Professional Practice

Self-Care for the Art Teacher (Ep. 196)

We feel like we need to do everything as art teachers, but the truth is, we can’t do it all. And we shouldn’t! It is important–especially at this time of year–to take the time to care for yourself. In today’s episode, Tim is joined by Elizabeth Peterson from The Inspired Classroom to talk about self-care for the art teacher. Listen as they discuss why we need to take stock of the stress in our life, strategies for self-care, and ideas that work for creative people.

Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

As educators, we know we need more mental health supports for our students, but let’s be honest, teachers need it too. Burnout is real and burnout hits us hard. Too many teachers that we know leave the profession because of the high stress, high demand way that we’re asked to do our jobs. We need to take steps for ourselves to make sure that we do not burn out.

Teachers need to take care of themselves and we can’t be there for our kids if we’re not taking care of ourselves. And so here to talk about this with me today is Elizabeth Peterson. She is a teacher and an author who knows a lot about these topics. Her website is The Inspired Classroom, and it is a wealth of information. She may be familiar to you, she’s been on the podcast before. She presented at the summer conference earlier this year about social and emotional artistic learning or SEAL for short. And she and I were talking recently about how important self-care is, especially with regard to art teachers. And I thought it would make for an excellent podcast topic. So I asked her to come on the show again and voila, she is here waiting to talk. I know we have a lot to cover. I know this is going to be a long conversation, so let’s dive right in.

And Elizabeth Peterson is back on the podcast, joining me now. Elizabeth, how are you?

Elizabeth: I’m doing great. How are you, Tim?

Tim: I am doing great as well. I feel like we have a lot to talk about. I think self-care is a really important topic, especially this time of year. But you know before we dive into that, I want to ask you about social and emotional artistic learning. It’s something that we’ve talked about a lot. It’s something you and I have talked about before. It’s important in art rooms and it really applies to our students. So I guess I want to ask you how much you think the ideas behind social emotional artistic learning apply to us as teachers? Like how much should we as teachers think about our emotions and how we deal with them in the course of our teaching?

Elizabeth: Yeah, so I’m so glad you’re starting with this idea of thinking about our emotions and how we deal with them. Because I really believe that if we’re expected to help our students navigate their emotions and develop their social-emotional skills, then we really need to do the same for ourselves. And I truly believe that there is no better way to do this than with art. And so social emotional artistic learning or SEAL is something I developed through the inspired classroom as there is just such a natural connection between the arts and social-emotional learning, and that’s just no surprise to any art teacher, right? So with SEAL, there’s a major focus on the teacher and that’s for two reasons. One, if the teachers are going to integrate art concepts with developing social-emotional skills, then they need to understand how that works firsthand. So that’s where the idea of teacher-centered PD comes in. So teachers are really learning SEAL strategies by actually doing them.

And to does a huge focus on the teacher when it comes to SEAL because teachers are the ones in front of the kids. And how we conduct ourselves, and how we set up our classrooms can really help determine the success of our students. So SEAL is developed in a way that is meant to empower teachers. And let’s face it, teachers are dealing with a lot of pressures in our jobs more than ever before. And it’s a mix. It’s a mix of paperwork and testing and schedules and feeling like your content isn’t valued. And then of course there are our students and they’re coming to us with a lot more baggage than ever and so many emotions that are really affecting their day to day lives, let alone their learning. And of course that affects us.

And I think that’s partially because teachers can’t necessarily teach their content if their students aren’t emotionally there. And that will certainly wear on a teacher. And also because of how students’ emotions affect their behaviors in class and that can really wear on a teacher. Many of us are not equipped with the tools to deal with this necessarily in our classrooms. So it’s really important to step back and recognize how this is actually affecting us and to start taking care of ourselves. So I’m a big proponent of taking care of teachers first because whatever we bring to our classrooms is going to affect our students, and we want to be, actually need to be a positive and caring and confident to have success in reaching our students. So it’s not about are you a good teacher or you can’t handle this or maybe you’re not cut out for this job, it’s so much more. What’s happening in our classrooms and in our schools is just affecting us more and more. And teachers are starting to understand that it’s truly time to stand up for yourself and take care of yourself because unfortunately in too many instances, no one else is doing it for you. So teacher burnout is just so real and it’s really felt by the best in our profession.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. It’s something that is way more common than we think. I’ve talked about it before, I’ve felt it before. And I think for a lot of us, for a lot of teachers, it’s really starting to build up right now. Like you said, we’re dealing with so much, our students we’re dealing with so much and it builds and builds.

