In today's post, I'll be reflecting on the following article from the Music Educator Journal:
Varona, D. A. (2018). The Mindful Music Educator: Strategies for Reducing Stress and Increasing Well-Being. Music Educators Journal, 105(2), 64–71. https://doi.org/10.1177/0027432118804035
As always, you can access this article through your library, or after logging in to the NAfME webpage with your credentials.
Who here has experienced burnout? I know I have felt this way at different points in my 15 year career as an educator. It's not uncommon to feel this way when doing such demanding work. Burnout is defined by three dimensions... Are you exhausted? check. Are you cynical? check. Do you lack the drive to be effective? check. If you feel yourself getting to this point, how might you react?
Before I go any further, I want to emphasize a point that Dr. Varona makes in this article. WE CAN ONLY TRULY CONTROL OUR OWN BEHAVIOR. While there are absolutely outside factors that increase the likelihood of teacher burnout, and we should certainly advocate for changes where they are possible, we will see the most impact in starting with ourselves and personal changes that we can implement to improve our functional mental health.
Dr. Verona points out that a practice of mindfulness, which can be defined as "the intention to pay attention to every moment in life, nonjudgementally" (p. 65), is an effective way to deal with the stressors that come with teaching and performing music. Practicing this restraint of judgment allows us to see a situation more clearly before acting upon it.
While Dr. Verona walked readers through a number of strategies that music educators might find helpful, I want to focus on two that I have used regularly with success, setting intention and gratitude journaling.
About three years in to teaching, I fumbled around for a personal mission statement to refine my thinking about my own teaching practice. I use this mission to set an intention for difficult situations.
I teach others to see beauty in themselves and the world around them through the study of music.
When I am facing a challenging situation at work, such as communication with an irate parent, or a disagreement with a colleague, or even a student who refuses to take ownership for their own learning, I go back to this mission. I spend time rethinking my response to the challenge in light of my own mission. How might I respond differently to a parent, colleague, or student if I want them to walk away from our communication seeing themselves and the world as a more beautiful place? While my action in response might not change, my attitude about it or the nature with which I approach that response does.
I try to be very mindful of the self-talk that I allow myself to ruminate upon. When at all possible, I try to turn my thoughts toward the positive. One very effective way of doing this is to keep a gratitude journal. I love journaling as a practice, however, I'm notorious for misplacing them or losing track of anything that isn't attached to me. I've adapted this slightly. I make notes of things for which I'm thankful on any convenient surface. It could be on a piece of paper, a small sticky note, in the margin of a meeting agenda, in my to-do list app, in the corner of a musical score...you get the idea.
Of course, sometimes it isn't appropriate to scrawl all over something. In this case, I give you permission to air your gratitudes as freely as your grievances. Tell a person via text, over social media, or face to face how much you appreciate what they've done. Celebrate a student one on one or with the whole class when they have a victory, no matter how small. Especially in times of great strain, we need 4-5 positive interactions to counteract negative ones. MAKE YOUR OWN POSITIVES! Go after those little gratitudes, victories, and celebrations as if they were your side hustle!
On the day my students discussed this article in class, I was home with the stomach flu. I was really bummed to miss out on the chance to hear their thoughts about it. However, my day was made when they went ahead and met on their own without me present, recorded their discussion about the article, and sent it to me quickly after! I was so thankful I didn't have to miss out on listening to them process such an important topic. I'm also thankful that I've set class up in such a way that expectations are clear, and that students are empowered to take on leadership roles on a regular basis.
Have you felt burnout? What did you do to alleviate your feelings?