By April Zajko, M.Ed.
We know that work we do in education is essential and has a tremendous impact on our communities and the families that we serve. We also know that being a caring, responsive, nurturing care provider can take a toll on our own wellness and health. The long hours and attentive care leaves us vulnerable to burnout during a normal year, but we can all agree that the last two years have been anything but normal.
Self care is of critical importance now more than ever in order to maintain our own personal health, to minimize illness, to continue to find joy in our work, and to keep our passion for working with children and families alive.
A powerful image and analogy that I use when teaching fellow educators about self care is an old camping lantern. We can only burn as bright as the fuel that we put into our own lantern and we each need different types and quantities of fuel. The foods that we eat, the water we drink, the time set aside to be with friends, the uninterrupted hours of sleep, the positive words we read, the mid-day pause to notice the joy of the children in our care ~ all of these serve as fuel for our inner lanterns.
The mobile nature of a camping lantern is that you get to shine wherever you go. Your impact on the world is greater when you shine your light on the issues that matter most to you. Wherever life takes me, and your lantern, you have the opportunity to spark hope, joy, and passion in the lives of those around you. Being in community with other like-minded individuals magnifies the impact of our lanterns. We can shine our light to help illuminate the path of others. When we figuratively or literally gather together our own lights are magnified and illuminate even more.
We do not want to be burning our candle at both ends. We can not completely deplete our fuel reserves and still do the important work that we do. Instead we need to set our boundaries, continue to refuel, and prioritize that our flame is never too depleted.
Right now in the education world (and many other professions) we are at a tipping point. We have a staffing crisis, we have a workforce that needs support for the work that we do, and we need to develop a stronger system that helps each of us shine in our own way as we support children. It isn’t that we are ‘burned out’ and if only we did yoga more frequently all our problems would be solved. Rather we need to take time to care deeply for ourselves AND to do the advocacy work to build the systems that truly will support us as professionals and will support families.
Other analogies of self care such as putting on your oxygen mask makes it seem like refueling is limited. Instead, the image of a lantern and knowing that we each need different kinds of fuel is more robust in view. We can learn how to refuel ourselves and at the same time help empower others to learn how they too can refuel. When we do this important work in community then we can illuminate the path forward.
Reflection questions ~ take time this week to think about your own lantern and the reserves of fuel that you have.
- Are you running on empty?
- Is your light burning low and you need to refuel?
- What actions will help your refuel?
- What parts of your day feel draining?
- Who do you spend time with that lights you up?
- Who depletes your energy? And can you shift how much time you spend with that person?
- Are your volunteer opportunities fueling or depleting you? Can you shift how much time you spend volunteering?
- What part of your home helps you recharge? Could you make changes to improve that space (declutter, rearrange furniture, add coziness..)
- Journal about specific ways that you can carve out time in order to care for yourself so you can shine bright.