Lessons from 4 years at Self-Care for Teachers

Disclaimer: this is a very long piece and I’m unapologetic about that. It’s 4 years worth of reflections, so there’s a bit to say. Plus, this is my website, so you can take it or leave it 🙂

In case you want to skip to just the sections that interest you, here’s a list: 

Happy Birthday Self-Care for Teachers (SC4T)

Four years ago this month, Self-Care For Teachers was born.

I was on my honeymoon in Iceland. We were visiting Pingvellir National Park, walking through the gorge that is literally between two tectonic plates (🤯) and I was struck by this…call. 

I don’t really have words for it, even now. 

I remember Stuart going off to investigate something and me staying on a park bench frantically trying to get my thumbs to keep up with my brain as I typed the ideas into my phone’s notes app. 

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Four years ago today, @selfcareforteachers was born. I was on my honeymoon in Iceland — phenomenal country…highly recommend, for so many reasons, but that is a post for another day! We were visiting Pingvellir National Park, walking through the gorge that is literally between two tectonic plates (🤯) and I was struck by this…vision. I don’t really have words for it, even now. I remember Stuart going off to investigate something and me staying on a park bench frantically trying to get my thumbs to keep up with my brain as I typed the ideas into my phone’s notes app. I find it amusing to see this photo of geese from the very day I heard the call to start reminding teachers that they are golden-egg laying geese and not battery hens. (And yes, I realise I wrote duckies in the caption on the original post!) A lot has happened in those 4 years. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately because July is such a month of anniversaries for me – not just the birth of SC4T and my honeymoon, but also my thyroid cancer diagnosis and series of surgeries (9 years ago), the unexpected loss of my cousin (5 years ago) and also the anniversary of the dog bite that sent me into a bit of a tailspin this time last year. Some changes are coming to SC4T over the coming months. Good ones, I believe, and necessary if it is to survive another 4 years (or 40!). I’m working on a blog post explaining it all so stay tuned for that early next week. And now? I’m off to celebrate this birthday with some chicken soup and early to bed so I can shake these winter germs! Night all x

A post shared by Self-Care For Teachers ☕️🛁💗 (@selfcareforteachers) on

A lot has happened in those 4 years. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately because July is such a month of anniversaries for me – not just the birth of SC4T and my honeymoon, but also my thyroid cancer diagnosis and series of surgeries (9 years ago), the unexpected loss of my cousin (5 years ago) and also the anniversary of the dog bite that sent me into a bit of a tailspin this time last year.

Over the last 12 months some things have shifted significantly for me, or perhaps rather fallen into place. 

I’ve realised that I can’t keep running Self-Care for Teachers on the smell of an oily rag and my own blood, sweat and tears (and wow has there been blood, sweat and tears!)

I’ve also realised that I can’t keep doing everything myself. The first step in this was outsourcing the editing of the podcast, and I’m now looking at getting some help with admin and tech tasks because I’m woefully slow at these and many things get put off indefinitely.

And finally, I’ve realised that if I don’t seriously look at monetising Self-Care for Teachers properly, and at being in a much better financial position in my life in general, I’ll never get to a point where I can make the difference I want to make or enact the vision I have for my life and frankly, for Australia.

That makes me cringe, just writing that. 

Who do I think I am to say I have a vision for our entire country? 

But I do. 

It’s scary AF but it’s the truth. 

So, some changes are coming to SC4T over the coming months. 

Good ones, I believe, and necessary if this thing is to survive another 4 years (or 40!).

My goals: then and now

Self-Care for Teachers began life as a Facebook support group (now archived) and it took me 6 months or so to set up the Facebook page and the first version of the website. I was still teaching at the time and I didn’t have a lot of time, money or expertise. I very slowly taught myself how to put things out there online, DIYing everything.

I had two concrete goals:

  1. Make a consistent contribution to the teacher wellbeing conversation in Australia (as a trusted authority or advisor on the subject). AND
  2. Replace my teaching income (which was at the time I made the goal, 60% of a full time income).

After 4 years I feel confident in saying I’ve achieved some of the first, but I am still a LONG way from achieving the second goal. 

Like I said, I have a big vision with Self-Care for Teachers, but actually it’s more like a calling. 

