Relax your shoulders. Unclench your jaw. Soften your forehead. Breathe.
Don’t worry, I mention teacher empowerment, but this isn’t another teacher “self-care” article. At least not one that’s going to tell you to take a bubble bath or do other surface-level things that don’t actually solve the root cause of the things we’ve been experiencing over the past few years.
So many of us have been in our schools doing what feels like the impossible day-in and day-out. We are tired of being micromanaged, of being held accountable to unreasonable standards for student learning outcomes, of feeling like our limbs are being pulled in more directions than we knew existed, and of never quite being able to find even just one moment of centeredness.
Believe me, I know. I am not tired. I am weary. And telling me to rest, and that self-care is important, just isn’t it. I want systemic change that will actually support my social and emotional well-being as an educator, but that takes time. So, until then, we need to figure out how to empower ourselves.
Four Self-Empowerment Strategies for Teachers Who Need Change Now
Here are a few empowerment strategies for teachers that you can use to reclaim your purpose and power as an educator.
You probably see affirmations all over social media, Pinterest, teacher blogs, etc. That’s because they work!
It can be so easy to spiral into an emotionally debilitating headspace when there are so many external factors that are draining our capacity to believe in ourselves. Sustaining a positive perception of ourselves as educators can be so difficult. Each morning, try to focus on one or two affirmations and see how that changes your day. Write them in a place you will see them every day.
I have mine written on my full-length mirror. Sometimes I email them to myself so I see them when I get to work. Then I write them on a Post-it and stick them to my desk. You can also set your affirmations as the lock screen on your phone, or post them by your front door. Anywhere you’ll see them is perfect!
Lately, my school-specific affirmations have been:
I am doing enough.
I am worthy of respect and recognition.
I am competent.
Your affirmations should be personal to you. We all need something different! Here’s a great resource for how to build your personal affirmations, and you can use affirmations with your students too. For example, The Compassion Project can help elementary students develop affirmations centered around compassion and empathy, such as:
“I am kind to my classmates.”
“I am understanding when others are going through tough times.”
2. Daily out-of-school non-negotiables
It really is so important for teachers to have non-negotiables to reconnect with who they are outside of school. This is especially important if you find that you’re not feeling cared for, supported, or valued in school.
Try coming up with one thing you do daily that helps you feel empowered, and make it a non-negotiable. My non-negotiable is my daily morning yoga. Even if I can only get 10 minutes in, I make sure I do it. I’m committed to my Peloton yoga, but YouTube is also full of great yoga teachers offering free content!
Your daily, out-of-school non-negotiable can be anything that makes you feel like YOU. Try to commit to doing that thing every day for one week. At the end of that week, reflect and see if it changed your self-confidence or helped to keep you in a more empowered emotional state. If it ends up working for you, try to do it every day!
3. Daily in-school non-negotiables
The autonomy, professionalism, and intellect of so many teachers is being (has always been) consistently undermined from all directions. It’s so easy to lose your sense of self and your purpose as an educator. I’ve experienced this firsthand and, based on blog posts and other media written by teachers across the country, I know I’m not alone.
Something we can all do to reconnect to and protect our sense of unique identity and purpose as a teacher is to implement one thing in our instruction that has to do with what we want to accomplish through our influence in our classrooms.
I am currently an academic support teacher but when I was a classroom teacher, I always found ways to implement alternative assessments so that students might actually be excited about what they were learning. Sure, I did the required essays and math tests, but it was important to me that I supported student agency in every part of my instruction and classroom climate.
One place that I know I can turn to connect with like-minded educators to connect on these ideas and energize my teaching is EVERFI’s Educator Resources For Real World Learning Facebook Group. I highly recommend joining not only to listen but to participate as you’ll meet folks from all over the country!
Whatever that is for you, go do it. It can be anything. Even the smallest action to connect back to your purpose will make a difference.
4. Remember your why
Hear me out. I have my “why” printed out and taped to my laptop at work. Sometimes I look at it and roll my eyes. Other times, it helps me to release tension, to remember that what I do matters and that this is more than just a job to me. Sometimes, my “why” reminds me of the students who have reached out to me years after leaving my classroom to tell me about how much I positively impacted them. It helps me to shift my focus onto the positives and onto my purpose. In addition to having an impact within the classroom, I remember my expertise, experience, and dedication can be a guiding light for so many educators. EVERFI’s teacher ambassador community is a group of educators from across the country that center their work in empowering students – this helps center me when data and testing become all too prevalent.
Now, relax your shoulders once again. Unclench your jaw. Soften your forehead. Breathe.
This year you’ve been doing your best with the circumstances that have been handed to you.
You’re doing enough. You are enough.