Protective Practices for Teacher Well-Being
Jargon. No one likes it.
I personally know multiple educators who have created cheat sheets for themselves just to keep track of all the terms and acronyms they deal with on a regular basis.
However, a term that never was mentioned in any professional development or staff meeting I attended in my 16+ years teaching in public schools is “protective practices”.
Protective practices are important, necessary, and should have a regular seat at the professional development table.
Protective practices in education are attributes and applications of educators that help to mitigate risk of occupational stress and increase health and well-being.
Protective practices can manifest as:
- A code of conduct
- A set of boundaries
- Professional behaviors and limitation
- Resilience strategies
- Habits of healthfulness
What’s the difference between protective practices and the resilience strategies which we have addressed before in Joy in Teaching (like this article on 8 Tips to Build Stronger Teacher Resilience)?
Well, resilience strategies can be protective practices and protective practices are resilience strategies – but they aren’t the same thing.
Stick with me – it will all make sense.
So, resilience strategies can be many things.
Anything that helps give you a boost when you’ve had a rough go of it. Resilience strategies can be something tangible like a treat from your favorite bakery, a coffee from that new café down the street from school, a new book, pedicure, or a hot bath. Something that makes you feel good. It doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, it doesn’t have to cost a dime. Resilience strategies can be something intangible like meeting up with some friends you haven’t seen in a while, tidying up an area of your home or classroom, making an effort to leave work on time, or offering kindness to a coworker. Again, as long as it makes you feel good and helps give you a boost we could consider it a resilience strategy.
The big difference between what we consider a resilience strategy and a protective practice is that resilience strategies can be short term.
Resilience strategies can offer that boost and then be gone – like that cup of coffee or that meet-up with friends. On the other hand, protective practices tend to be more learned actions that can be utilized repeatedly. With practice, they can become habit.
While many resilience strategies have the power to give educators a boost right now, protective practices can offer more long-term solutions to occupational stress and burnout.
The first step in establishing protective practices is learning to listen to your body.
Recognizing the early warning signs of stress is a powerful piece in developing protective practices. It’s also different for everyone, so it’s not always easy.
I like to separate recognizing warning signs of stress into two different categories – mental and physical.
- You may recognize early warning signs of stress mentally through intuition or instincts, that gut feeling that things aren’t right.
- Whereas you may recognize the physical warning signs of stress through the tensing of shoulders, the clenching of teeth, a quickening of breath, or a faster heartbeat.
All of these signs tend to get “louder” the longer you ignore them.
So what’s the next step?
After recognizing, hopefully early, that things are stressful, traumatic, or unsafe feeling it is time to do something about it.
There are many protective practices that you can implement in order to head off these feelings and reclaim the joy in teaching. Many of these are covered in the offerings from Joy in Teaching.
Here are a couple of easy to implement protective practices to get you started:
This is a great protective practice because you can do it in the classroom or hallway, even when surrounded by students.
At first notice of those uneasy feelings inhale long and slow and exhale even slower. Do it 8-10 times and feel the tension begin to release. Make a habit of doing this often. Before the students come in in the morning, at the start of your prep, when that one student does that one thing that always gets under your skin. Deep breathing can help reset your stress-level and allow you face new challenges with a more resilient perspective
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This one takes a little more practice if you’re new to it. Often paired with meditation, progressive muscle relaxation is the tightening and relaxing of each muscle group to gain awareness of tensions. You can start with your toes and work your way up – recognizing which areas are carrying tension and letting go of stress as you move through your body. Again this can be done without making a scene, just sitting at your desk – no ohms, no chanting – just a quick moment to relax and reset.
Check out Joy in Teaching’s offerings to learn more about protective practices and remember that talking to a friend, co-worker, or mental-health provider is always a great step in helping to combat occupational stress and that together we can reclaim the joy in teaching and #SaveTheTeachers.