Teaching During a Pandemic Is Fragile: Self-Care Is Good, Self-Compassion Is Better

Lead Features April 20 / April 30, 2020

– Jon Harper and Mandy Froehlich with Dr. Kristen Neff and Alana Stanton –

We are teaching in an uncertain and fragile time. Stress levels are high among students, parents, and peers.  Many of us feel pressured to perform without missing a beat. How can we best respond to the social-emotional needs of the moment? How can we manage the anxiety of being out of our comfort zones?  Listen to the 12-minute interview on self-care and self-compassion or read the transcript or the below.

 

Panelists:

Kristin Neff is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, conducting the first empirical studies on self-compassion over fifteen years ago. She has co-developed an empirically-supported training program called Mindful Self-Compassion and is author of the books Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, and Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program: A Guide for Professionals and founder of www.self-compassion.org. Alana Stanton is a kindergarten teacher at Mulberry Elementary in Gwinnett County, Georgia. She has taught several grades over her 15-year career including K-3 literacy special, first grade, second grade, kindergarten, and technology special.

   
Transcript

Jon:

Mandy, while I’ve witnessed much passion and many stories of hope during these trying times, I’ve also noticed that teachers are getting tired and they’re getting frustrated. I mean this is all brand new to them.

Mandy:

Yeah, Jon, and what really worries me about that is that when this type of stuff happens, teachers start really getting down on themselves. And often the frustration is directed kind of inwards at themselves. Today on Teacher’s Aid, we’ll be speaking with Dr. Kristin Neff, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and the author of Self-Compassion, the proven power of being kind to yourself. And Alana Stanton, kindergarten teacher at Mulberry Elementary School in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Kristen and Alana, thank you so much for joining us on Teacher’s Aid as we talk about such an important topic of self-compassion.

Jon:

So Kristen, I’m going to start with you. During this rapid transition to online learning, teachers are going to make mistakes, and when they do, even though this is brand new for everybody, they’re bound to be hard on themselves. What advice do you have for them?

Kristin:

Yeah, so in a time like this, it’s so important to cultivate kindness to ourselves, kindness, support, encouragement. We really aren’t going to be able to get through it without it. So whether it’s making mistakes or whether it’s just the stress of the sudden transition or worries about getting ill, now is the time to support ourselves with self-compassion.

Jon:

Well, Alana, I know you’re working through this right now with little kids, with kindergarten kids, with kids of your own. And you and I have communicated, you’re working from the morning till night. I mean what advice do you have for teachers going through this? How do you handle it?

Alana:

I’ve been going through this with three little ones that are seven, six, and a two-year-old. And teaching 22 kindergartners online every day is to really be patient with yourself and understand that we are all learning how to do this every day and our students are learning how to go digital. I have five- and six-year-olds learning how to do Google Hangout for the first time, use Flipgrid, just explore, know the digital pages. But we also just need to be patient with ourselves and understand that we are learning, parents are learning, students are learning, and that we’re not going to be perfect and that we have to try new things throughout the day, throughout the week. And if something isn’t working, reflect on it and think, “How can I make this better for myself? How can I make this better for my students and the parents in my classroom?”

Mandy:

I think that self-compassion is one of those things that we say, “You should have self-compassion,” but for some people, it really is something that they need to develop. It’s something like resilience or the ability to do mindfulness. Like you can’t really just do it, you need to kind of practice it. And so how does one develop self-compassion?

Kristin:

Yes. Well, in many ways, luckily, it’s a little easier I think to develop self-compassion than mindfulness because we have a little more experience with compassion. But our experience is giving it to others. So for instance, if you’re feeling stressed or you feel you’ve made a mistake or you’re feeling badly about yourself, you can just simply ask yourself, “What would I say to a dear friend I cared about right now who is going through the exact same situation I’m going through? What would my tone of voice be like? What would my body posture be like?” And you can actually use that as a model for how to relate to yourself. It does feel a bit weird at first, I’ll admit it, but you get used to it. And just like, because we’ve gotten used to that critical inner voice, we start to become used to the compassionate inner voice, and we can actually rely on that when we’re stressed or feeling badly about ourselves.

Mandy:

That is great advice. Alana, do you have anything?

Alana:

So for me, when I first started doing digital online the last two weeks, I really did not have a balance. I was waking up super early and going to bed super late doing everything digitally, trying to be what I was calling best for my students. And really I started getting very rundown, and so over the week I started thinking, “what do I really need to do to make sure that I’m healthy, that my three girls, my husband and our family are healthy, along with my students?” And I realized that I really needed to almost treat it like a school day in some ways. And so what I’ve done now is, I wake up when I normally would have woken up, and I take about an hour for myself before I start my schoolwork before my family gets up. I have some reading time, I go outside, I have some exercise time that I was not doing before, and then I start my day. I do lunch like we normally would do at school and taking that break. But then when school hours are done, that’s when I’m finding myself now more at peace when I’m stopping my day. Stopping the email, stopping the text continuing. Because without that balance I found anxiety that I had years and years ago coming back up. And so that’s something I’ve just kind of thought is, with self-compassion reflecting on, “How can we be our healthier self so we can help?”