So I want to go back to what you said about standing up for ourselves and taking care of ourselves, because as we move into this holiday season, people are getting busier both at home and at work. You’re feeling the stress, you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. So I guess the question for you is as we’re dealing with all this, why do you think self-care is so important? Why do we need to pay special attention to that?

Elizabeth: So I actually think it’s become like a societal thing almost. We’re living in a society that just puts so much on us. We’re expected to do it all. Whether it’s a raise a good family, work a full-time job, put organic food on the table, design your home so it looks like a magazine. And of course there’s posting pictures to social media that looks like you’re always active and having fun and doing these great things. But we’re not meant to do it all. We’re meant to be part of a community that works together. And so I think like it’s become just so necessary for us to stop ourselves and purposefully take care of ourselves. This is a time where we should be enjoying ourselves and spending quality time with loved ones and taking a look at and focusing on those important things in life. And to do that, we really need to stop and look inward first.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s a really good idea because it is, just so important to be able to enjoy this. And I guess I’d like to talk about how this applies to art teachers specifically. Because as we kind of dive into this topic, I know you’ve talked a lot about self-care for those of us that are creative, creative people. Why do you think there should be a special importance placed on self-care for those of us who are creative people?

Elizabeth: Yeah. Creative people, they just really tend to put their heart into their work. Whether it’s projects they design or lessons they create, their hearts are just really in it. And when you have a creative person who’s also an educator, and by educator, I mean a person who cares enough to devote their entire career to teaching and encouraging and molding young minds. So when you have that, emotions certainly play a role in what you’re doing every day. And with that, I feel like creative educators, they just want their students to participate in what they’ve created for them and to find some success in that as well, whether it be in the product or the process to get there.

So the idea of putting so much of ourselves in our work can really pose a challenge when we are working with students and in some cases adults too, who pull so much from us on a daily basis.

So I hear from art teachers all the time, and it’s obvious how much of themselves they’re just really investing in their work. It’s just what they do. So the good part though is that creative people also have an edge because the act of being creative of course is a natural stress release. So making time to create for your own good is really beneficial. And it could be creating visual art, but it could also be music or dancing or writing a poem or a story or creating a video, whatever you create, it doesn’t matter. But making time to create certainly does. And you can use that as part of your self-care.

Tim: Okay. Yeah, that’s really good advice. And now I guess I’d like to talk just a little bit more about specifics, as far as self-care. So I know you’ve put a lot of thought into this. Do you have, maybe just a few specific things that people can do, just any quick tips for teacher self-care?

Elizabeth: Yeah. So I actually have like five tips that I like to share with all kinds of teachers. So the first one has to do with physical wellbeing. And that is what you eat, what you drink, sleeping and moving. And this really refers to things that everyone, not just teachers, but anyone who’s stressed really needs to remember. These are the things that we already know but we tend to lose focus on. So that’s part of why I mentioned at first, because it really does lay the groundwork for everything else.

When I’m super stressed or feeling overwhelmed, I know that I need to take a step back and look at what I actually need. And sometimes it’s sleep. And by that I actually mean maybe taking a 10-minute nap in the middle of the day when I get home. Sometimes it’s not drinking as much coffee and replacing it with water or it might mean just taking 30 minutes to go for a walk. So our physical wellbeing really just drives everything else.

Secondly, intellectual wellbeing is really important for us to keep in mind. And that’s really caring for your mind. So it might be finding like a reflective practice that’s right for you, whether it might be writing or painting or journaling, sketching. It could be listening to music or meditating or doing some movement like running or dancing. It could be looking for and reading books and articles that really feed your mind both professionally and personally. And keep it in mind that we are professionals. So taking a course, looking for the right kind of course or workshop that’s really going to feed your mind or challenge you or stretch your thinking. And that’s why I’m a firm believer in and only provide teacher-centered professional development because that’s what’s really going to focus in on what you need. And I know that that’s what you guys do at Art of Ed University. It’s all practical and meaningful learning that’s really going to help teachers brains grow. So intellectual is really important.

Okay. Number three is a really concrete one, but it doesn’t mean it’s an easy one, and it’s leave your work at work. And I know this is really hard for so many people because we feel like if we don’t get it done at school we’ll just take it home. But the trick is making that a rare occasion, like during a report card season or something like that, instead of the normal thing that you do.

So this might include, papers to correct, or reports to write, curriculum worker planning and emails. Leaving all that stuff at work. And for some teachers, taking home a few things will actually help them. So you really need to know yourself and be self-aware of what your needs are. So you kind of want to take a moment and just list the things that you do and maybe see what you can truly leave at work and ask yourself some of these questions like, will bringing things home take more time from my family than I want it to? Is it going to stress me out even more? Or is it actually going to help me feel more prepared for the next day? So you really have to do your own thing there to see if that’s actually going to help you or stress you out even more.

