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Self Compassion: An essential tool for teacher well being

Talking to a teacher who was overwhelmed by the disruptive behavior of one child, it dawned upon me the challenges the teachers face everyday in their classrooms. One of the most amazing professions requires an overdose of patience, kindness and most importantly self-compassion. What does self-compassion translate to in the teaching scenario? Translated in lay terms, it means being kind to oneself. More often than not we do not take a moment and give a pat on our shoulders and breathe and be compassionate to our self.
Teacher burnout is not well documented in our country but we see more and more teachers leaving the profession for other jobs. Teachers need to understand they have a huge responsibility on their shoulders and the multiple stakeholders in the education need to support them in all ways. No part of teacher training focuses on the teaching of emotional and social skills teachers require to function at their optimal level or on self-care strategies.

A lot of research has been done in the field of self-compassion. Pioneer Kristin Neff at the University of Texas has documented the positive effects of it in her book Self-Compassion and is of the opinion it can greatly benefit teachers and it is a skill that can be taught and then practiced.

Ways to practice self-compassion include talking to oneself in a kind manner. Acknowledging the hard work that you do as a teacher, learning to give a pat on your own back. It is about appreciating the hard work that you put in and knowing intrinsically that you make a difference. It is entwined with the human values of love and self-respect.

The other key component to self-compassion is recognising our common humanity. In other words, it is helpful to remember that we are all in this together and everyone has to deal with the challenges of life. They can organise sessions with their colleagues to discuss their challenges. Support systems can be created and debriefing session held in schools.

The third and final component of self-compassion is being mindful. Teachers who practice mindfulness are less likely to experience negative emotions. It is about taking time to be aware. It is about creating ‘ME moments in the course of a day or practicing mindfulness techniques.

Teaching is not a profession, it is a vocation. Teachers impact the lives of their students in ways that cannot be measured. And by no means their job is an easy one. But in practicing self-compassion they find it within themselves to meet those challenges in a positive way.

The author is Dr. Nalini Taneja – a teacher, author and a speaker. She is the Chief Enough Officer at Aham I Am Enough Training Group an education consultancy firm that works on integrating Human Values and Social and Emotional Learning Skills (SEL) with education. She can be reached at [email protected].

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