The truth is that I’ve tried to quit SC4T more times than I can count. It’s been a labour of love but it’s also been a slog in many ways.

I’ve privately given up multiple times. Except every time I do the damn idea won’t leave me alone.

In it’s 4 years of life, Self-Care for Teachers has seen a few iterations and until very, very recently it’s never paid for its expenses consistently, let alone paid me. 

I don’t tell you this to whinge or to seek pity. I just want to shed a little light into the reality of it, because I know people have all sorts of ideas about what a social media following and podcast downloads and ABC interviews mean. 

I know because I get PMs and DMs from people asking me to teach them how I’ve done what I’ve done because they too want to quit their teaching job and start a website and live off that. 

And sometimes I laugh at those messages and sometimes I cry. 

Please don’t quit your teaching job to start a website and a business coaching teachers on wellbeing.

Chances are really, really good that it will cost you more than it makes you in dollars, and it will use up a lot of your other precious resources (energy, time) too. 

And I don’t say that from purely my own experience. I’ve been in the online business space with other people attempting similar for 5 – 6 years now and I know that entrepreneurial poverty is very real and very common.

I also know that the Facebook ads selling you get-rich-quick schemes are as seductive as they are dangerous.

Financial security is incredibly important for your mental and physical health. Quitting your teaching job for the promise of online business bliss is not all it’s cut out to be.

And if I wasn’t sure about that by now, my recent podcast interviewwith best-selling author and teacher advocate Gabbie Stroud on the Teacher Wellbeing Podcast cemented it for me. 

She has seen the same thing, and she knows like I do the strain it puts on life when you leave your steady teacher pay cheque behind. 

Today I want to share with you my vision, some of the ways I’m changing things here at SC4T in light of that, and how you can help. 

My vision for Australia

I mentioned at the start that I had a vision for education in this country. It’s been surprisingly difficult to put into words because there are so many voices in my head telling me to stay quiet, stop dreaming so big and not be disruptive (it’s noisy in my mind 🙃).

But the quiet, steady call stays persistent, and here’s the current iteration:

  • State schools will be fairly funded and the students with the most disadvantage, the most need, will not be forgotten but truly and equitably supported, as will the adults doing the support work
  • Politicians will put aside their political careers and short term election strategies and actually focus on long term changes that benefit our whole country
  • The media will respect teachers—I actually think this is changing already and I’m so pleased, but we still have some way to go
  • Teachers will be respected by society, and especially by the parents of the children with whom they work
  • Parents will have adequate support to deal with their own lives and we will have helps with the burnout problem that plagues people in all careers in modern life, especially working parents
  • We will have more teachers, smaller class sizes, more time given to doing work that is actually meaningful and valuable. And yes, we will have some standardised testing and useful data, but it won’t be the forefront or at the expense of relationships or wellbeing or, indeed, deep learning
  • We’ll be given the autonomy and the time and resources to implement best practice from around the world (which is basically the opposite of one-size fits all ‘follow America’s lead’ approach we have now)
  • We will retain teachers because it will be an attractive career choice. This will not only be because of professional pay but because of great working conditions, a reasonable workload, professional autonomy and the magic of working in classrooms.

The journey to get here

As you may know, I crowdfunded Season 5 of the Teacher Wellbeing Podcast. I’d dabbled with some sponsors in Seasons 3 and 4, and I’d played around with Patreon, but the Pozible campaign in March 2019 has really been what helped click some of this thinking into gear for me. 

Up until this year I’d describe the whole enterprise as a hobby business. It has made little bits of money in dribs and drabs, but for the most part it’s been the money I made freelancing that kept Self-Care for Teachers afloat.

And mostly what kept me personally afloat was my wonderful, hardworking husband Stuart. If it wasn’t for his income this whole thing would have been kaput from the start.

My freelance work started to take off and require more of my time and energy, and I let it, because it was rewarding and enjoyable, and I could (mostly) switch off at the end of the day.

Initially I was really ashamed of my other work.

I was embarrassed that I wasn’t making enough money to pay all the bills with Self-Care for Teachers, and I didn’t want you to find out about it. 

I felt like a fraud. 