Number four is modifying your expectations. And some teachers have a hard time with this one. So hear me out on this. All right, so it’s not about lowering your expectations, I’m not talking about the changing of your quality of work or expecting less from your students in terms of quality or changing the teaching that you’re providing. So it might mean instead, modifying the quantity of work that you’re assigning, cutting down on pieces that make up the assignment or it might be changing the assignment or lessening the load of work you expect from a class, which could actually produce higher quality in the end. It might be changing the way you assess or grade something. So you might go from an elaborate rubric to maybe a checkmark system. And this might be something that you just do for one or two assignments or every once in a while. It doesn’t have to be for everything, but just think of how you can modify or lessen things for yourself.

It might also mean seeing a student in a new light and really understanding what he or she is actually capable of, because we know that students are very different from one another and they may need a different approach to a lesson or a technique or a project. I know I have some students that have certain things that just trigger them. And you may not see when it’s coming. So being able to have that open mind, to understand that sometimes you need to just modify things and it’s okay. And of course this is something that could be done through the SPED teachers if the students are on an IEP plan. But unfortunately that doesn’t always happen in the art room, right? So you have to be okay with just making modifications or even asking for help because there’s nothing wrong with calling for reinforcements.

But none of this means that you take away things that bring you joy. So those are the things you’re naturally going to want to do and do with so much quality and you’re really going to put your heart into it. So even if it’s a huge undertaking, you want to keep those things. I’m talking about modifying the things that give you stress and make the job no fun, because we should be having fun while we’re teaching.

Here’s the thing, so trimming things back can sometimes be seen as I’m throwing in the towel. But what really is happening here is that were adapting to these new times. And I really think that in the last five years or so, things have been changing in education and we can’t really teach the same way we did even five years ago. So it’s okay to adapt with the times and modify your expectations of ourselves and our students. So it’s almost like giving yourself permission to step back and see what your students actually need and then go from there. Makes sense?

Tim: Yes. For sure. That’s really good.

Elizabeth: Yeah. Good. And I do have one more, number five. And it has to do with emotional wellbeing. And I think the first thing with with doing that is so simple. It’s just smile, find reasons to smile. Greet your students at the door, go find colleagues that you can have a good conversation with, or sometimes just smile just because. Science says if you smile, even if you’re faking it, it can actually bring you up a little bit. And also finding a venting buddy. Okay. So this is a good idea where you have one person that you can just let it out on, the whole nine yards. Stories from the classroom, venting about paperwork and deadlines, eye-rolling everything.

And the reason to have just one is because, well firstly you want to make sure that that person is trustworthy and keeps things kind of between the two of you. And you don’t want to let your venting become like gossiping to everybody, because this is not really about gossiping, this is about being able to be human and just let it out when you need to. And the other thing with emotional wellbeing is finding a community that you can have intellectual conversations or share with one another. And there are just so many options out there, face to face, through Facebook and Twitter. Art of ed has great online communities to join. And I love my inspiring teachers’ community on Facebook because we share favorite things and ideas and laughs and it’s just a great place and a great way to stay positive. So those are my five tips there.

Tim: Those are really, really good tips. I love having concrete examples for people and these really clear ideas about what they can do to kind of take care of themselves.

The next question I have after that is we talk about all of these preventative measures, like how to avoid getting into that proverbial rut. But I guess my question for you is, what if someone is already feeling drained, they’re already feeling burnt out. Do you think it’s worth following that same advice? Following those same tips? Or is there a different approach that they should take?

Elizabeth: Yeah, so this is a really good question because this is where so many teachers are and where they’re finding themselves. We’re not in a preventative mode. Many teachers are in that state of just being drained and on the verge of real burnout. So I think of it this way, I’m going to a classic here, ready? Stop, look and listen.

So first you want to stop and breathe and just take a moment to look at where you currently are and what you’re doing and think about what it is about the task or the situation that is draining you or stressing you out. So look at your situation and think about if you can change anything about it. Can you move to a new location? Can you toss a pile of papers into the recycling bin? I’ve been known to do that. Ask another person to help you out. Or can you put something off until you can look at what’s in front of you with some fresh eyes.

And then you really want to listen. Listen to your body and figure out what it is you need. Do you need a night off of work? Do you need a mental health day? Do you need to free up your schedule somehow? Do you need some time for fun? You need to go out? Do you need a nap? There’ve been times where I’ve come home like I’ve already confessed to, where I come home and I set my phone on a timer for 15 minutes and I just like, okay, mommy needs an app. But then there are other days that I pass Dunkin donuts on the way home and I’m like, today I can’t nap, I need a coffee.

