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Success Story: Essential Not Extra: Building Capacity to Engage in Self-Care

When Region 5 Comprehensive Center (R5CC) director Kimberly Hambrick noticed how COVID-19-related disruptions were negatively impacting the “small but mighty” R5CC team, she responded by using routine project meetings to invite staff to “come as they can, come as they are.” She recognized that until or unless staff were okay, there was little work of value R5CC could (or would) accomplish. So instead of applying pressure on her team to “power through,” she created a safe space for unscripted discussion during the workday for staff to share and support each other through this difficult adjustment by discussing how the disruptions were impacting their lives and celebrating successes, no matter how small.

Slowing Down is a Power Move

Amy Cuddy, Ph.D.

, Social Psychologist

“We learned that we were all in the same storm but different boats, and we created a caring culture within our team,” Kimberly said. As the team got to know each other personally, comradery deepened. Deputy director Laura Taylor shared, “Making time for self-care as a priority had a profound humanizing effect that helped the team stay connected and supported professionally and personally, while everyone dealt with unprecedented challenges and uncertainty.”

As R5CC built internal capacity, staff modeled self-care strategies and helped state clients do the same. Serving as powerful examples, state leaders are building the capacity of district and school staff to make choices that prioritize personal well-being and happiness, protecting against the negative toll of ongoing burnout and fatigue impacting all educational system levels. School staff, especially teachers and counselors, need self-care practices to mitigate against the harm caused by ongoing absorption of their students’ trauma and stress. Recent headlines like “National Education Association survey: Massive staff shortages in schools leading to educator burnout; alarming number of educators indicating they plan to leave profession” indicate over 55 percent of the association’s 3,000,000 member teachers intend to leave the profession. There has never been a better time to counteract centuries of cultural conditioning that have led working parents (women mostly) to accept responsibility for taking better care of others than they take of themselves.

Knowing you can’t pour from an empty cup, the R5CC team engaged in peer-to-peer learning and invited state clients to a webinar facilitated by expert psychologist Steve Hydon (University of Southern California Social Work) to develop self-care plans. Buddies held each other accountable for making implementation progress at a second webinar as people explored barriers and strategies to move their plans forward. With COVID-19 came the disappearance of school safety nets at precisely the time trauma increased, making a focus on self-care more important than ever.

Check Out These R5CC Self-Care Capacity-Building Resources for State and District Teams

Support for Teachers Affected by Trauma Program and related tools for grantees, project directors, site coordinators, and family engagement specialists:

Tools from the University of Kentucky’s Center on Trauma and Children:

And see self-care resources from the National Comprehensive Center: