Staying Connected – Fabiana Casella Talks About Self-Compassion

Have you ever wondered how some teachers seem to do it all? Not only do they care for their students, but they also put their heart and soul into their relationships with friends and families.  Fabiana Casella is this type of teacher. Seeing the work she does with her online teaching communities (visit her blog, The Goal-Minded, Globally Connected Educator, to see what I mean), I wondered how a teacher who gives so much also manages to give to herself. I am grateful that Fabiana generously offered to share her story and strategies on the Teachers Talking About Self-compassion series for all of us to learn from.

Fabiana’s Red Thumb for Love

I am from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I´ve been teaching English as a foreign language for more than twenty years plus the six years I taught English as a second language and Spanish in the United States. I personally think there are no coincidences in life. I believe there is something superior to us that leads us to where we best fit, so I would like to share some aspects of how I moved between Argentina and the United States, and how this relates to my story of self-compassion.

In 2001 there was a big economical change in Argentina but my family and I, especially my husband,  had started to feel the transition a couple of years before that specific date. There are certain moments in your life when you have to make decisions and think what is best for you, so that was why I applied to teach at a high school in the United States and got accepted. My husband, my only son back then (Martín, 4), and I moved to North Carolina, USA. We lived there only for three years as I was an exchange teacher. Then, after the permit to work expired, we moved back to our country. But soon after that, I was offered the job again, and we moved back to the American South again! Hurray! We had had in mind to stay longer than the three years permitted by the exchange program to take advantage of the kind of life and benefit for our son, who was already bilingual and doing so well at school. I was so grateful to be able to offer him this life.

I have to admit that that was a turning point in our lives, especially in my own life as a person and as an educator. I have never realized that what I was experiencing was emotionally related to “self-compassion”. I had obviously felt it but never thought so deeply about the fact that being compassionate about others as well as myself would bring me so much self-reflection and inner peace. As an educator who had been trained in one country, and then to teach in another culture, I had to adapt my thinking, my way of teaching and… should I say almost everything as a world citizen and international educator to succeed? I am not so sure if success is the right word to describe my experience, but maybe victorious is more suitable. I made good friends and had wonderful students who taught me that although life is not the same around the world, living and dying happens everywhere. In this way my mind and my eyes were more ready to think and see beyond that very boundary that I had been immersed in before. Reflecting after my classes and talking to my fellow teachers, as well as administrators, was absolutely enriching to my heart.

Have I learned enough? Definitely not!  Have I changed my way of thinking and seeing things? Absolutely, yes!

Since then, I have been trying to make connections and keep in touch with the international community of the best educators and thanks to the Internet, I was able to do so. That was a blessing. That was what helped me overcome the isolation I felt when I came back to my life in my home country. Believe it or not, staying connected helped me to re-build myself and find another way of seeing my life as a teacher: I try to blog, interact and keep on learning on a daily basis. Moving out of the country had its purpose in my life and now I understand, thanks to the faith that guides me day and night, I am back for a different reason. I would have never started blogging and sharing if I had remained in the same place all my life.

By giving I feel I get more and more everyday. As I always say and fully believe (as a music lover the lyrics of this song always inspire me):

… in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

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Is self-care taboo for teachers in the UK? – Natalie Cotterill

Four in 10 new teachers quit within a year

If there ever was a reason to look into the necessity of self-care for teachers, the numbers in that article make a pretty damn good case. I was aware it was rough for teachers in the United Kingdom, but I didn’t realize it went this far.

I first learned about the stressful conditions from my dear friend, Natalie Cotterill, when she thanked me on a few occasions for adding links and blog posts to the Self-Compassion for Teachers Facebook page. In need of support, she even added the inspiring picture you see below to the Red Thumbs Around the World collection. After reading the above linked article, I wondered how Natalie was still teaching!

I knew we had a lot to learn from her, and I am thankful she graciously offered to answer the Teachers Talking About Self-Compassion series’ questions about her teaching history, her strategies for self-care, and why self-care is important to her as a teacher.

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I have taught in South Korea and the UK. I’ve taught English language as a foreign language and English literature and language in the UK. This is my sixth year of teaching in the UK, I’ve moved this year from Secondary School (11-18) to a Sixth Form College (16-19).