I felt that the small number of coaching clients I had would think I was a charlatan if they knew I wasn’t coaching all day everyday, and I was afraid nobody else would ever listen to me if they knew I didn’t have oodles of coaching clients filling up my timetable. 

Then, in 2018, on top of that, a range of life and health stuff happened that meant that I simply wasn’t in a great headspace myself, so I stopped coaching altogether. I missed it, but I knew I wasn’t my best self and didn’t really have the emotional capacity to show up fully to my clients. 

I stand by that decision because I take my responsibility as a coach extremely seriously.

If I’m not mentally or emotionally fit to be coaching, you bet I will take a step back until I am able to safely and responsibly hold space for clients again. 

My freelance work was doing ok financially and so I focused there. But despite winding back my services, I kept going with the content creation at SC4T. 

Like I said, the damn idea wouldn’t leave me alone so I felt by continuing with the podcast and the social media presence, at least I was still answering the call in some way.

The call

The calling that I felt way back between the tectonic plates in Iceland was really about making a difference to education and educators across Australia.

Some things have changed since then, but mostly it’s as necessary now as it was then. 

As 2019 dawned, I felt a renewed energy and sense of that call to Self-Care for Teachers. 

But I knew I couldn’t do it the way I’d done it before, DIYing everything and with very little revenue. Slowly, as the year has progressed, things have been looking up again for Self-Care for Teachers. 

As a result, I’ve also been able to create more and show up in ways that I couldn’t before.

I’ve proven to myself what I already had begun to suspect, which was that only when Self-Care for Teachers is sustainable in terms of money, time and energy, would I be able to show up as my best self and really make the difference I want to make.

I’m not there yet by any means, but I can now see the path forward.

Unexpectedly, I got an invitation not once but twice, from some ABC radio journos in Perth wanting my comment on teacher stress, teacher wellbeing and education in Australia. 

It was scary but also very exciting, and it would be remiss of me if I didn’t acknowledge the hard work I’ve put in to getting to the point where I feel I deserve these opportunities. 

It was unexpected but it wasn’t luck and I’m not interested in selling a narrative that paints it as such. 

I’ve showed up and worked hard over several years. I’ve spent money, time and energy learning and sharing what I’m learning, producing content and having a presence online. 

Remember, my goals when I began SC4T were: 

  1. Make a consistent contribution to the teacher wellbeing conversation in Australia. AND
  2. Replace my teaching income.

I’ve contributed consistently to this conversation in many ways. At the very least, I know I’ve made a difference to a couple of thousand teachers who follow me and listen to my podcast regularly. 

That’s worth it to me, but I absolutely want to do more in the future.

I’ve met goal 1. But for this to go on, for me to create any kind of growth in that area, I need to focus more on goal 2. 

About the changes coming to SC4T

Firstly, as of October 2019, my coaching prices are going to go up. 

I know coaching is already something that is out of the financial reach of some and that is why I always offer a few pro-bono spots. If that is something you are interested in, apply here

I also know some of you will have been sitting on the fence about working with me, so consider this a great time to jump in before the price rise

Secondly, and because I don’t want finances to be a barrier to accessing information and inspiration for your wellbeing, nothing will change with the consumption of the podcast or the Resource Room freebies library. They will both remain free for you. 

Other than the podcast, the library has by far been the most popular thing I have created. The free trainings will remain there in the vault for you to access anytime you need, as well as some of my worksheets and other resources too. 

But what is going to change is that I’m going to think more carefully about how I finance the podcast going forward. I’m not yet sure a big crowdfunding campaign twice a year is the way to go… I have no answers on that front yet but I’ll keep you posted.

The other thing I’m going to do is put any new resources I create as well as everything that is currently in the Freebies library on my Teachers Pay Teachers store for a decent price (i.e. it won’t all be $3). 

If you truly can’t afford it, that’s totally fine, you can sign up to the Freebies Library and access all those resources for the low price of your email address.  

But the fact is that TpT is a fantastic marketplace and I can no longer ignore the income opportunities there.

If I’m to be able to continue to produce resources that will be free elsewhere, and have the time and energy to speak in the media in the way I’d like to, I need to look at every income generating option and TPT is a very logical one. 

