A few years ago, I had the honor of co-authoring the book Motivating and Inspiring Students: Strategies to Awaken the Learner (Marzano, Scott, Boogren, & Newcomb, 2017). As we researched the strategies and resources associated with creating environments where students can truly shine, I kept getting stuck on this question: How can we ask our teachers to motivate and inspire their students if they don’t feel motivated and inspired themselves? And thus, a new book was born.
As an education consultant, I travel via airplane multiple times a month, and the key safety announcement never changes, no matter the airline: “Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” The same is true for our educators. I believe that the key to thriving—both as a human being and an educator—rests in self-care.
To be clear, that is daily self-care, not the kind we promise to do during the summer or on the weekends, when our own children are older, or when we retire. Yes, daily. Psychologist Catherine P. Cook-Cottone (2015) defines self-care as the “daily process of being aware of and attending to one’s basic physiological and emotional needs including the shaping of one’s daily routine, relationships, and environment as needed to promote self-care” (p. 297). These include small tweaks, reminders, and (most importantly, perhaps) permission for educators to take care of themselves.
I believe we need to start asking ourselves new questions: What if we learned to take care of ourselves while taking care of our students? What if it weren’t an either-or situation? What if we split our time between our own needs and students’ in a new way? What if, for every move we make for the sake of our students, we also make a move for our own sake? What if we didn’t engage only in professional development on pedagogy and content, but spent time learning how to best support ourselves?
Using Abraham H. Maslow’s (1943) easily recognized and well-established theory of motivation, we can design our own individualized self-care plans. By pausing a few times each day in order to check in on how we’re doing, we can ask ourselves the following questions associated with each level of Maslow’s hierarchy in order to identify what we need in that very moment.
The Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- Physiological: Are my basic needs met?
- Safety: Do I feel safe?
- Belonging: Do I belong?
- Esteem: Do I feel confident?
- Self-Actualization: Am I living my best life?
- Transcendence: Do I feel inspired?
Once you reach a question that you answer with “no,” you can employ specific strategies targeted to that particular level of the pyramid, thus engaging in targeted, meaningful, impactful self-care.
Strategies Aligned to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- Physiological: Drink water, take a walk, get a good night’s sleep
- Safety: Stick to a schedule, listen to calming music
- Belonging: Put dates with your friends and family in your calendar, share meals without distractions
- Esteem: Utilize a growth mindset, talk to yourself like you’d talk to a loved one
- Self-Actualization: Choose work you love, challenge yourself with personal goals
- Transcendence: Practice gratitude, engage in altruistic acts
Here’s an example of how this might look. Say you set an alarm on your phone to go off during your lunch break. When you hear the buzz, you know that it’s time to take a few deep breaths and ask yourself the questions presented above. You start with, “Are my basic needs met?” and you quickly answer “no” as you realize that you haven’t had any water yet today and you feel particularly exhausted. You consider the strategies associated with this level and decide to grab your water bottle and go for a quick walk around the school before you sit down to eat lunch.
Or say you find yourself answering “yes” to every question until you get to level three, “Do I belong?” and you realize that you haven’t seen your best friend in two weeks and you’re missing that connection. You quickly send a text, setting up a coffee date for that weekend, and you feel better already.
Or maybe you get all the way to level six and realize that while things are pretty great, you don’t feel particularly inspired. You decide to record three things you’re grateful for today in your planner, and all of a sudden, your mood shifts.
In my forthcoming book, Take Time for You: Self-Care Action Plans for Educators (Boogren, 2018), I take readers through each level of the hierarchy, outlining possible strategies associated with each level of the hierarchy so that readers can create their own personalized plans for self-care. I also include personal surveys, a daily time audit, reflection questions, and examples of how each level impacts our lives both in school as well as in our personal lives so that we can truly thrive, not only for the students that we teach but ourselves as well.
Boogren, T. (2018). Take time for you: Self-care action plans for educators. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Cook-Cottone, C. P. (2015). Mindfulness and yoga for embodied self-regulation: A primer for mental health professionals. New York: Springer Publishing.
Marzano, R. J., Scott, D., Boogren, T., & Newcomb, M. L. (2017). Motivating & inspiring students: Strategies to awaken the learner. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research.
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396.