Teaching is hard! We have so much on our plates and we’re responsible for something HUGELY important: caring for the hearts and minds of humans in development. Young souls that are newer on on this earth than us and need to make lots of mistakes so they can learn how to overcome challenges and be a good citizen.
It’s a BIG responsibility and it takes a lot of grace to support our students through thick and thin. When things aren’t going the way we’d like them to go (ie. perfectly…), it can feel overwhelming and like we aren’t living up to our own expectations.
We ask everyone that joins the Educalme community the same question – “What is your #1 challenge” and without fail everyone answers with a version of:
“I don’t feel like I’m doing enough”
So what do we do when we feel like we aren’t doing enough to meet all our students’ needs? You guessed it…we overwork. Which eventually leads to… you guessed it again: teacher burnout.
Carrying the perspective that we aren’t doing enough for our students or that we aren’t good enough teachers feels unbearably heavy.
Sometimes, to avoid teacher burnout we have to take a good hard look at our perspective. Have we fallen into the trap of looking at our jobs in a negative light? Have we gotten in the habit of expecting things to go badly? Are we being too hard on ourselves? Have we even become a little jaded? Are we taking all the problems of the world onto our shoulders and giving ourselves the impossible task of solving them all?
In this post, we’re continuing our five part training series on how to avoid teacher burnout by creating healthy habits that last.
Last week, we explained how how to manage our emotions in the classroom and talked about the importance of taking time for an emotion reset during the day. You can read that post or listen to that podcast episode here.
This week, we’re teaching how to shift our perspective to feel more calm, balanced and joyful in and out of the classroom.
Specifically, we’re going to talk about how to get into the habit of catching ourselves when we’re taking on a perspective that doesn’t feel good and how to find new ways to look at our situation so that we feel better.
In this training series, we’ve been diving deep into habit formation and looking at how our habits of action, thought, emotion and perspective influence our experience in and out of the classroom.
If you missed our first post of this series where we explained how habits are created and how to work with your brain when creating new habits or breaking old habits, you can go back and read it here.
To start today’s lesson, let’s apply the four stages of the habit loop, as explained by James Clear in his book Atomic Habits to a very common perspective that we as teachers take on – that our students’ parents are judging us during parent-teacher meetings.
Stage 1: Cue
You’re feeling anxious, worried or stressed about an upcoming parent-teacher meeting. This feeling of stress and lack of control leads to a craving.
Stage 2: Craving
You don’t want to feel anxious, stressed or worried anymore. You crave feeling calm and in control because you want the meeting to go well. This craving leads to your brain looking for a way to achieve a feeling of control over the situation.
Stage 3: Response
You respond to the craving by overthinking and imagining all the ways that the meeting could go wrong.
Stage 4: Reward
When you imagine the ways that the meeting could go wrong, you also plan how to respond to your imagined negative outcomes which gives you the sense of control you were craving.
The problem with this response is that, although you feel a sense of control over the situation, it still leaves you feeling stressed, anxious and worried because you EXPECT the meeting to go badly. Rather than looking at all the ways this meeting could go right, your brain (that just wants to protect you) spirals into thinking stressful thoughts, which make you feel stressed, which make you act stressed, which doesn’t give off the impression of you being a calm, collected teacher that has it under control, which actually makes the parents perceive you in exactly the way you DIDN’T want them to – as a teacher they can’t trust with their child’s education. The thing you worried about became your reality. Yikes!
If you believe your students’ parents won’t trust you, you’ll act in a way that makes you seem untrustworthy and therefore they will perceive you as untrustworthy.
Our thoughts create our emotions, our emotions create our perspective, our perspective influences our actions and our experience. Which is great news! This means that if we mindfully shift our perspective, we can change our actions and our experience.
Let’s look at how we can intentionally take on a perspective that leads to a better experience which will help to avoid teacher burnout.
We’ve created a free Perspective Shift Worksheet to help you practice noticing and shifting your perspective on subjects that cause you stress, worry or overwhelm.
The first step is to start noticing when we feel negative emotions and then asking ourselves “what perspective am I taking on here that is creating discomfort for me?”. Notice what thoughts you’re thinking, what assumptions you’re making and what you’re imagining in your mind.
Our brain gets trained to take on perspectives based on our past experiences. All it takes is one colleague to warn you about a “difficult parent” or one past experience with a parent that didn’t go well for your brain to take note and say “Oh, I see, parent-teacher meetings are a bad thing, I need to protect myself and expect the worst next time”. Your brain is going to keep taking on a negative perspective until you consciously choose to shift your experience and gather evidence to prove your brain wrong.
Use this free worksheet to take note of a perspective you have that is causing you distress and could lead to teacher burnout over time.