I have also decided to have another go at making Patreon work. I don’t know how it’s going to go, and whether it will work, but I’m opening that up again for people who just want to support what I’m doing here for a few dollars a month. If you’d like to support my work in this way, then please check out the Patreon page here.

And, after years of not offering in-school wellbeing professional development programs, I am opening myself up to that as a possibility too. I’ve realised that the reasons I was holding back from offering PD do not have to hold me back, and I can offer PD the way I want to and with the boundaries or expectations that I feel are needed in order for it to be in integrity for me.

I’m grateful in particular to Katrina Bourke for helping me see that. If you or your school is interested in having me bring my particular brand of wellbeing to your school, then get in touch here.

But Ellen, why bother?

Well, because that annoying call won’t leave me alone.

But also because I’m really angry about the fact that we as a nation are in this position. 

Our kids are over tested, anxious and depressed, and unprepared for the jobs of the future. 

Our teachers are burnt out, depressed and anxious alcoholicswho leave the profession, or worse, stay and don’t get better, all the while contributing to a culture where we suck it up and soldier on and don’t actually practice self-care.

Successive governments have focused more on their election prospects than on actually implementing what we know is good practice and educationally sound, like fair funding and focusing on quality teaching and learning, not data. 

Successive govenrments continue to be wasting millions of dollars on ‘Teacher quality’ and ‘Teacher Wellbeing programs’ and ignoring the real problem of workload and the societal issues that cause behaviour issues, not to mention the waste of tax payer dollars that go into subsidising education degrees and training teachers who leave within a few years because of the unreasonable demands of the system. 

Our society at large doesn’t respect teachers, and has produced a generation of entitled kids and even more entitled parents who actually assault teachers.

And I want to do something about it at the systemic, political level. 

I know some people get turned off by politics. I know the union movement is on the nose in Australia. And I want to be clear – this isn’t about unions or party politics, at all. 

But the fact remains that it’s at the policy level that real change will come to our education system. 

Self-care is crucial to us as individuals, and school wellbeing programs are very valuable in their own way. But it’s the political, systemic level where things will really change.

I know that so many of you have no interest in doing this in the first place. You just want to show up, do your job, do a damn good job, teach some amazing little humans, and go home with enough time and energy left in the tank to have a life outside of school. 

And that should not be compromised but right now, sadly, it is.

I also know that some of you DO have an interest in doing this but you can’t. You can’t speak up, you work for the government. You can’t have an opinion on social media, you can’t be political in any way at work, and you need your job to survive so you can’t very well be putting this out there. 

Well I just so happen to be independent from all of that and I intend to keep it that way. 

I want to be able to continue to show up on ABC radio or whatever serious media will have me (not interested in tabloid crap) and be your voice. 

I want to be able to speak with politicians and be on advisory panels and influence education policy for the better, without fearing for my income or whether or not my family can pay the mortgage this month. 

But in order to be able to do that, I have to change the way I’m going about things and I ask for your support to continue. 

If it’s not for you, if the direction I’m taking things in doesn’t resonate with you, that’s totally ok. You are free to unsubscribe and unfollow (but if that’s the case, why did you read so far in such a lengthy blog post? 🤔).

What am I going to do?

I’m going to take the best damn care of myself I ever have. As you are likely aware, my health has been a series of ongoing challenges in my adult life and I know from repeated first hand experience that when I’m not well I can’t do any of this. So I’m going to first and foremost take care of me.

I’m going to continue to research and study and learn about what science tells us is good for human bodies and minds, apply it to myself and share it with you, and advocate for systems and situations that actually allow others to do that too.

I’m going to charge more for the value I give to the world and I’m going to stop feeling ashamed for needing money to survive in this capitalist world. 

I’m going to get more support behind the scenes with Self-Care for Teachers so the admin and tech stuff is less of a drain on me.

And I’m going to ask for your help so I don’t have to do it alone or burn myself out in the process, or choose between making an impact and paying for the website, let alone putting food on the table. 

They are not mutually exclusive and I will not continue to perpetuate the patterns of martyrdom that have been prevalent in my life, and which I also know are prevalent in a lot of schools as well.

