This semester planning guide was created with the modern realities of school counseling in mind.
Tune in as we get REAL about working in schools, serving students, and advocating for our roles. You've never heard school counseling like this.
We LOVE helping school counselors! From interviewing to learning about all the the
things they don't teach in grad school like 504, MTSS, and behavior intervention, we will help you become the most empowered & educated counselor-expert you can be!
Self-care: a principle that evokes either excitement and hope or skepticism and annoyance. Let’s dive deep into the complex dynamics of self-care: why it can feel stressful, dismissive, unrealistic, and ignorant at times, and identify how to actually use self-care to its full advantage.
How often do administrators and other well-meaning folks schedule required in-service training centered around self-care?
Aside from the irony of spending time to talk about caring for oneself in the midst of usually the busiest times of the year, the same speeches of carving out personal time via pampering or indulging in expensive treats or services can feel like another item on an already mile-long to-do list. It can feel stressful to want to balance both a never-ending task list with the intention of preserving your own mental health, peace, and sanity. It can almost never coexist with the way that schools exist. Even following the ASCA model to a tee (with its 1:250 caseloads, no inappropriate duties, and full stakeholder support) may prove to be challenging to squeeze self-care in; especially considering that a counselor has a family at home or other obligations to attend to outside of the confines of work. Giving one-size-fits-all suggestions such as “take a walk in nature” or “make time to get a pedicure” feels dismissive of the present, continuous restraints and obligations that school counselors across the nation face daily.
Unrealistic expectations are almost always hidden within school counselor’s job descriptions as “duties as assigned”- because we truly are the catch-all of the school. It can be so frustrating to try and follow the ASCA Model to build an effective, comprehensive school counseling program, and for many of us, it’s next to impossible with the unrealistic expectations that are placed on our desks each and every day. How can one begin to think of something so far-fetched as self-care when being put into rotations, bus duty, 504/IEPs, and just the overall feeling of being entirely buried by work is the present focus? It feels almost disrespectful to be told to simply just care for yourself while feeling like there is not enough support, not enough resources, not enough of anything. Doesn’t it feel like self-care is marketed to us as this magic potion that will make any sort of issues, overwhelm, or sense of powerlessness disappear? It feels painfully ignorant to be preached to about self-care in a sometimes hours-long PD when there are so many better things that that time could be spent doing.
So, what can we do about this? What kind of true self-care exists that we can actually put into practice that will help us in the short-term and long-term?
Everything, everything, EVERYTHING is hard before it is easy. Applying this mindset to what is within your control is the key to creating small habits that evolve into routine, or, the long-term benefits. Micro self-care is the idea of integrating small, mindful, intentional actions into everyday life. Examples of micro self-care include the things that are typically presented in those PDs: mindfulness. Setting healthy boundaries. Drinking enough water. Eating healthy. Getting exercise. These things are typically activities that anyone can do with minimal prep, equipment, or willpower. They require intention and consistency, and that’s about it.
So what is the flip side to micro self care? Let’s talk about macro self-care: It is a birds-eye view of what it means to be intentional with caring for yourself, your needs, your dreams, and your desires. It analyzes things or behaviors that do not contribute to overall peace of mind. Identifying what you don’t need in your life is equally as important as what you do need.
Macro self-care requires a bit more planning, a bit more self-reflection, and a bit more purpose. Macro self-care looks like keeping regularly scheduled appointments – maybe with a therapist, a doctor, a dentist, or other health professional. It looks like planning and preparing nourishing meals- and taking the time to eat them. It is finding meaningful activities and actively integrating them into our daily lives.
Micro self-care and macro self-care intersect at times and can continue to build upon each other in ways that best serve each individual person. It is important that one is not overemphasized over the other. Being hyper focused on micro self-care is great for small bits of time, but only focusing on this acts as a bandaid for bigger, core issues. Macro self-care is great for keeping your body in check overall, but can paralyze a person from being an effective decision-maker for those momentary crises. Being aware of the ebbs and flows of personal and work life will make each person’s self-care journey wonderfully unique and balanced.
Don’t take our word for it, though. What does scientific research have to say about all this? There are literally dozens of case studies on the impact of mindfulness, self-care, etc in the education system, but here are a couple that highlight impressive results. The study conducted by Schussler, et al, called “Stress and Release: Case Studies of Teacher Resilience Following a Mindfulness-Based Intervention” (Schussler, et al, 2018) identifies behavior patterns, overall sense of stress, feelings of “burnout/reduced effectiveness”(Schussler, et al, 2018) and response to interventions in public school teachers. This case study analyzed the physical environment that the teachers worked in, as well as other contributing factors such as class size, curriculum changes, environmental risk factors (administration, classroom dynamics, overall culture of the school, etc). The researchers dove into the reasons why teachers were experiencing feelings of stress and burnout in an effort to counteract these feelings with strategies for resilience.
The researchers implemented a few different mindfulness-based programs aimed to assist educators with discovering protective factors to help them build resilience against feelings of overwhelm and burnout. These programs, called CARE (Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education), CALM (Comprehensive Approach to Learning Mindfulness), and SMART (Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques) were implemented in the beginning of the school year. The biggest focuses of each of these programs? Heightened awareness of self and mind, increased emotional regulation (letting those stressful situations just roll right off your back), and breathing exercises. The results were astounding- reports of decreased stress, physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches, and an increase in the ability to regulate emotions (Schussler, et al, 2018).
A similar study conducted by Jennings, et al, focused strictly on the CARE for Teachers program. This study focused on high poverty areas in New York- some of the most high-need populations in educational existence. The results produced similar stats as the Schussler study: decreased physical symptoms, increased feelings of balance/mindfulness, and overall feelings of better emotional regulation (Jennings, et al, 2017).
What can we learn from all this?
The elephant in the room is that there is a lot that is out of our control, and we cannot change an entire school system overnight – or even within a school year. However, we can implement small, intentional changes that will create lasting impacts to build resiliency and balance.
Jennings, P. A., Brown, J. L., Frank, J. L., Doyle, S., Oh, Y., Davis, R., Rasheed, D., DeWeese, A., DeMauro, A. A., Cham, H., & Greenberg, M. T. (2017). Impacts of the CARE for Teachers program on teachers’ social and emotional competence and classroom interactions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(7), 1010–1028. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000187
Schussler, D. L., DeWeese, A., Rasheed, D., DeMauro, A., Brown, J., Greenberg, M., & Jennings, P. A. (2018). Stress and release: Case studies of teacher resilience following a mindfulness-based intervention. American Journal of Education, 125(1), 1–28. https://doi.org/10.1086/699808