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Dr. Megan Sweet is a single mom who has been in education for more than 25 years as a teacher, school administrator, and school district leader. She co-hosts The Mindful Schools Podcast and The Awakening Educator Podcast, and recently authored “An Educator’s Guide For Using Your 3 Eyes”.
According to Dr. Megan Sweet, the big dream in the field of education is to have schools that are more inclusive and empowering to students. Currently in the U.S. there’s a lot of systemic racism and low access to opportunities for students. This is a direct reflection of what’s happening in the rest of the world. In addition, white supremacy convinces teachers and school leaders that they must be constantly in work mode. But if educators and students share their stories with others, then there can be a movement of bringing awareness to these issues and inspiring change.
Teachers Deserve Much More
What Dr. Sweet sees in this country is that educators are not of high importance or not a priority to the authorities in society. She says this is evident from the lack of respect, the low pay, not giving them a voice at the table, and other factors. Teachers are the backbone of a well functioning community. So when they suffer, you will see the ripple effects. But when all teachers are heard, respected, and given enough resources to shine, the whole system of education will blossom. So how do we make this happen? Dr. Sweet believes in the idea of doing inner work as well as making changes on a school-level.
First, we have to be able to uproot our own ingrained beliefs, biases, and privileges and ensure that we are not passing those on to our students. Taking better care of our needs and wellbeing is the next step since we can’t pour from an empty cup. As humans, we are wired to pick up moods, body language, and other cues. If you are teaching from a state of being stressed out, everyone in class will feel that. The environment no longer feels safe and it’s much harder for their minds to focus on learning. Another thing that can trigger this effect is when a student feels excluded or “othered”. When it’s all laid out, it’s quite clear that focusing on what you can work on within yourself actually does affect those around you. Once we are successful in that phase, we can work with others to take on those larger scale issues. This is not to say that teachers aren’t doing enough already. There is so much great work that goes into our day to day roles. Following these tips aren’t meant to add more to our plates. In fact, it’s shown that these things can set us up for more rest and more time.
Get Back to Self Care
Dr. Sweet recommends filling this extra time with something that does not feel like work to you. Get back to doing activities you love without the guilt. When we do things that bring us joy, we don’t resent our work because it’s no longer “preventing” us from these activities. In addition, it’s simple to connect back to your breathing in the busiest times of the day. Tapping into that mindfulness is so helpful for self-regulation. When you’ve reached the end of the work day, remind yourself to step away. Leave the work at work and come back to it at another time. These are all centered around self care and why it’s so important. Self care is a habit many of us have fallen out of and it’s time we jump back in with eagerness.
“We need to actually be unapologetic about leaving work at work. There’s always going to be work to do. It never stops. So learning to step away and learning to unplug, disconnect, and have our own lives...it’s fundamental.”
Unlearning What We've Been Told
Dr. Sweet recalls how a few years ago, a school district was having their welcome event for the start of school. At the event, two principals shared their strategies on how they create highly effective school teams. One of the principals stated that they would intentionally not consider hiring any teachers who prioritized taking care of themselves and having boundaries in place. Indeed, this is an outrageous remark. But the reaction was just as surprising. All the other school leaders broke out in applause after hearing this. Unfortunately, this is further evidence that we are taught that our own wants, needs, feelings come last if we want to be a teacher. But this should not have to be the norm. It’s heartbreaking to see teachers and faculty overworking themselves to exhaustion just to prove their worth.
Therefore, it’s important that we talk about what school leaders can do for teachers and faculty so that they don’t get pushed into this unhealthy zone. It’s critical you as a principal or leader unlearn that belief that was ingrained so that you can stop the cycle. Then model that behavior for teachers and encourage them to take those breaks and streamline processes. Over time, you’ll find that teachers become even more efficient and productive once they are more satisfied and taken care of.
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Lindsay is a educator and leadership coach who helps teachers develop engaging project-based curricula, fosters student and teacher voice, and works to advance racial and gender equity and culturally responsive practice.