Self-care is slightly different than self-compassion because self-care you kind of do off the job. You’ve got to make extra time for self-care. Self-compassion is something you can do on the job, in the moment of stress, in the moment of struggle, in the moment of self-doubt. – Dr. Kristen Neff

Mandy:

Yeah, I think that’s really great advice. And I had read something similar in a, I think it was a Renee Brown book, if I’m not mistaken, possibly Dare to Lead where she had said, “A lot of times I look in the mirror and I think, oh I’m fat and I haven’t done this right and I was so stupid when I did this.” Would you ever say that to your own child or would you ever say that to your spouse or your best friend? No, you would never talk to anybody like that. So why would you talk to yourself like that and/or expecting way too much?” So yeah, I think that’s a great point.

Kristin:

And so I would also, just to make a point that what Alana was talking about is great, but it’s really more talking about self-care. Taking time for yourself, having space for yourself and self-care is very important. But self-care is slightly different than self-compassion because self-care you kind of do off the job. You’ve got to make extra time for self-care. Self-compassion is something you can do on the job, in the moment of stress, in the moment of struggle, in the moment of self-doubt. For instance, as you’re teaching your classroom full of kindergartners online, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, you could do something like hold your own hand and say silently to yourself, “This is so stressful. I’m here for you darling.” If that feels comfortable — in other words, self-compassion is actually a mindset. It’s a mindset that allows you to be to kind of hold your pain and your feelings of inadequacy and your feelings of overwhelm with great kindness, with love actually.

And it’s that ability to hold our pain and our stress with love and kindness that gives us the resilience to get through it. So for instance, I just actually developed a self-compassion course for educators. And we teach the teachers a practice where you breathe out for your students kindness, compassion, concern, and you breathe in for yourself. So you use the breath as a vehicle to imagine that you’re caring for others, but on every single in-breath, you’re also caring for yourself, metaphorically. You’re validating your feelings, how difficult they are. You’re wishing yourself well and again then you can ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” And if you don’t have time to give yourself what you need, you can at the very least put your hands on your heart or give yourself some sort of gesture of kindness that says, “Hey, we’ll get through this. It’s going to be okay.”

Jon:

Alana, on the things that you’ve messed up on, let’s say you’ve messed up on something. How is it that you don’t beat yourself up? In other words, let’s say you messed up on setting up the link, or you messed up something with your kids. Why is it that you don’t beat yourself up over and say, “Alana, you should have known that, you’re so stupid or you should have prepared better.” How is it that you don’t do that? Why do you give yourself grace? Why are you giving yourself compassion?

Alana:

Well, Jon, that’s the exact word I was thinking for was the word grace. And many times I have parents that reach to me and they’re very worried or concerned. They don’t feel like they’re doing enough. And the first email I got was about that today. And I said to that parent in the email, “Please give yourself grace.” We all need to give ourselves grace. And one way I do that is when I make mistakes, I say, “Okay, I made a mistake, and I accept it.” And then I think, “Okay, I can try better next time.” And the big thing for me, and I’ve always had to tell myself this — and it’s important —  is “You are not perfect. You never will be.” So the easier that you can go ahead and accept that and move on with it, it helps you. And so at the end of the night, and in the beginning of the morning, I always kind of wake up with the word gratitude. I try to think, “What am I grateful for today that is big and small?” And as I’m going to bed, I think “What am I grateful for today?” And for the things that I have, the things even that I don’t have, those kinds of things helped me too–because a lot of times the things that we’re concerned about or worried about, in the big scheme of things they’re really not a big deal. One day I did a Google hangout with my students and sure enough, every single thing in there was backwards. All the numbers I was writing was backwards, and so I just let my kids know, “Hey, guys, the next time we do this will be better.” And I actually had a student go in another Google Hangout with me and we practiced together and I got it right with the Mimeo and I was able to fix it. And so letting my parents know, “Hey, it’s better.”

Jon:

What about those that think self-compassion is kind of woo-woo? In other words, they believe that they just need to toughen themselves up. As the saying goes, tough times don’t last, but tough people do. I mean, Kristen, what do you have to say about this mindset?

Kristin:

So we’ve got about 2,500 research studies that show, at this point, it’s very, very well researched, that self-compassion makes you more resilient. For instance, combat veterans who have more self-compassion are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress syndrome. Basically you can think of it as what voice do you want inside your head? Do you want the voice of an enemy who’s cutting you down and shaming you? Is that really going to make you stronger and more motivated? Or do you want the voice that’s kind and encouraging and supportive? And of course, that type of mindset is going to make you more motivated to achieve, more able to cope with difficulties, it actually makes you better in relationships because you have more to give to others. You’re less self-focused and you’re actually healthier, less self-indulgent.






Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.




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