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Why taking care of yourself is the best kind of professional development


As teachers we give a lot – we invest our time and energy in our work, and we give something personal of ourselves to our students. This may often feel stimulating and rewarding, but over time we may also be in danger of burnout. There is always more to do –  more meetings to attend, more emails to respond to, more reports to write. At the end of the day, we may feel fulfilled and inspired, but we may also feel drained and exhausted.

 Teaching can be both nourishing and depleting at the same time. If the overall balance swings towards the latter, then sustainability and health can be at risk. Knowing how best to deal with these demands and how to manage our stress effectively not only helps us on a personal level, it can also enhance our professional lives.

In order to be successful and resilient in this age of distraction and complexity, there are some basic competencies that we (meaning we as teachers, along with our students) need to learn or, perhaps, to rediscover. We need to consciously cultivate our skills of:

  • Attention
  • Self-awareness
  • Emotional regulation

Establishing a daily mindful awareness practice has been shown to help improve attention, deepen self-awareness and strengthen emotional regulation.  Training in mindful awareness can be highly beneficial in helping manage stress.  By learning to pay attention to the present moment through awareness of breath, sounds, movement, or bodily sensations we begin to find ways to slow down and to carve out some valuable, restorative moments of calm in a busy day.  

Understanding ourselves—our minds, bodies, and emotions—is a key 21st-century life skill

When a more mindful awareness of our minds, bodies, and emotions is woven into a school culture this contributes to the overall wellbeing of our school communities.

For this to happen, we need teachers who value, and who are developing those same capacities in themselves – educators who are emotionally and socially intelligent as well as intellectually and academically knowledgeable.

The Oxygen Mask

As a parent on a plane our instinct might be to help our children first if there is a problem, but in fact, we are instructed to get our own oxygen supply sorted before we try to help others. As teachers, we tend naturally to focus on the needs of our students rather than on our own needs. But, what we want for our children, we need for ourselves and it is only when we know how to take care of ourselves —to nourish ourselves and to find balance—that we can effectively model these skills and help develop them in our students.


Source https://www.flickr.com/photos/miikkah/5067446540/in/photolist-8HMZiW-7GBJ7i-fqmNiy-8Jrwun-odrbhE-8Fru2G-7KF23a-fq7Cqr-fqmNhA-7PhqEX-7KF1Ut-6TtQWD-7RtLag-6TtQWB-6MJPeL-nW6VW4-7G3pd1-oW7KJQ-pwGpsq-7RtL8p-23ZRGen-ETv6z-XfN4yw-HwKDbf-GNyowh-fkNwzu-J73Gta-GNCKdZ-HJg4zR-G6rsZq-HFmv57-p6qox4-PmxC7L-GnyQcu-epKMCC-Tu5e59-5oD3vY-8H91jS-b5rkc-68y1co-8XkvFT-78rAiM-DjjSU-7G63Dx-4TQLm6-e6dLEP-iokmb-e1Ca5L-z8uku-e1xZD5

Source: Mikka H

The Role of the Teacher is Vital, Powerful and Important

The importance of the teacher is not fully recognized in many societies. Education may be highly valued, but teachers sometimes less so.  Schools need to be explicit about valuing teachers and as teachers, we need to value ourselves and acknowledge the importance of what we do. Taking care of ourselves so that we can continue to teach well and enjoy teaching is just about the most significant thing we can do. Not just for our own benefit but because of the impact that we have on children and young people.  I say this not just from my own experience, but also because of the significant scientific research in this area, particularly in social neuroscience.  This research is pointing us to an understanding that how we teach is as important as what we teach.

Social neuroscience and interpersonal neurobiology provide us with ample evidence that deep and effective learning for our students is highly dependent on a range of relational skills and capacities (Cozolino 2013).  Because teaching is such a social profession, and because as teachers we depend totally on the human predisposition to learn through relationship, developing these capacities in ourselves, as best we can, needs to become a normal part of the job description.

Our ability to engage fully in the present moment and our sense of connection to ourselves and others have a significant, often unrecognized impact on the efficacy of our teaching and thus on the learning of our students.  When we notice, for example, that we are feeling irritable, if we can name this feeling and accept it then we are less likely to be unconsciously driven by an unrecognized emotion that could lead us into overreacting to challenging student behaviour.  Developing awareness of our thoughts and emotions increases our metacognitive capacities and can help us deal more skillfully with behaviour management and create a better learning environment.

As teachers, as individuals, there is only so much we can do in the world. But every step we take towards realizing our own authenticity and connectedness is a step towards engaging more deeply with ourselves and with our students. Our role, as people who teach, is crucial.

For many teachers, the opportunity to engage in an area of professional development that overlaps with personal growth is a significant bonus. If nothing else it can make the difference between the gradual depletion of our inner resources, and finding the means to make this demanding and fulfilling career more sustainable and, crucially, more enjoyable.

Is mindfulness the answer to all life’s problems? I don’t believe so. But I do believe that in seeking to validate and support the inner experiences of students and teachers we are asking deep questions—transformative questions—about what really matters in education, about the sustainability of a teaching career, and about the mental and emotional wellbeing of our teachers and students.


Cozolino, L. (2013) The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment and Learning in the Classroom. New York: Norton.

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