Sherry St. Clair
Coaches Are Givers. Self-Care Is Our Fuel.
Anyone who knows my work knows that I believe in everyone’s potential to push past the fear of change and choose to reach for growth. When it comes to helping others change and grow—as coaches do—this takes leadership. It’s not enough to know the most high-impact instructional strategies, or understand how to use all the latest learning technologies. Coaches are asking people to trust us as we lead them down the vulnerable path of discovering their untapped potential to soar to the greatest of heights. Coaches are leaders first, coaches second. I repeat this belief often in my work.
Because of the nature of my work, you might hear me say this less, but I believe it just as deeply: Coaches are givers and must take breaks. If we don’t restore ourselves, we will have nothing left to give in our work.
We have just closed out an incredibly challenging year and are gazing upon one that we know will present many similar challenges. However, unlike when we started 2020, we have an advantage at the beginning of 2021: our expectations are measured, and we have a better understanding of what’s in store for us as educators—and as humans. While 2020 left us scrambling to adapt to a new world, 2021 affords us the opportunity to build self-care into our work and routines so that we can refuel as needed and remain wholeheartedly available to those we coach. It’s an opportunity we must seize.
Even in more typical years, we can give to others only as much as we have given to ourselves. To preserve your energy and continue to be effective leaders and coaches, I’d like to remind you of three important things to keep in mind about self-care:
Self-care isn’t lazy. While it might not look or feel like our typical work, self-care is productive. It includes any activity that is restorative to you. This can be anything from meditation, to exercise, to journaling, to reading for pleasure, all the way to enjoying a good movie. Self-care has been linked to lower morbidity, mortality, and healthcare costs. Exercise in particular boosts one’s capacity to regulate emotions amid stressful situations. Mindfulness and meditation, popular forms of self-care, have been shown to reduce anxiety. By allowing you to quiet your mind and focus your energy on something other than your to do list, self-care is an investment in your overall health.
Pause to reflect—and boost your performance. Merely taking a few minutes to reflect on the day is a form of mindfulness. Employees who take even 15 minutes a day to reflect on lessons learned had 23 percent better performance results after just ten days compared to those who did not self-reflect. Many resist reflection because they worry they’ll have to confront mistakes, or they don’t know how to do it. To convince you of its power—even when it asks you to acknowledge how you can be better next time—as well as offer guidelines, I recommend reading this brief HBR article: Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It).
Coaches can model self care. Our teachers will also struggle to give to their students if they are running on fumes—and so many of them are, as they continue to toggle between in-person and virtual teaching. Especially as the pandemic persists, consider incorporating self-care into your coaching. In every session, make a point to ask your teachers what they’re doing to restore and tend to their health and wellbeing. Encourage them to carve out time for self-care, reassuring them that it will help, not delay, their growth. Back up your words with action by modeling it for them.
I know how difficult it can be to justify taking a break or pausing to reflect when our to do list is overwhelming and our responsibilities are serious. Keep in mind that forgoing self-care is a risk, as well. It is a surefire way to burn out.
When it comes to self-care, five minutes a day is better than nothing. Start small. As you witness the boost in productivity, you can steadily set aside more time each day for self-care. Until you find that ideal amount that rejuvenates you for the day and helps you complete your work from a place of energy, not depletion.
Will you commit to some kind of daily self-care with me? Share with me your 2021 self-care plans, using #2021self-care, and let’s help each other keep our tanks full so we have enough fuel to keep giving to others.
Sherry St. Clair, president of Reflective Learning LLC, is the author of Coaching Redefined: A Guide to Leading Meaningful Instructional Growth. She coaches instructional leaders globally, with the aim of helping administrators, coaches, and teachers create the optimal learning environment for students. Additionally, she serves as a Senior Fellow for the International Center for Leadership in Education.