Moving From Self-Care to Collective Care

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  • While self-care is important, it has become a way of shifting the responsibility, whilst putting more work on the shoulders of already overwhelmed educators.
  • Mutual aid is collective coordination to meet each other’s needs.
  • Collective care removes the responsibility from the shoulders of individual teachers and shifts the onus to the school, district, and educators as a collective group.
  • Know what you’re doing and why in order to help you develop firm boundaries. The more we create those boundaries and enforce them, the better things are for all educators.

Self-Care Is Now a Trigger

For me, the term self-care has become a trigger, a term weaponized and used against teachers when they communicate feelings of overwhelm, lack of support, or when they feel unsafe. It feels like gaslighting, like shifting the blame back on teachers.

To be fair, self-care is critical. In fact, Audre Lorde viewed self-care as an act of “political warfare” for Black women. To me, self-care means going beyond the bubble baths and massages that often come to people’s minds. It means eating healthy, exercising, going to bed on time, setting boundaries, and advocating for yourself when those boundaries are crossed.

I hope we reframe this idea of self-care and shift to using terms such as mutual aid or collective care. As many of us know, language changes our thinking.

Mutual Aid

As the book Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (And the Next) by Dean Spade states, “Mutual aid is collective coordination to meet each other’s needs usually from an awareness that the systems we have in place are not going to meet them.” He later states that it “produces new ways of living” in which people are in charge of making new systems to take care of one another. In essence, mutual aid puts the people in charge of determining what they need, how they’re going to get it, and how to create a system to ensure that everyone is safe, protected, and has their needs met.

While I highly recommend this short book, mutual aid focuses more on an alternative to charity and on social justice. It almost seems almost to be taken out of context in my desire to apply it to teachers in order to prevent burnout and promote wellness. That said, I felt like I was onto something.

Collective Care

I first heard about the term collective care from Allison Nelson, a Certified Trauma Practitioner during a summer professional development opportunity. That term seemed to better convey what I sought to describe—moving away from putting the responsibility of self-care on the shoulders of individual teachers and shifting the onus to the school, district, and among educators as a collective group.

Collective care is moving away from putting the responsibility of self-care on the shoulders of individual teachers and shifting the onus to the school, district, and among educators as a collective group. Click To Tweet

There are of course many benefits to collective care. With solid collective care, teachers would be less likely to experience burnout. They would be more present in the classroom. Students would receive better care and support. While these reasons are true, I find them problematic. The truth is, these describe a live-to-work mindset. Education, for many of us, is our passion and mission, but it’s not all we are. Collective care allows us to live more fully as human beings—working a normal amount and spending the rest of the time playing, exploring, and spending time with those we care for.

Take Action

So in moving from self-care to collective care, we need to be fierce advocates for what we need while also putting solid boundaries in place that allow care and wellness to happen naturally. Below are some boundaries I have in place. They make it easier to say “no” and be respected for doing so when you are clear on why you do what you do and what your boundaries are.

No work email or apps on my phone.

Many of us check email and management platforms without even consciously thinking about what we’re doing. Stop that by simply removing them from your phone. You are not available 24/7.

Extend the email policy to your laptop too.

If you have a computer you use for home and school, close out work tabs when you leave work for the day, and don’t open them again until it’s time for work.

Turn off notifications!

If your school has social media that you follow, keep on keeping on, but turn off notifications. You don’t need to see that during your personal time.

Work at school only!

At the start of the year, I may stay later than contract time, but I never bring work home and I’m sure not to make staying beyond contract time a habit beyond the first month of school. I work until I’ve worked a good amount and then I go home.

No work on the weekends.

I know I already mentioned working only at school and thus you hopefully aren’t going to school on the weekends, but I’m a firm believer in doing household to-dos during the week too so that the weekends are completely free for fun. I’ve already worked all day, why not tack on some vacuuming or grocery shopping? I’ll get it done more quickly when I’m anxious for downtime and my mind is already in work mode.

Family comes first.

If a non-mandatory work commitment comes up on an evening when you already have plans with your family, prioritize your family. Your work will survive without you, but you can’t get those moments back with those you care about.

Schedule yourself in.

Put your workouts, massages, dates with friends, etc. on the calendar. If you’re asked to stay late or come in early for something, it’s okay to say no due to a scheduled workout, massage, etc. The appointments you make with yourself are important too and if you let everything take precedence, you won’t ever have time to take care of your own needs.

Use your sick days.

I am 36 years old and I know my body. When I 1) get too stressed, 2) don’t have enough downtime, or 3) haven’t slept well a few nights in a row, I get sick. My body shuts down on me as if it is saying, “You won’t take a break, I’ll make you!” followed by an evil laugh. Why do we wait until we’re sick to use our sick days? If you are on the brink, take a day! Practice prevention.

Talk about it.

If you feel overwhelmed, talk with your supervisor. Come with ideas that will allow the work to get done, but in a way that feels better to you.

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Teachers Unite

You are more than the work that you do! Make time for the human version of yourself. When teachers unite together in a spirit of collective care, administrators take notice, and education becomes a better place for all of us.

About Karen Evans

Karen is a 6th grade special education teacher in Muskegon, Michigan. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education, a Master’s in Measurement and Evaluation, and has studied educational leadership with an emphasis on Special Education Administration at Grand Valley State University. Her goal in the classroom is to use trauma-informed practices to make all students feel seen, heard, and loved as she equips them to see their own strengths, set and take ownership of learning goals, and achieve excellence. In her free time, Karen enjoys practicing yoga, hiking, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. She is also very involved in the book community advocating for LGBTQIA texts to be included in classroom instruction, posting video reviews of books on her BookTube Channel, meeting authors, and serving as secretary of her local library’s board.