Example: I’m feeling worried about a parent-teacher meeting. The thoughts I’m thinking and the negative outcome I’m imagining is that the parent doesn’t think that I’m a good teacher and so I have to find ways to prove that I’m both professional and caring.
Once we bring our old perspective to light, we can start playing with taking on new perspectives to see if there’s a new way of looking at the situation that feels lighter, better, more comforting, more empowering or more calming. Think of this process as trying on new clothes until you find the perfect outfit that makes you feel great, except here you’re trying on new thoughts.
Use the free Perspective Shift Worksheet to write out different perspectives you could take that would feel better.
Here are three ideas to help you get started with taking on new perspectives.
A great way to shift your perspective is to put yourself in the shoes of someone you admire. Ask yourself: How would [seasoned teacher that I look up to as a mentor] look at this? If you’re having a hard time seeing a new way to look at the situation, go to a colleague that you admire and say “I’m worried about [situation], how can I look at this differently so that I feel more confident?”. They will likely be able to offer a fresh perspective that will help you to see the situation in a new light.
In our example of being worried about a parent-teacher meeting, if we go to a colleague and tell them that we’re worried about the parent thinking we aren’t a good teacher and then asking how we could look at this differently, they will likely remind us that we are in fact a good teacher and that the parent is more interested in talking about their child and how to support them than worrying about how “good” of a teacher you are. It’s not about you, it’s about the student.
Looking at a situation from the other persons’ perspective is another great way to shift your emotions. We often get caught up thinking that other people’s perspectives are all about us. The reality is that their perspective was shaped by a lifetime of experiences before they even met us! What past experiences do they have that are leading to their perspective? What worries or fears do they have? What are they trying to protect themselves (and their children) from? Getting out of our own mind and taking a tour of the thoughts and emotions of the other person helps us to see how we can support them and soothe their fears rather than feel defensive.
In our example, instead of worrying what the parent will think of us, we can shift our perspective by imagining what they might be worried about. They might be worried that we’ll judge them as a parent just as much as we’re worried about them judging us as a teacher. The reality is, we both just want the best for their child.
Maybe they’re worried that we’ll give homework, or maybe they’re worried that we won’t give homework. Maybe they’re worried that their child is talking too much in class, or maybe that they aren’t talking enough. Again, their perspective isn’t based on us, it’s based on their past experiences and their personal values which we have zero control over.
Remembering that both you and the parent just want what’s best for the child is a great way to take on the perspective that the goal of a parent-teacher meeting is always to be able to better work as a team in support of the child.
As we grow and evolve, our perspective changes because we have more experiences to base our judgements on. Sometimes, when we’re feeling overwhelmed with teacher tasks, it can help to ask “What would past me, right before I got my first teaching job, think about this?”. Tapping into the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, full-of-excitement-and-energy version of yourself can help you find fun feelings again.
When a situation feels really big and overwhelming it can be helpful to take a step back and ask yourself “How will I feel about this in 5 or 10 years?”. Usually, when we zoom out, we realize that what we’re really worried about right now actually isn’t quite as big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.
To go back to our example of being worried about a parent-teacher meeting:
“How did I feel about parent-teacher meetings when I first started teaching?” – Excited!
Once you remember that you used to feel differently about a situation, it opens up the possibility of changing your perspective to something that feels better now.
“How will I feel about this parent-teacher meeting in 5 years from now?” – I probably won’t even remember it.
This can help you remember not to perceive the meeting like such a big deal. Everything will work out in the end and you will move on with your life having learned something new that will help you to be a better teacher in the future.
Use the free Perspective Shift Worksheet to test out different perspectives you could take on in situations that commonly stress you out so that you’re ready to think differently next time you’re presented this that type of situation.
Let’s review what we covered in this post on how to avoid teacher burnout by shifting your perspective to feel more calm, balanced and joyful in and out of the classroom.
Keep a copy of our free Perspective Shift Worksheet handy and use it whenever you’re feeling stressed, worried, anxious or overwhelmed to help you shift your perspective and create better feeling emotions.
Take what you’ve learned about shifting your perspective a step further and share it with your students using Educalme. Educalme is your clear roadmap & simple action plan to prioritize social-emotional development so that your students are ready for calm and focused learning. Get a full year of ready-to-use audio, video and printable mindfulness lessons for the classroom. No prep required! Try it for free.
We hope that this post will help you to add “shifting your perspective” to your wellness toolkit so that you feel more calm, balanced and joyful in and out of the classroom.
To go even deeper on this topic, listen to our episode on The Balanced Educator Podcast below.
The Balanced Educator Podcast episode 65: How to structure a mindfulness practice into your school day.
Share this post on Pinterest so other educators can learn concrete strategies to form healthy habits this school year.
Let us know in the comments, what perspective shift will you make to feel more calm, balanced and joyful in and out of the classroom?