When I was training to be a teacher, I had one lecture in which we were given the advice to, ‘hold on to your own professionalism.’ This, to me, meant determining for myself what successful teaching and learning looked like. It meant finding my own way to work and holding true to that, whilst taking advice and honing my skills. This is impossible almost everywhere in state education in the UK at the moment. New initiatives (which are often, in fact, regressive) and course changes are now the norm and many teachers, myself included, have only ever known life under a Conservative government. Teachers are encouraged to compete to mark the books more than others, to work longer and longer hours and to relish more pointless administrative work such as data entry, all of which takes us away from our own and our students’ learning. The competitive environment leads to teachers and students punishing themselves and feeling that whatever they do is not enough. I know that feeling only too well. I’ve witnessed colleagues and friends become ill with stress as the pressure mounts to meet the ever-changing standards.

Natalie grading papers

Natalie grading papers

Earlier in the year, I started attending a Yoga group locally. We practice Yoga Nidra, which involves group meditation for around two hours at a time. There is no physical exercise involved as the focus is on connecting will, mind and body. I stopped attending when my workload became ‘too great’ in the summer term. Looking back, it was then that I needed Tuesday nights to myself the most. The busier I am, the more important I think it is to find time to meditate, even for one minute. This is my way of being self-compassionate, but I often forget to look after myself in this way.

As a teacher in a very large London school,  with constant government-led changes to policy and a culture of fear (with initiatives like Performance Related Pay, which means teachers’ salaries are now linked to examination results), it’s so easy to lose sight of why you got into teaching, and to lose sight of who you are as an individual. A frantic, fear-driven environment is not conducive to learning or, most importantly, happiness. Your health can become bottom of the To Do list. I would go from coffee to keep me awake all day to wine to help me sleep at night. This is a cycle that becomes self-perpetuating.

It’s no wonder that the average length of career for teachers in the UK has dropped to ten years and is dropping every year. Self-care has almost become a taboo in UK schools, with teachers feeling that they have to agree to do anything of Ofsted or Senior Management tell them to, lest they be accused of not putting the children first. We need to change this and recognise that a work-life balance is not a luxury, that looking after yourself is not an indulgence.  You have to put your own oxygen mask on first, or you can’t help anyone.

I’m about to start teaching in a new environment, at a Sixth Form College in West London. I’m feeling anxious about getting everything ready for the term ahead and also excited. I’m hoping I’ve found an environment where self-compassion can not only be possible for me, but central to my life. Fingers crossed.

We’re in the same boat: Hana Tichá

One of the joys of gathering stories for the Teachers Talking About Self-compassion series includes the opportunity to look back on how I met the teachers who accept my request or volunteer to answer the three questions. To date, I have only physically met one teacher, and “meet” with the other two (found here and here) regularly via our favourite social networks.

This is how I met Hana Tichá: through one of our favourite online venues, blogging. Her blog, “How I see it now” came to my attention when we both decided to join the Reflective Practice Blog Challenge set out by John Pfordresher. I quickly learned that Hana brings care, mindfulness, and love to each word she types. I’ve also learned that many people, including me, are very appreciative of these words. They expand our heart and mind, and make our days a bit brighter.

Keep reading. You’ll understand what I mean.

Hana with redthumbforlove and heart

Hana’s #RedThumbForLove

Note: This is Hana’s second #RedThumbForLove snapshot. You can find her first one here.

In what country or countries do you currently teach or in what countries have you taught?  What subject or skills do you teach or have you taught? 

To the online world, I like to introduce myself as an English as a foreign language teacher, but here in the Czech Republic I consider myself to be a subject teacher of English at a secondary school.

In the past, I worked freelance and had classes of very small kids as well as adults of all ages and occupations. Currently, I’m working in the state sector of education and teach children aged 11-19. I’m a homeroom teacher to a class of 14-year olds, which I’m extremely proud of. I’m also the head of the English Department at our institution, which, on the other hand, yields more responsibility than pleasure.

What strategies do you use to practice self-compassion/self-care? 

When I’m emotionally shattered or worried about work, the first thing I do is go and talk to my friends and colleagues. As a rule, they are usually more compassionate than I am self-compassionate.

Reading blogs of like-minded educators has a particularly soothing effect, too. People like Zhenya PolosatovaAnne HendlerKevin SteinAnna LosevaRose Bard, you, Josette, and many more always lift my spirits when I feel I’m getting off the right track. Also, writing my own blog helps me see things from a different perspective. I’m particularly grateful for the comments I get from fellow bloggers, especially for their message: Don’t worry; we’re in the same boat.

But sometimes I just grab a book that is not education-related: a novel, even something esoteric. There’s a copy of Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness sitting on my bedside table and I read it whenever I need to take a break from the stressful, material world or when I need to remind myself of the importance of compassion and love in a human’s life.

Why is self-compassion/self-care important to you in terms of the work you do as a teacher?

