During the first semester, I wrote a post based on a tweet from Brad Weinstein. That tweet included this graphic:

The post was titled “The reason behind the behavior” and really focused on the fact that so much that happens to the children who walk into our school each day is well beyond their own control. As adults, it’s important that no matter the why behind a student’s behavior, if we can create a warm and caring environment, students will want to be here and do their best (If you’d like, you can see that post here). The graphic above and the post brought up some of the traumas that impact our kids and their ability to be ready to learn.

After sharing that post, I got a response from one of the teachers at our school. This is what she said:

I enjoyed reading this blog and agree with how students can show up with so many unknown traumas. My number one strategy is just to be kind.

Another thought that I had is that there are staff members that show up with unknown trauma, and because we teach all day, we feel like we need to be “on” all the time.  This can be really hard to do when you are the one in front of the class teaching all day and some days feeling like you don’t have time to just sit and decompress.  

I guess I just wanted to respond because I just think it’s important to always keep in mind that both kids and adults can carry unknown trauma. (Although adults know how to deal with it better.)   

Even though this response came from a teacher almost 6 months ago, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. That idea of being “on” all the time is something that I’m quite sure we all feel. Teachers are great at showing up and putting a smile on their faces to create positive learning spaces for their students, no matter what might be going on in their heads. Sometimes we face trauma of our own in our lives. Other times, we take on secondary trauma when students share their own trauma with us.

But the reality is that if we can’t take care of ourselves, if we can’t take care of our family, how can we ever be expected to take care of the children that walk into our classrooms each day?

So here are some thoughts on how we might help take on the trauma that the adults in schools have to take on:

  • Have a person – In every school that I’ve worked in, I’ve found the ability to have at least one “buddy” that I feel like I could share anything with. I’ve talked to colleagues about stress, loss, sadness, and about celebrations. Knowing you have someone you can turn to (and maybe more than one person) can be such an important part of keeping ourselves balanced. If you don’t yet have that person, what can you do to create that type of relationship? And if you notice someone who appears to be off their game, you could check in. Sometimes just knowing someone noticed is more than enough for me!
  • Use your prep time – I feel confident in saying that I am not the only person who went back to my classroom during prep time, closed the door, and took a moment for quiet, or maybe even for a quick cry. Sometimes when we’re going through our own trauma, we just need some solitude. I’ve mentioned mindfulness in some of my past posts, and when I’m having a really rough day, I pull up the Headspace app (free to K-12 educators – click here for more info) and select a session that fits my needs – there are different topics and genres or you can just select the next one cued up in your list. Taking a few moments to yourself can allow you to get recentered in a moment when you don’t have to be “on.”
  • Take care of yourself outside of school – For those of you that know me well, you know that I’m big on getting my exercise. It’s part of what helps keep me balanced. I get up and get my movement in before the day even really starts. This morning when the alarm went off, I didn’t really want to get up, but I knew that I had a lot on my to-do list at school, and then after school, there is family stuff too. Occasionally I will allow myself to sleep in a bit and then do something after school. Because of my schedule today, I knew that wasn’t an option, so I went ahead and got up. Once I was up and moving, I felt so glad that I made the choice I did. Now, I’m not saying you must do what I do – exercise might not be the thing you need to keep yourself balanced, but hopefully, you have some hobby that helps you unwind and relax. Finding a way to disconnect maintains that healthy balance and boundaries between your professional and personal self.
  • Do things to minimize decision-making – Think about how many decisions we make as educators each day. I’ve seen blog posts that suggest that during a typical school day, educators make 1,500 or more educational decisions. I can’t find any data to back that up, but the number seems almost low. Teachers are managers of their classrooms, content holders, master communicators, and support systems for our students. Decisions fatigue is a legitimate thing! The more decisions we make in a day, the harder it is for our brains to make more (that’s why the brownie sitting on the counter after dinner turns into the evening snack instead of the grapes in the fridge – we all know what’s the healthy decision, but our brains are fried!). To avoid having to make additional decisions, there are some things I do every evening to remove some of those morning barriers. I set up my coffee and breakfast things, I make sure my school bag is packed, I set out my workout gear prior to going to bed, and I pick out my clothes for the next day. The more choices I make in the evening, the less I have to worry about in my day, which allows me to spend my morning preparing for my day. Be thinking about how you can remove some of the decisions from your day.

It’s so true, as a colleague suggested, that the adults at school have trauma too. We are human. But if we take steps to help ourselves stay balanced, we’re better able to create the kind, caring, and supportive environment that our students require to find their own success. And know that the people around you are masters at helping people (typically their students) handle their traumas. Turning to those you are closest to can help with your own care.

What are some of the things that you do to maintain that balance? What could you try that you haven’t previously used when you are having a day that you don’t quite feel like you can be “on?” Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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