Education is a caring profession. Educators I know chose it because they care about others, and especially about kids. If we only go into teaching because we are fascinated by the subject, then burn out happens. It’s great to be inspired by the content of what you’re teaching; we also have to be inspired by our students.
Image from https://www.qcs.co.uk/big-c-compassion/
I’ve seen educators go above and beyond hundreds of times. I know educators who cry for their students after the day is over and who wonder what else they can do to reach that child whose life is difficult and whose behaviour is so challenging. I’ve had conversations where educators fight against their own biases to understand the perspectives of students who may not be like them. I truly believe that this is the work of education. We have to care or our jobs become meaningless.
And yet, how to care without depleting our compassion banks? How to care without running out of the energy to care for ourselves and our families? In the past few years, we have come to understand that compassion fatigue is real and can affect educators in extreme cases.
The lesson for me is that we need to care for ourselves in order to keep caring for others. As I’ve written before in this space, I am an introvert. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about people; it means that not enough time alone can lead to lack of energy or feeling overwhelmed. When I feel depleted, it’s time to retreat a little from the world and spend some time doing things I love. It might mean that I clear my personal or work calendar for a couple of days. It might be spending time with someone in a quiet space with few expectations so I can recharge. I find that if I don’t, things can get worse and I lose empathy and patience.
Sometimes caring for ourselves means seeking out help with a professional who can act as a sounding board and counsellor. This is nothing to be ashamed of. I know how helpful this can be from personal experience, and I applaud those with the courage to take that first step.
What about you? When you feel that you don’t have more to give, what do you do?
I’ve noticed a disheartening phenomenon lately. It’s the reluctance to give feedback in the workplace because “they won’t do anything anyway”. People seem to think that if the person or organization they work for doesn’t immediately begin doing what they think should happen, then the feedback wasn’t taken seriously or even listened to.
I get it. We all have strong opinions about what our bosses or leaders should do. Even more, feedback can be a once a year event, and then organizations don’t always do a great job explaining what the feedback was and how they will respond. It’s also human nature to gossip and criticize. Our negativity bias and our propensity to judge others and believe we are right when others are wrong (The Happiness Hypothesis, p. 78) can take over, and we find ourselves going to town with colleagues on what is wrong and what needs to happen to fix it.
The thing is, I need to improve, and I need feedback to do it. I’m hopeful that I can help grow a culture of feedback with those I work with so it becomes more of a habit and not a once a year all or nothing event. Shakil Choudhury of Anima Leadership, uses three questions to help create a culture of feedback:
- What am I doing well?
- What do I need to improve?
- What are my next steps for learning?
I used these intensely personal questions to seek feedback from principals and vice principals about my leadership. The resulting conversations were insightful, challenging, and ultimately very useful. Does seeking and receiving this feedback mean that I am immediately going to change things to reflect what I heard? Yes… and no. I heard some great suggestions that I can implement right away, I heard things that really made me go “Hmmmm,” and ones that made me realize I need to communicate more and better while staying the course. Most interesting, the feedback showed a wide variety of opinions and a lack of consensus. On reflection, that’s not surprising, since the leaders I work with are quite different from one another.
What you about you? Do you have any feedback for me?
I’ve written about feedback before in these posts if you want to read more.
“I value your participation.”
“What an interesting idea – let’s follow up on that.”
“What do you think?”
We all want to be noticed, valued and to belong. A big fanfare is not always needed, but those moments of quiet recognition that say, “I see you, and you are valued” are powerful.
When people feel as if no one cares they become disengaged and then cynical. That’s harmful for them and bad for the organizations they work for.
We all need to take responsibility to help others belong.