Tips for teachers by teachers: Focus on self-care this summer

To take care of students, caretakers and peers, teachers need take care of themselves first. Check out a few ideas on how to do just that this summer.

By Will Tolliver Jr.

When us educators hear the word “summer,” traditionally it seems that self-care should be the first thing that comes to mind. We think about cold drinks, vacations, passion projects and sleeping in. Heck, even working in the summer is better because the pressures of the school year are gone and we get a bit of flexibility working with learners. Summer is an educator’s dream.

When I hear the word “summer” today, I realize that 2020 has different plans. With racism and injustice taking a spotlight and resurgence in our world and the realities of COVID-19 and the boundaries that exist because of it, it seems as if self-care is a fleeting idea. This summer, all I see on the horizon is analyzing media, spending time at home (which I do love), and preparing myself and others around me for our upcoming election. It’s a lot of work, but we still have to make space to center ourselves this summer.

With that in mind, I wanted to take some time to encourage my fellow educators to “love all up on ourselves” so that we can be back and better than ever when we return to school this fall. We have to take care of our students, caretakers and peers, but we can’t do that if we don’t take care of ourselves first.

Check out a few ideas I have for how we can take care of ourselves this summer.

A woman meditates on a rug at home, next to a laptop, phone and office supplies.

Connect with your Allies

To every front yard there is a backyard. It is so important for us to keep our loved ones, friends and allies close to us. We cannot thrive without our support systems. Check up on the people that check up on you, check in on the introverted people in your life, and check in on old friends whom you haven’t talked to a long time. In the age of social distancing Facetime, Google Hangouts and Zoom all make it easy to communicate. These check-ins and conversations are critical because they prompt us to have tough conversations with ourselves and others, vent about things that are keeping us up at night and recenter our energies.

Speaking of energy…

Protect Your Energy

Especially to my fellow BIPOC who have and will continue to carry a burden during this racial pandemic, now more than ever, protecting our energy is the most important thing that we can do to take care of ourselves. Doing so is to be aware of how the realities of the world, the people around us and the things we do affect us and make us feel. Being able to be aware and identify how things make us feel is key in knowing when we need to log off, check out, or say no. This lets us know how much we can take and allows us to communicate our capacity not only as educators, but as human beings.

But this doesn’t just come to us, it’s something that we have to practice. I tackle this in a few ways:

  • Journaling: To the best of my ability, I aim to end my day by writing down all the things that I did. Conversations that I had, things that I read/watched, chores I did, anything that I can think of; and I like to rate them by color.
    – Green = This made me feel good.
    – Yellow = This made me feel neutral.
    – Red = I did not like the way this made me feel.
    By doing this, we can start to identify the things in our lives that we deem positive/negative and make the steps to keep, change or release them.
  • Meditation with Insight Timer App: This free app is one of my favorites as it helps to start my day off with some reflection and breathing for about 20 minutes. Recently, Insight Timer has been featuring guided meditation from Black instructors — we love to see it! —  and it has tons of options that allow us to personalize our meditation efforts.  We can attend live events about wellness and meditation or tap into music and there are even resources for parents.

Keep Learning

Although it may be summer, the learning doesn’t stop. As educators, we have a responsibility to ourselves, our learners, and our world to push our knowledge, craft and practices to be reflective of the world. This is crucial to keeping our brains and bodies as strong as they can be.

One way that I like to do that is with the educator-led and made Virtual Professional Learning Series on PBS LearningMedia. These free personal development opportunities come in a range of topics and are even credit-bearing — not to mention that you can watch them all at your convenience. This summer, I am especially excited about the upcoming series I have been working to produce, Tools for Anti-Racist Teaching, that will premiere this July.

In this four-part series, we will explore tools for anti-racist teaching and will consider the ways in which we can use media and media literacy to deepen our understanding of systemic racism.

Here are the series dates and topics:

  • July 2: Deepening Your Understanding of Race and Racism
  • July 23: Using Media to Know Better, Teach Better
  • July 28: Amplify Student Voice
  • July 30: Focusing on Young Learners
Blue ad for Tools for Anti-Racist Teaching digital workshop featuring raised fists holding a tablet and pencil.
Tools for Anti-Racist Teaching will explore tools for anti-racist teaching and will consider the ways in which we can use media and media literacy to deepen our understanding of systemic racism. | PBS LearningMedia

Related: 

Meme Therapy

Lastly, but certainly not least, it’s important to remember that it’s essential to feel hopeful and playful. I encourage us to laugh a bit, remember that we are kids at heart and consume media that inspires. Intentional Simplicity, a Black-woman owned mental health and wellness company, runs an amazing instagram account populated with memes that will keep us in good spirits, even in these tough times. Not to mention, exploring #teachermemes on Instagram populates some really good laughs for us!

With all that in mind, there is no set recipe for how to care for oneself. The only thing that I can push you to do this summer is to try. Our world is filled with chaos at this moment and we have to take care of ourselves so we can take care of each other and the world around us. Fall is approaching, so center self-care this summer so we can fight fall the only way we know how — as educators!


Will Tolliver Jr. is a Pittsburgh based leader, innovator and change-maker recognized throughout the education community as an early learning expert. Will has contributed to various projects and lent his skills to grant writing, project implementation and management, curriculum development, event planning, tutoring and mentoring, and incubating new innovations. He has worked with organizations like PBS, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and PAEYC to move the mission forward for children. Find him on Twitter @WillTolliverJr.

This article was originally published on PBS SoCal’s At-Home Learning initiative.

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