Finding Balance During the Pandemic: How to Care for Yourself, Others, and the World

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Finding Balance During the Pandemic: How to Care for Yourself, Others, and the WorldThe COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. Kids are feeling stressed either about not being in school or about going back to in-person learning. Teachers are worn out from first navigating the quick move to virtual instruction and now navigating a return to the classroom, or figuring out a hybrid approach. Everyone is grappling with their own worries and fears about the new strains of the virus, without the benefit of sharing and processing those feelings in the company of their friends and extended family. We could all use a little care in our lives.

One of my favorite educational philosophers is Dr. Nel Noddings. She has been a pioneer in the field of the “ethics of care.” Simply put, the ethics of care in education states that ethical decision-making should be built on a foundation of caring for the self, others, and the world. She asserts that care is a basic human need, and that all people want to be cared for.1 Designating education as the central cultivator of a caring society defined her position as a philosopher and educator.

Especially now, in this time of social distancing—both physical and metaphorical—we should be particularly mindful of placing an emphasis on everyone’s need for care.

Care for the Self

It’s important to know that we cannot effectively care for others unless our own needs for care are met. Teachers need to take time for themselves to rejuvenate and relax. In his book The Balanced Teacher Path, Free Spirit author and teacher Justin Ashley offers his personal story of trying to do too much, which led to his own burnout. In his search to make changes in his life, he chronicles the self-care techniques that helped him ensure a “work-life balance and prevent burnout.” One of his suggestions is to create a Weekend Plan for Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. This plan should not include preparation for school—leave that until Sunday evening. Give yourself a break and enjoy your weekend. You’ll feel better, and you’ll return to your students with replenished energy. Check out his book for more ideas.

Kids, too, need to know how to take care of themselves before they can care for others. Here are suggestions for guiding your students to care about themselves:

Teach them how to de-stress through practices such as:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Yoga
  • Visualization
  • Eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water
  • Getting quality sleep each night

Encourage them to move! Some of the best ways we can care for ourselves involve moving our bodies. Movement can be through:

  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Riding a bike
  • Jumping rope
  • Playing hopscotch
  • Going for a run or a walk

Take time to reflect on the good things in life, no matter how small. Since the beginning of the pandemic, to ward off the blues, I’ve been taking time each day to think about three things that are good in my life. Have your students do the same thing, at the beginning of the day and then again at the end of the day. Ensure they are using positive self-talk.

Call, text, or email a friend with positive greetings. This may encourage the friend to send a similar positive thought back, but even if it doesn’t, reaching out is a positive action in itself. Staying social and connected to others is critical to personal care.

Keep to routines as much as possible. When our schedules change, we are more likely to be stressed. Whether students are returning to in-person school, a hybrid system, or staying fully virtual, making and keeping to schedules and routines can bring about stability and security.

If you are stuck at home, leave the house without leaving the house. Go on virtual fieldtrips to museums, zoos, concerts, or national parks through the numerous websites and apps offering free virtual visits.

Caring for Others

One of the best ways to feel good about yourself is to care for others. It’s not only a nice thing to do, it’s also a way for us to let others know we are thinking about them. My sister, Sue Swinick, is a High School Family and Consumer Science teacher in Mosinee, Wisconsin. Throughout the year, she ties caring for others into her curriculum. Recently, her FCCLA (Family, Career, Community Leaders of America) students made Valentine’s Day cookies to sell to other students to raise money for the No Kid Hungry charity. Each year, her students raise $300 or more for this worthy organization. As she said, “In COVID times, these kids are an example of the positive that still can go on in school and make learning meaningful.”

Other ways she has her students giving back is by having them cook a meal for a local homeless shelter. Her older students and their parents serve the meal. She’s also had her sewing classes make backpacks, mittens, scarves, blankets and other bedding necessities for kids living in shelters. She routinely collects cosmetic samples, unused hotel toiletries, and travel bags from international flights to donate to a women’s shelter. I’m so proud to call her my sister!

Here are some more suggestions to get your students involved in caring for others:

  • Make cards for people in nursing homes to brighten their day.
  • Have students record poems that can then be shared with an elderly person, someone in the hospital, or someone who just needs a mental boost.
  • Record your students singing or playing musical instruments and share these recordings with people who are isolated.

Caring for the World

We truly ARE all in this together. To help your students understand their ability to change the world, share stories of kids who have made a major impact. Check out this website to learn about 10 young people who have changed the world. These stories can be infused into your curriculum as a way to encourage your students to make the world a better place.

Other ways to care for the world:

  • Learn about the effects of climate change and what each individual can do to protect the environment.
  • Research social justice movements or other causes that matter to you and find ways you can help support them.
  • Connect with a E-pal (like a pen pal, but online). Check out the We Are Teachers website for some great ideas.
  • Send a care package to a member of the military overseas. Check out this website to see how to create and send a package.

We all need to be cared for, and we are all better when we care for others and for our world. Please share your stories with me as to how you care for yourself, encourage kids to care for others, and infuse caring for the world into your curriculum and instruction.

Be well!

1Noddings, N. (2002). Starting at Home: Caring and social policy. Berkeley: University of California Press

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition

Differentiation For Gifted Learners

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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