When faced with so many in need during this time of crisis, it may feel indulgent or even privileged to be talking about self-care. It is actually more important than ever.
Many of us are familiar with the “oxygen mask rule” from air travel. The rule instructs us in an emergency to put on our own oxygen mask first before helping those around us. Roland Barth, founder of the Harvard Principals’ Center, frequently employed this metaphor to make the point that adults in schools need to be learning and growing in order to help students learn and grow. Psychologist Rob Evans invoked the rule to remind educators that we must take care of ourselves in order to care for others.
Now more than ever, the oxygen mask rule is needed in education. Teaching and leading during this challenging and unprecedented period of a coronavirus pandemic and national protests to end systemic racism only underscores that educators must be able to handle stress and model caring and culturally responsive practices in order to create school and classroom communities where everyone feels safe, cared for and valued.
During this spring of school closure and remote learning, teachers and principals reported increased stress as they struggled to cope with the unknown and plan for new ways of teaching and learning. And, as is a danger when working from home, the lines between work and home blurred and it became even more challenging to unplug from work and turn the inner voice off.
When faced with so many in need during this time of crisis, it may feel indulgent or even privileged to be talking about self-care. It is actually more important than ever. Parker J. Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach, reminds us that: “Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship for the only gift I have, the gift I was put on this earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self, and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves, but for the many lives we touch.”
One helpful way to think about self-care can be found in the work of the Mind and Life Institute, which defines 3 modes of care: receiving care, developing self-care and extending care. In this framework, self-care is defined as the ability to bring attention to our feelings and thoughts in a deeply accepting way. This is essential not only for our own well-being, but also for our ability to care for others. If we have difficulty facing our own inner life, including challenging thoughts and emotions, we may also struggle to accept and embrace others.