I’m also going to explore new business models and things like social enterprise more seriously to reach the triple bottom line—a business CAN be good for people and the planet and still make a profit. 

How great will it be when Self-Care for Teachers does that?

Finally, I’m going to stop feeling ashamed for having a voice I want to use and the privilege to actually be able to do that. 

Hopefully, I will make a difference to education in this country. 

Why am I telling you all of this?

That’s a good question. I’m not sure I really have the answer other than that annoying calling thing again. 

I just felt like I needed to be honest about this. Truth, transparency and integrity are three of my highest values. 

I know that over the years that has gotten a little mixed up and ended up with me over sharing, which I know has also turned people off and away from SC4T. 

But I also know that the times I’ve gotten really honest about my values and my vision have brought the right people forward to join me and to help and support me too.

There’s a part in Chapter 9 of the amazing Brendan Burchard’s book ‘High Performance Habits’ that speaks to this. The chapter is a bit of a smack-down about holding back because of fear of success, fear of making others feel bad/jealous etc. (i.e. tall-poppy syndrome.)

On working with an Olympic Gold Medalist, the author asked when the biggest gains came in this person’s career.  

She said, “When I finally started voicing my dreams to do this. Suddenly, people started pointing me in the right direction. They told me what to do, what skills I would need, who I should talk to, what equipment the pros use, who the best coaches were. I learned that if you open your mouth and shout from the roof-tops what you want to do with your life, sure some village idiots will show up and shout back all the reasons why you can’t. But all the village leaders come over and want to help.”

Well, Village Leaders, I’m letting you know what I want to do with my life; feel free to get in touch!

💖

How can you help?

If you have some dollars and you like what I’m doing and want to see it continue, feel free to send them my way. You can do so in the following ways: 

  • Buy one (or more!) of my products on Teachers Pay Teachers 
  • Buy a ticket to one of my workshops or join my programs, or book some coaching with me, if you feel called to do so
  • Buy one for somebody else, if you don’t want it for yourself but you feel like it could be a good thing for somebody else less fortunate
  • Contribute to any of my crowdfunding efforts you feel called to. Right now the place to do that is Patreon.

If you don’t have dollars to spare I want you to know that’s totally ok. None of this was written to make you feel bad about that. I’ve been there, I absolutely get it, and I want to be of use to you anyway. 

All of you:

  • Be a part of the conversation with me. Let me know your thoughts on things. If you want to have a voice but for whatever reason right now feel you can’t, let me know that too. 
  • I started SC4T to be a part of the conversation but a conversation that is only one way is boring AF. The podcast is obviously a conversation between two people, but it’s only one way when you’re listening. You can speak back to your pod catcher but I won’t actually hear your feedback unless you send it to me. Thank you to those of you who have already been doing so. I genuinely do want to hear from you and I genuinely want to be able to say I know what matters to teachers in Australia when the Prime Minister calls me for my advice (dream big, right?!)

Acknowledgements

To all of you who have been part of the journey so far, thank you. 

To those of you who I’ve worked with one on one, to the guests on my podcast and to the teachers who have come to my workshops and live to webinars, it has been SUCH a pleasure connecting with you and getting to know you. 

To those of you who I haven’t had direct contact with but you’ve gotten something out of the various resources I’ve put online, thank you for showing up. For you and for me. 

To Katrina Bourke, Trudy from Teachers Thriving and Katie from See Me, Know Me, Teach Me, thank you for your ongoing friendship, advice and collegiality. The Teacher Wellbeing Podcast has by far been the best professional networking I’ve ever done, and I’m so grateful that it also led to my friendships with you.

To my friends and family for your continual support, thank you. Your little messages of support and encouragement mean SO much to me, as do your gentle and kind suggestions to course correct when needed. Please keep them up! 😀

To Mum, Dad and Naomi, I love you always. Thanks for making me laugh, laughing with me when I cry, and listening to me endlessly prattle about my plans and ideas. Thanks also for being continued examples of the power of a great public school education combined with a safe, happy home and ongoing personal growth. May every Australian child be so lucky.

And last but certainly not least (in fact, the MOST!), to Stuart, without whom this quite literally would not have continued the last 3 years: thank you. I love and cherish you and I am so glad I get to do this with you by my side.

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