By Stephanie Filio, M.Ed., author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis
My mother has always worked in the banking industry. She started with opening people’s safety deposit boxes and has worked in many different positions over her career. I grew up learning the ins and outs of the corporate world at our dinner-table conversations. I try to keep these talks in mind in my work as a school counselor, because it can be easy to close ourselves in our own experience and lose sight of the bigger picture.
Especially now, as our plates have become so full, educators imagine life outside the red tape of government work and dream of the simpler green grass of other careers. We might imagine that working elsewhere would mean the absence of stress, increased value, overtime pay, and protection from unfair litigation. But we must remember that this is not always true.
The stress of the past few years has left many educators feeling a sense of hopelessness. But I am a firm believer that this does not have to be so. In the same way that we work to empower our students as they face obstacles, we can empower ourselves in our career. We can continue to enjoy our jobs while supporting our own work-life balance and well-being.
So, what can we do to be mindful of our mental health so that we can outlast the negative hype about education?
Lean on others
We have amazing colleagues that become our team of support. I have no idea what I would do if I didn’t work with so many amazing people who have helped me conquer the tough times. But I also try to consciously discuss and enjoy things with my work family that don’t have to do with work. They are amazing people with amazing lives, and it’s important to remember that we are more than our positions!
In addition to surrounding yourself with other wonderful educators, it’s okay to dip outside that pool as well. I have made a habit of getting coffee at a quick and local place every morning before work. It has become a bit of self-care that I rely on to start my day, and a reminder that there is a whole other world outside of my school and its hallways. Though it may sound simple, this practice is just what I have needed to keep a better perspective and the bigger picture in sight this year.
Toxic positivity versus positive change
To not become victims of the “classroom crisis” game, educators need to learn how to operate confidently in our field. Bringing positivity to the school and keeping the school culture in check is part of this! But being a positive force of change is different than being a person who exudes toxic positivity. Here’s the difference:
Toxic positivity is the facade of using positive words to avoid fully acknowledging negative feelings or situations. Toxic positivity can leave others feeling downhearted, even if that’s not the intention.
Positive forces of change, on the other hand, acknowledge reality and choose to work through difficulties with the intention of being a changemaker and elevating others.
Positioning ourselves as positive changemakers not only helps us make our school a more enjoyable place to work, but it also puts our roles in check. While I am at work, it is part of my job to be an active agent of change in my school. When I am home, my kids or family might want to just exist with me or tell me about their experiences and ideas without my input. They may feel more autonomy if I leave that part of myself at work and let them learn on their own, and I will feel less taxed if I let go of always being the problem-solving positivity junkie!
It’s okay to go, and coming back is optional
I remember hearing an interview with a teacher who said, “If I lived my life for summers, I would be giving up eight months of my life every year.” I always try to think about this when I feel like I am just getting through each day, existing from break to break. When I get to this point, I know it is time for me to take a half- or full-day to reset at home if I can, or set boundaries on the weekends so I can really refuel.
I know it can be hard to feel free to take a day off in our line of work. But the way I see it, if we don’t want to burn out, it would be better to find a sub for a mental health day than a new hire for the remainder of the year! Our students will benefit from our renewal as well. If eventually we find that life is wearing us down despite all our efforts, it’s also okay to leave. Not because the profession pushed us out, but because we chose to.
Advocate and Appreciate!
We can continue to advocate for our education profession and point out injustices, while enjoying and committing to our work. My recently retired mom and I were comparing some things between her work and mine. The main similarity was that each person must be mindful not to feed negativity to maintain a positive work culture for all. The biggest difference? Our work with clientele.
My mom pointed out that, in her professional world, they were fighting for more clients and sales. In my professional world, we have clients coming out our ears! When she would get home from work, she would have to turn off the impulse to sell, manage, and win the domain. When I get home, I have to strive to suspend control, impact, and governance.
We bring our whole hearts with us to work, but we don’t want to leave them there. At the end of the day, we have a job to do, but we also have a life to live. Do you have any tips or advice for maintaining a positive and healthy work-life balance? Share them in the comments!
Stephanie 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.
Stephanie is the author of Responding to Student Trauma: A Toolkit for Schools in Times of Crisis.
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