Dr. Sean Schat, assistant professor of education, says educator self care has always been an important topic, and the pandemic has made it exponentially more complex. “Educators who do not sufficiently care for themselves often end up unable to care for their students, so it is a personal, ethical and professional obligation,” says Schat, admitting that even so, it can be hard to do. “The job will always expand to fill whatever time one is willing to give it. And there are always emerging needs and details that make the work continuously challenging. Some people cannot handle this – you are never done, and there is always the potential for surprises and catastrophes, as well as amazing joys, celebrations and adventures, of course!”
Schat says self care is a topic that comes up quite naturally in his courses at Redeemer. With alarming statistics pointing to nearly half of all teachers leaving the profession in the first five years, he doesn’t want his students to become part of that group.
“We believe that self care and realistic perceptions about the complexity of the profession are a key part of our equipping and preparing;’ says Schat. “One of my friends in the profession reminded me as I started my work as a teacher: find something to do each week that pulls you away from the job. I took that very seriously, and share it with all of our candidates.”
Schat’s new book chapter, “How Leaders and Organizations Can Support Educator Self-Care Practices” in Self Care for Educators: Soul-Nourishing Practices to Support Wellbeing, specifically focuses on the role leaders and organizations can play.
“Some teachers will forget or overlook self care, or even believe it is selfish or sinful. So it is a leadership and institutional issue as well as an individual and personal responsibility. My thesis is that educational leaders and educational institutions need to recognize this and do things to help support the self-care practices of the educators they work with.”
He mentions a number of practical things in his chapter that leaders and institutions can do to set the stage for educator self care. These include drawing attention to the nature and impact of self-care practices; naming the issue as something that matters to the institution; letting educators know they are expected to practice self care and providing clear rationale; considering possible human resource policies that affirm, support and provide for educator self care; and protecting teacher time to ensure they have the opportunity to recharge. Leaders and institutions should also ensure that teachers are not islands, but provide them the opportunity to interact in a variety of ways in order to clearly demonstrate that teaching is a shared responsibility and vocation, done in community, not in isolation.
From a Reformed worldview perspective, Schat says self care is a redemptive response to the realities of sin and brokenness and their impact on teachers, students and communities.
We need to face sin and brokenness head on, and that means we need to be at our best to do so. And that means we must take care of ourselves.
“We need to face sin and brokenness head on, and that means we need to be at our best to do so. And that means we must take care of ourselves. Not ‘we should.’ Not ‘it would be a good idea.’ It is an ethical, relational and professional obligation that I believe is very faithful to our vocational call.” Schat submitted a chapter that pulled together both his master’s research (on leadership theory and leadership in education) and his PhD dissertation (on care theory and the communication of care in education). He notes that self care is a natural extension of the significance of communicating care, ensuring that our intentions and actions are consistent.
He also explores the three primary leadership responsibilities he identified in his earlier work: following God, leading people, and doing both in the context of fulfilling the organization’s mission and vision. Supporting the self care and well-being of educators can and should play a key role in each of these leadership responsibilities.
“We follow God by ensuring that those under our care are doing okay and taking care of themselves, because we know they need to be well to do well. We lead people who work with others, and we need them to flourish and thrive in order to co-lead and to influence those around them. And the mission and vision of educational institutions is centred around identity, growth and development, and flourishing and well-being, so supporting educator self care has obvious significance.”