus, by writing ourselves down, it can even make it that much easier to set boundaries with confidence. “Hmmm, an extra practice…let me look at what’s on the planner. I have [yoga] then, so we’ll have to figure out if a friend’s family can bring you. If we can’t find someone, hopefully it’ll work out next time, since I’m for sure going to [yoga].”
You don’t even have to fill in the blank. You can just name the generic meeting you’ve got – yep, the one you have with yourself where all you’re planning is to do nothing for five minutes. “I’ve got something then, so can’t make that work. Maybe next time.”
Now I know you might have something inside you cringing, feeling like it seems selfish to put yourself in front of someone’s needs. I’m continually reworking this pattern of thinking myself.
But here’s the thing. You give of yourself all day, every day. You’re an educator, meaning you’re in the most giving group on the planet. And if you’re a parent, or do any elder care, then you go home and give, give, and give some more. You’ve done your share of the giving and caretaking. Taking time for you is much deserved and not selfish.
In fact, it’s the least selfish thing you can do. By taking care of yourself, you are equipping yourself to give more fully, empowering yourself to meet your students’ needs in more significant ways, and taking steps to make every day a little better and this year full of more impact.
So now it’s time to take action. There are 3 steps as I see it.
Step 1: Examine your planner. Look at the puzzle that is already your school-year schedule, and figure out when you can carve out time for you. Look for where you can have a minute or two to take care of yourself every single day (yes, some of what you can do can be quick…more on that in a second), and maybe once a week when you could have a bigger chunk of time to yourself. Start where you’re at. If these suggestions are making your breath get shallow, start small and build up. If you’re farther along in your self-care journey, then dream big.
Now, yes, you might need to get creative, especially if you also have kids of your own at home. You might have to enlist help from colleagues, family, and friends (I know asking for help can be tough for some of us too, and I’ll save this for a future article as well!). You might have to rearrange somewhere. You might have to wake up two minutes early (also hard for some of us!). Anyhow, you’re an educator, which means you’re super smart, creative, and resilient, so I know you can figure this out.
Step 2: Once you’ve got a plan for when it might work to fit yourself in, write YOU down! I guess from your point of view, you’ll write down “me” or “me time.”
In your lesson plan section, you might even just add a row somewhere. Do you start your day with morning meeting? Maybe draw a line across and squeeze a “me time” row right before the morning meeting row. Maybe it’s only a two-minute block. That’s fine. It’s a first step, and there are even small things that can help – yes, even in two minutes. More on that below.
Write your bigger “me time” item in too. Maybe you block off 90 minutes every Tuesday night (that's one of my "me time" spots in my planner this fall). Maybe it's one hour of quiet time after the school day ends on Monday. Maybe it's 30 minutes a few times a week. Wherever you found (or made) room from Step 1, write your “me time” down.
Step 3: Pick your power. Try to figure out what type of self-care you want to add to your “me time” and write the specifics down!
So you’ve added yourself to your planner. Awesome! Now you’re thinking what in the heck can I do that’s quick, easy, and maybe even free (we all know teachers aren’t floating in lots of cash or time) in those moments I blocked off??
Just to give you a sampling, here are 4 free and easy options that fit the bill: deep breathe, do nothing (yes, literally nothing but zone out), take a walk, or do child’s pose (you might want to have a yoga mat handy to pop down for this one, or simply a quick sheet to throw down on your classroom rug).
Let’s take breathing for an example. Maybe all you put on your planner is to deep breathe for two minutes every single morning (again, if this feels too small for you, dream big, but for some of us, even two minutes intentionally dedicated to ourselves is progress). So instead of rushing to finish up your last-minute prep for the day and then running to open the door to greet students when school starts, get to school a few minutes early, and make sure you get to a very important meeting written in your planner - the one with yourself! If your planner says that you have deep breathing at 7:55, do it. Take those few minutes to yourself.
Yes, it’s small. And it’s still powerful. Even something like intentional, slow breathing to start the day, before you open that door to students, can create a huge shift for how you, and your students, experience your day.
Now I know you might want to learn more about breathing and other simple, powerful tools, tricks, and tips to add to your planner, and that’s exactly some of what will come your way in our free Constant Love and Learning newsletter, so be sure to subscribe down below if you want ongoing support!
While I can’t wait to help you fill up your self-love toolbox, take the first most important steps to making this your best year yet by prioritizing yourself – by committing to yourself in writing, in your planner. No matter what planner you’ve chosen this year, finally having YOU written in the planner will help make it one of the best years you’ve ever had.
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