More than Ever, Meeting Students’ Needs Starts with Meeting our Own

Writing for the Fordham Institute, Matthew Taylor explores the importance of self-care for educators and the impact our modeling has on students. Excerpts of the piece appear below:

Over the last several weeks, educators accomplished the mammoth task of setting up remote learning for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic. As time passes, school on Zoom will become the new normal. It is important in this in-between moment to bring our attention to something we probably have not thought enough about lately. We are rightly concerned now with viral contagion, but we should also be concerned about how contagious, as teachers, our unhealthy habits of self-care can be for our students.

Mission-driven educators do not tend to prioritize physical or social-emotional health. We choose this work because we see an emergency-structural inequality, the opportunity gap, insufficient schools for all children-and we sign up expecting to make significant personal sacrifices. For many of us, this sacrifice is a badge of honor, and taking time for self-care seems selfish. Some of us are so stuck in the hamster wheel of the work that we can’t figure out how to prioritize our needs.

Emotions are contagious. We have what scientists call mirror neurons that react to the emotions of those around us. These neurons make us feel and even behave in parallel with others in our space. And the emotions of the person with the most power in the room are significantly more contagious than those of others. 

We must conclude that we need to interrupt our unhealthy patterns and model effective self-care if we’re going to serve our students well—especially right now. If we do not, our stress will magnify their stress and our disregard for self-care will impact their ability to care for themselves.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) theory provides a road map for how we can shift mindsets and behaviors about self-care. Here are four steps to build new awareness and strategies for yourself and your students.

  1. Access your power source. 
  2. Identify how you hold yourself back from practicing self-care and determine how you will manage your internal obstacles. 
  3. Consider where your students are and where you want them to be. 
  4. Engage emotionally.  

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