So just kind of knowing what you need. Maybe you need to take care of your body, go to a yoga class or get a massage. A few weeks ago, I was so stressed out and frustrated that my shoulders were literally in pain, not just like uncomfortable, Oh, I need a stretch. Like I was standing up and just being in such pain. And so I did something that I have always thought was such a luxury and I decided, okay, maybe I’m going to try out this massage thing. And I am so glad I did. And now I’m going to try to make that just a monthly thing because I think that’s what I need. So when you listened to your body, you need to then make a plan. So consider what your are for yourself, what you hope for yourself and what you need.

The way I think about it is, we all came into education to make a difference, but you can’t be of service to others if you’re not okay yourself. So you need to stop and reflect on what’s happening. Are there things you can take off your plate? Is there an app that’s going to help you to sleep? What kind of music is going to make you feel good? Maybe set up a small space in your home or your classroom even to create in your favorite medium or talk to someone, or journal about it. And if you’re a social being, schedule and outing for yourself with your friends or your spouse. So basically, just stop, look and listen to what you need and then make it happen. It’s really important that you take that opportunity to just really make it happen.

Tim: That’s awesome. Okay. So with all of that advice, it’s great advice by the way, but we need to wrap things up. So I was hoping that you could maybe just leave us with some parting words or do you have some advice for everybody out there? After they’re done listening to this episode of the podcast, what should they go out and do?

Elizabeth: Okay. So, there’s this idea out there about putting your oxygen mask first, and it comes from those instructions we’re given when we bought an airplane, how the stewardess talks us through an emergency situation, the oxygen masks fall. And we’re all instructed to put our mask on first before we help others put theirs on. And the same is true here. We need to take care of ourselves first so that we can truly be helpful to those around us. So I think people really need to take that to heart and fully understand that when they’re taking care of themselves, they’re not being selfish. They’re actually doing what’s right so that they can further help others, whether it’s our students, our families and other people around us.

And I did put together a fun resource for our listeners today. It’s a teacher self-care list and it lists 30 different things that you can do to take care of yourself. And I separated it into things you can do daily, weekly or monthly to just focus on what you need. And it’s actually one of the resources from my SEAL teacher training where I teach methods of integrating arts with social-emotional learning. And the entire first phase of that course is about SEAL teacher mindset and how to really take care of yourself in your classroom first. So this can be found, the website is, and I think that your listeners will find it helpful, I hope they do.

Tim: I definitely think they will. We’ll make sure we link to it in the show notes too so everybody can find that really easily.

Elizabeth: Great. Thank you. Excellent.

Tim: All right. Elizabeth, thank you so much. It’s been great talking to you. I think this is an important message at this time of year and I think all of your advice is going to be really, really helpful for everyone, so thank you.

Elizabeth: Thank you. I think this is really such great important work because if we’re taking care of ourselves, then we’re better able to take care of our students, so I appreciate the time to come on and talk to you, Tim.

Tim: All right, awesome. Hopefully we can have you on again soon.

Elizabeth: All right, sounds good.

Tim: Before we go, I want to talk to you really briefly about the Art of Education University. We talked about the new Art Therapy for Art Teachers course last week. If you’re just looking for one graduate course, it’s perfect, if you want to earn a master’s degree or anything in between, it’s perfect for that too. Make sure you check out courses from the Art of Education University. There are over 20 online courses including eight hands-on studio courses and they are designed to help art teachers no matter what stage of your career that you are in. And whether you’re looking to develop a new curriculum, get help with classroom management, learn more about technology or just brush up on your own fine arts skills, we have the course for you. You can see what’s available, what interests you and what you may want to sign up for at

I know we talked for a long time today, so let me finish with just this one thought. We give and give and give when it comes to our career as teachers. The profession of teaching is a calling where teachers are just asked to give so much of themselves. And we give our time, and our attention, and our caring. We love our students and we care about them. But we sometimes need a break for our wellbeing. So I just want you to think about that, and I want you to make sure that you are taking the time you need to take care of yourself.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Have a great Thanksgiving week. If you are an Everyday Art Room listener, just a heads up that Nick will not be having an episode this week because of the holiday. So enjoy your time off. Enjoy Black Friday if that’s your thing, and a little something to look out for, we have a Black Friday deal from AOEU, coming to save you some money on the Art Ed Now Winter Conference that’ll be happening in February. So make sure you check your email on Friday. Thank you, And we will talk to you soon.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.