Radical Educator Self-Care for Radical Change + 5 Simple Strategies

by Katie Raher, PhD

As much as the end of this very different school year filled me with sadness, I was looking forward to some of my workload lifting – both in terms of work and in terms of homeschooling my own kids. And then, fortunately, a revolution began to fight the 400 years of oppression that Black people have experienced.  

I've been diving deep into action. I've been reading, listening, learning, talking with relatives, calling and writing officials, and much more… and I know any emotional work I’ve been doing still pales in comparison to the challenges that the Black community has been enduring.

And, because I was spending all my days taking action and not resting - an old and deeply ingrained pattern that is easy for me to fall back into, my body started to give me messages that something needed to shift. I started to get headaches again, I woke with several nightmares, and I just started to feel exhausted. From most everyone I’ve spoken to in the past week or two, despite the variation in their stories of social justice work, feeling drained has been a consistent theme.

Now, so much of society has told us that pausing to rest and to take care of ourselves is selfish. This is true for any of us educators who are women, and especially true for educators who are Black or other people of color. The system was strategically built to reinforce societal norms that create forms of oppression, that are built on a certain portion of the population doing all the caregiving for others - and not for themselves. Any deeply ingrained patterns of putting ourselves last are there by design. 

As part of this, educators - whose roles fall within the caregiving realm and who have been consistently given these messages - often focus most, if not all, of their energy on taking care of others, and far too little of it on self-care.

Audre Lorde, a Black poet who is a social justice advocate writing about the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality, has some wisdom that has resonated with me. She said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

That’s right. Radical self-care liberates us.

Say it with me...

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation.

This is what allows us to have the energy to sustain our anti-racism efforts and our dedication to vastly improving schools and the lives of children and families we serve – even when the work itself can drain us.

Radical self-care is foundational for making radical changes in schools and in children’s lives...and in this country and world at large.

AND you are deserving of self-care just because you are you

While oppressive systems have sent the message that giving every ounce of ourselves is what "good" educators do, self-care is a message - a political message - that says... NO MORE. That says I deserve to rest. That says I am still a good educator, a good human, even if I stop to take care of myself. In fact, I'm a better educator, because I stop to take care of myself.  

So, I urge you (and me) to take ample time for self-care in between your active efforts to make radical changes in the world, and in schools. You deserve to rest and recharge. To my Black colleagues, you especially deserve it after the system has been telling you otherwise for far too long. 

Now, if you found your way to Constant Love and Learning, then there’s a good chance you realize that self-care is important to our ability to spread care, though it’s likely that everyone in this community – me included – is at a different point in the journey.

Wherever you are in your journey, take a step, however tiny or big, to prioritize yourself, so you can continue to show up for the valuable child-centered work that happens in schools and in our lives beyond the school walls and school year.

Here are a few super simple self-care ideas that might help…

  1. Set some recurring daily alarms on your phone and take regular deep breathing breaks.
  2. Go outside and just sit in nature. Can’t easily get outside? Then google some nature scenes or watch a YouTube video of a beach or some other nature scene that fills you up.
  3. Lay on a couch and do absolutely nothing but enjoy the rest and relaxation. I’m hoping that with summer, you get a whole lot more of this.
  4. Head over to Insight Timer, my favorite free meditation app, and practice some mindfulness.
  5. Practice legs up a wall to release some pressure you’ve been holding in your hips from sitting at a computer too much, close your eyes, and just breathe. This one is really great if you have your own little kids who want join in, because you’ll still experience some benefits even if there is a lot of background noise and your kids end up crawling all over you.

There are a ton more options, and I encourage you to think about what best fills you up. You can totally pick what you already do and just nurture that practice some more. Or do all 5 things above and whatever else you love. Take care of you in whatever way feels radical to you.

Now I know that with summer vacation, it might feel easier to integrate these self-care practices into your day-to-day. And it’s vital that you sustain this type of practice when school is back in session. To help remind you, perhaps you might print out this article, cut out the quote above, and post it in your planner for the week you go back to school, to inspire your ongoing liberation, your ongoing self-preservation.

Or, perhaps you just want some more ideas for self-care practices. You can always grab my free Educator Self-Care Menu here. You might also want a bit more help on your self-care journey. If that’s the case, be sure to consider joining the waitlist for the new educator well-being program I’m about to launch (if you haven’t already). Being on the waitlist just means you’ll be the first to know about the program and get a chance at founding member pricing. I’ll still let everyone in here know about it eventually.

I’m realizing more than ever that I want every educator I know to be able to reclaim self-care, to give themselves full permission to radically care for themselves as a liberating, political act, so that we can collectively disrupt the inequities facing our schools and more effectively create positive change in children's lives. 

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