Although they look similar on paper, compassion and self-compassion produce very different emotions which don’t have the same healing effect. When my colleague expresses a deep feeling for my suffering and misfortune, it helps a lot, but only temporarily. Self-compassion, on the other hand, has a permanent remedial effect. I believe that self-compassion changes you gradually and completely while constant compassionate comments from your colleagues may sometimes result in your stagnation.

To be honest, I’m not a naturally self-compassionate person; I tend to mercilessly judge and criticize myself and then I like to revel in self-pity for a while. This is not very helpful if you are a full-time teacher. A lot happens during the day at school and especially the emotional part of it can be overwhelming. In such conditions, a minor incident easily becomes a terrible disaster in your eyes and it affects your mood and sense of self-worth for a couple of days.

To conclude, I would say that the hardest part of any reflection process, which, to me, is synonymous with self-care, is forgiving. I believe that we constantly need to learn to forgive ourselves for being imperfect. Actually, why should we strive for perfection at all given that perfection kills, but wisdom makes a mistake every day?

Writing through the Teacher-Person #RedThumbForLove

There is something healing about reading the personal stories of teachers. As I read Christina Chorianopoulou’s post, I felt like she was telling part of my story. For giving me, and others, this type of understanding, I am grateful.

I am also honored that she has written this piece in connection to the #RedThumbForLove project. Each word is an extension of her heart.

theteacherperson

I’m a teacher. I’m still not entirely certain on how I became one, or why. It was one of those things that come and take their stand in front of you and you are called to decide whether you accept or decline the offer. When I said ‘yes, I accept’, I was not prepared for it. I just let it happen to me. I struggled, I asked for help, I learned, I trained, I struggled more. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I still enjoy it. I became the teaching, even though I can’t pinpoint exactly when that was settled.

You have hopefully taken note of the personal pronoun so far. For quite some time, and time that is generally accepted and described as ‘the best years of one’s life’, this was my supposed inner truth: this is what Ι do, therefore Ι have to cope with the struggle and Ι 

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#redthumbforlove & in support: @KRISellaneous

This post has a few layers, but the main theme revolves around a dear friend of mine, Kristina Eisenhower. The layers relate to today being her 52nd birthday, and her red-painted thumb.

There is one birthday gift I would love to give her, but I can’t. This gift has to come from you. I’ll explain in a bit. It’ll become clear after I share the story of her #redthumbforlove.

Whenever I hear about teachers who have painted their thumb red (click here to learn why), I always ask them to send me a picture so I can add it to the Red Thumbs Around the World collection. To my delight, Kristina enthusiastically sent a few shots along with an explanation. In pure Krisellaneous style (this name will also become clear), her explanation pointed to two beautiful layers of care:
redthumbforlovedarksquare-2-2

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am into painted nails and doing my own nail art. I love sporting designs that are meaningful to me, or project my passions or show support for other endeavors and individuals.  So, in this month of June, I am giving 2 thumbs up — one bright rainbow for Gay Pride Month, and one solid shiny red for #redthumbforlove support!  As for me personally, I am about to embark on a new manner of sharing information or knowledge that is very different from my traditional role as a classroom teacher.  So, not only did I paint my right thumb red for love, I painted 7 other fingernails and 8 toenails red to bring me 15 times more self-compassion! In case you’re doing the math here, I DO have all my fingers and toes. It’s just that my two big toenails are also waving the rainbow flag, as well as my right ring finger.  So, four digits are down for the LBGT community, and the rest are REDdy for LOVE!

This woman is all about support! For her birthday, I would love to support her right back. Here’s my idea.

Today Kristina begins her “new manner of sharing information or knowledge”, which she just unveiled as “The Experience Expedition”. I am very excited about her Expedition as it is a celebration of life and I think we can always use more celebration in our lives. You can read more about her project via her blog, KRISellaneous.

The name of her blog aptly points the miscellaneous experiences she describes for her audience. But there is another notable element about her blog: it is an example of self-care. Kristina writes about what matters to her and what brings her joy. Via her writing, she attends to her passions. I think one part of self-care is taking the time to honour and cherish our lives. KRISellaneous supports this idea.

And now for the birthday gift. I have a request for you, dear reader. And please know I have no expectations in making this request. I am grateful for whatever way you choose to respond. If it connects to you, the gift I would love to give Kristina is your subscription to her blog (sign up here). I am confident this will be a space for you to rest, and relax when you need a little break from the classroom. If you enjoy what you see there, you may also want to follow her self-care filled Instagram feedher Twitter account, or her Facebook page.

Thank you for taking my request into consideration. But most importantly, thank you for your support. :)

Happy Birthday Kristina!