More than one-half of respondents to Phi Delta Kappa’s “2019 Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools” said they would prefer that their children not pursue careers in education. The results of this survey come as no surprise to people engaged in the field. There are many reasons why educators are dissatisfied with the profession, but one of the most-often cited by those who leave the classroom is job-related stress. I work with educators around the world, and my own observations confirm this. We all want lives filled with balance, ease and contentment—but how do we get there?
We all want lives filled with balance, ease and contentment—but how do we get there?
Over the past decade, I have been increasingly concerned about the levels of stress and frustration I’ve observed among educators. Several years ago, my colleague Sara Armstrong and I decided to learn what we could do to support educators. We found research consistently identifies six areas that are connected to individuals’ abilities to find balance in life. They are:
- Gratitude: being thankful for someone or something and being willing to express thanks to others
- Positive attitude: recognizing and celebrating the good things that happen in life
- Focus: pausing and refocusing when distractions arise
- Empathy: understanding someone else’s emotions and behaviors from their point of view
- Kindness: treating others with care and respect
- Movement: strengthening the body and mind through physical activity
We discovered that there are simple strategies related to each focus area that educators can use to increase their personal sense of well-being and to achieve a better balance between work and home life. The benefits of doing so are: longer, healthier lives; lower levels of stress; greater emotional stability; and stronger interpersonal relationships. We also committed to using these strategies personally so we could model their efficacy in our interactions with educators.
I discovered five years ago that daily journaling provides an effective framework for focusing on all six areas. I spend a few minutes every evening jotting down notes about how I addressed each area that day. This journaling may include:
- making a three-item daily gratitude list
- writing about one positive thing that happened
- describing a strategy used that day to get centered or refocused
- identifying and considering a situation from another person’s perspective
- pinpointing an act of kindness performed that day
- listing the physical activities completed during the day
It takes 5-10 minutes to journal this way. A tangible benefit is that it helps me to keep the six areas in mind throughout the day, ensuring that I remember to express gratitude for someone or to include time for exercise or for getting centered. If that seems too daunting, focus on just one of the six areas, rather than all six. Expressing gratitude is said to have the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time.
My colleague Sara prefers to approach the six areas in another way. There are some areas she addresses every day and others she acts on regularly, but less frequently. She relies on checklists and activities such as daily reading and a gratitude jar to track her activities. It’s a matter of finding an approach that works for you. Whatever you decide, stick with it for 28 days. This isn’t a silver bullet for all of life’s difficulties, but when practiced consistently, you will find that you are more resilient and better able to weather life’s challenges.
An experienced classroom teacher and site administrator, Susan Brooks-Young works with educators internationally, focusing on a variety of topics related to effective implementation of technology use in schools and well-being for educators. She was a featured speaker at FETC.