How to Include Self-Care for Educators in Professional Development

By Stephanie Filio, M.Ed., author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis

Students and staff both need validation in their lives and need to feel as if they are living a purpose-driven life. If we want our teachers to perform the many demands that we place on them, we have to start helping them learn about self-care and helping ensure they feel fulfilled in their lives. As we place more emphasis on intentional SEL practices with students, professional development can also employ willful tasks and tools to strengthen staff self-care.

How to Include Self-Care for Educators in Professional Development

Reframing Solutions

Viktor Frankl wrote, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal.” Often, professional development for educators promises fixes, solutions, and efficiency for an easier day. Though these things are important, they miss a larger concept: reframing the understanding of struggle.

Especially for the past two years, amid trauma and an increasingly litigious environment, we are closer than ever to asking our educators to achieve the impossible. Sometimes more pressure is added in professional development, wherein information can be presented in a way that insinuates that these tasks can be “easy” so long as the training is followed. Educators will benefit from acknowledgement that they are indeed in a difficult position.

Using Viktor Frankl’s point, there is power in acknowledging that there are hardships and intense demands in the education profession, specifically when also focusing on the true personal meaning. How does the profession add value to someone’s life? What part of the “work” is also social and emotional “work”?


In short, professional development can be more meaningful when we help staff find meaning in their work and within themselves. Though this is a long road, we can start by the words we use in trainings for staff. The speech that we use with students is purposeful modeling for positive self-talk—the things that we say to children create the voices that they hear in their own heads.

And just as some children may not have heard positive praise to create beneficial self-dialogue, many adults may not have either, or have since buried their healthy internal monologue under layers of difficult experiences. What are some beneficial phrases that exemplify positive self-talk that can be strengthened in professional learning for staff?

“I have heard positive things said to me about my strengths and abilities.”

Try having a group-building activity such as a JamBoard where people can post kudos to each other.

“I belong here.”

Try an activity where everyone collaboratively comes up with group norms and celebrates the diversity of your staff.

“I take agency over my work here.”

Try allowing staff to make suggestions on professional learning groups, and make suggestions on how to build them into your planning time or staff days.

“I am a curious learner.”

Try polling your staff to find out what their individual expertise is and allow them to hold mini-workshops (both for personal life and professional life).

I am extremely proud of working in the education profession. This year has been difficult to say the least, but it has also been a reminder of all of the work educators do under “normal” circumstances. This reminder should be a pathway to reframing the way we approach others, the way we allow others to create a work-life balance, and our need to be caring and compassionate towards one another. Starting with the way we use professional development and acknowledging that personal development and self-care is real and meaningful work is certainly a step in the right direction!

And if you’re interested in learning more, there are many resources available for practicing self-care and mindfulness that can be implemented in training.

Stephanie Filio, author of Responding to Student TraumaStephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.

Responding to Student TraumaStephanie is the author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis.

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