-by Thomas Mennella-
It seemed only fitting, given this issue’s theme of social and emotional support (SES), that we review a book promoting emotional health for educators. And, we couldn’t have picked a better one than Tina H. Boogren’s Take Time for You: Self-Care Action Plans for Educators. Hot off the presses, published in 2018 by Solution Tree Press, this self-help guide specifically for teachers leverages Maslow’s well-established theory of motivation to lift educators to self-actualization and transcendence. The book is unique, though, in that it is just as much a notebook and collection of worksheets as it is a guide. It is meant to be written in, carried around, and personalized. If the suggestions offered by the author will work to improve the emotional health of the reader depends solely on how committed the reader is to the program. But one thing is for sure: Boogren was the right person to write this book.
Tina H. Boogren is a former K12 educator and English department chairperson. She’s also worked as a mentor for other teachers, an instructional coach and offered professional development for educators. Boogren has presented her ideas and work at all levels, from her own school to national conferences, and she was a featured speaker at the International Literacy Association’s annual conference. In 2007, Boogren was a finalist for Colorado Teacher of the Year, and she received the Douglas County School District Outstanding Teacher Award eight years in a row! She has authored many self-help books for teachers and holds a doctorate in educational administration and policy studies from the University of Denver. Suffice it to say, we’re in good hands with Boogren, but her road as an educator wasn’t always gumdrops and roses, as she shares in the book’s introduction.
Boogren begins the book by holding a mirror up to us and showing us that, indeed, our jobs are as tough as we think they are (even if we do get summers off). Right off the bat, she reminds us that “the average teacher makes 1,500 educational decisions every school day. In an average six-hour day in front of students, teachers make more than four educational decisions per minute, and that is exhausting.” In fact, this leads to a particular type of exhaustion formally referred to as “decision fatigue.” Boogren attributes this to being a cause of teacher burnout and contributing to that fact that the teaching profession loses 50% of new teachers within the first five years. Boogren shares the guilt she herself felt when teaching: feeling like she was neglecting her family and her own children when staying late at work to help students and feeling like she was neglecting her students when making time for her family. She then proposes “a radical shift in thinking. What if teachers learn to take care of themselves while taking care of their students? What if it wasn’t an either-or situation?” This is what Boogren’s book aims to instill in the reader: strategies for integrating self-help and self-actualization directly into the everyday routine (and, amazingly enough, I think it’s successful). The book’s introduction closes with a brief overview of the subsequent chapters. Readers are introduced to the ideas of Maslow and advised to use the worksheets and blank pages of each chapter as intended; by writing directly in the book and using it as a workbook, log, and journal.
Chapter One is titled “Foundation,” and that’s exactly what it provides. This chapter is all about self-reflection and taking stock of where you are right now in Maslow’s hierarchy. The chapter features a self-care survey to assess your current health status physiologically, from the standpoint of personal safety, sense of belonging, self-esteem, self-actualization, and transcendence (i.e., Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). I took this survey and was pleasantly surprised at just how ‘healthy’ I was from a Maslowian perspective. Rather than focusing on what was wrong, it was nice to look into a mirror and see how much was right for a change. The chapter also includes a Daily Time Audit that asks you to log how you spend your time during an average and typical weekday and weekend day. Boogren makes the point that most of us have far more available and expendable time in our days than we think, but the only way to identify that time is to track it; and, track it we do in Chapter One. The chapter closes with Boogren sharing that she sees Maslow’s hierarchy as a ladder: you must master the current level before you can lift yourself up to the next ‘rung.’ As such, each of the next six chapters of the book focuses on successive rungs of Maslow’s needs, from physiological to transcendence.
Each subsequent chapter of the book follows a very similar structure. It opens with a rich and vibrant discussion of that particular need. Boogren expertly mixes current research on the topic with examples from the lives of typical educators and her own personal (and often humorous) stories. Once the reader is comfortable with the substance of that need, the chapter moves on to sample strategies for meeting that need. As an example, in Chapter Two, sixteen strategies are offered to improve diet (“carry your own water bottle at all times”; “split a meal with a friend at a restaurant to help control portion size”), 15 for exercise strategies (“suggest walking meetings”; “take movement-based breaks alongside your students”), ten for sleep strategies (“avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime”; “finish vigorous exercise three to four hours before bedtime”), and seven general physiology strategies. The reader is then encouraged to add their own relevant strategies for meeting that need into the book directly and then they are walked through a process for selecting some subset of strategies to work into that free time that they identified in the Chapter One time audit. Each chapter ends with a worksheet for tracking which goals were met each day for up to four weeks and reflection questions (“what worked well for you this week?”; “where did you struggle?”; etc.). As a nice touch, the book also encourages readers to go through this process with a partner or in groups and so the closing reflection questions at the end of each chapter are specific to those interactions (“how did working with a partner or a group help you this week?”; “what did you do to help your partner or others in your group?”; etc.).
Again, each chapter follows a very similar structure, but with each focusing on the next Maslowian need of the ‘ladder.’ The book ends with Boogren encouraging the reader to do their own summative assessment. The initial self-care survey and daily time audit from Chapter One are reproduced for the reader to complete once again, now at the end of their journey. It is expected that great gains are made both in overall health and use of time. The final worksheet invites the reader to formalize their Self-Care Plan by writing down the strategies that worked best for them in reaching each of Maslow’s needs. Boogren then tells the reader to rip that last page out of the book, copy it, and paste it all over the place (in their home, office, classroom, etc.) as a constant reminder and go-to resource for remaining healthy and centered. While this book is clearly written for educators – with examples and strategies specifically geared towards that audience – as Boogren herself notes, anyone could use this book to reach Maslow’s transcendence; it is not written exclusively with teachers in mind.
If I had to point to one issue I had with the book, it would only be in the repetitiveness of the closing of each chapter. While every chapter is organized in a very similar way, the initial background on each need and the recommended strategies for reaching it were sufficiently different so as to make each chapter unique. The structure of each chapter was similar, but the content varied, which struck a nice balance. The action plan and reflection questions for each need which closed each chapter, however, were identical to one another. This became overly repetitive, chapter to chapter, and I do wish that Boogren had differentiated these features a bit.
I’ll confess that I did not use this book as fully intended. I read it over four days (easy to do at 124 pages total, including worksheets), instead of spending the two to four weeks implementing strategies for each of the six needs. But still, I found my mood and perspective improved by this book. That Boogren is a master-class teacher shines through in this book. The opening of each chapter is essentially a lesson on that particular need, but Boogren teaches each of these lessons expertly. You learn about Maslow’s needs while being entertained; indeed, it doesn’t feel like learning at all. I also appreciated the value of the worksheets and guidance that each chapter provided. This book is not solely a self-help book, just as it is not solely a self-improvement guide. It expertly straddles the fence between those two genres giving the reader the necessary background and then immediately inviting them to make that content their own. I enjoyed this book thoroughly and would recommend it to anyone who was feeling overwhelmed, under-appreciated or unfulfilled in their current work-life balance. Even if a particular reader does not easily reach transcendence, gains in social and emotional support will assuredly be made by all readers. This book is too good, too clear, and too helpful not to have a positive impact on all readers. So, while the summer is still young, grab a partner, pick up Boogren’s book and start climbing your own Maslow’s ladder towards self-fulfillment! A happier future, and a better you is waiting right there on the other side of that incredible journey.