Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a core approach in many educational settings, from the classroom to afterschool programs. Educators are tasked with incorporating strategies and practices to help students manage emotions, show empathy, cultivate positive relationships and make responsible decisions.

However, in their quest to help students foster key SEL skills, educators often overlook their own social-emotional needs. According to the American Federation of Teachers’ 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey, educators find their work “always” or “often” stressful 61% of the time, which is two times higher than workers in the general population. This often leads to burnout, which affects their ability to address students’ critical needs.

While stress is often unavoidable in most professions, unhealthy stress and burnout may cause the following symptoms in educators, according to research:

  • Feelings of irritation and inadequacy when thinking about school
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches and insomnia
  • Withdrawal from colleagues or conflicts with colleagues
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Absences or the desire to miss school

Prioritizing Social Wellness to Reduce the Effects of Burnout

While there’s no quick or easy fix to overcoming burnout, educators can adopt healthy social-emotional practices to alleviate stress and increase well-being. One way is by making social wellness a priority in your daily life.

Social wellness refers to the relationships we have and how we interact with others. Teaching can be surprisingly isolating, but building supportive relationships can help you better manage the stress of the job and derive solutions from others rather than going it alone. And research shows with healthy relationships, your heart and blood pressure will even respond better to stress. Social support is critical for educators, and below we’ve shared a few ways to develop relationships that contribute to your social-emotional health.

1. Team teach

WeAreTeachers shared this approach as a cure for teacher loneliness, but it’s also a great opportunity to collaborate with other educators. You can share ideas for lesson plans and activities, and even discuss any teaching challenges you may be experiencing.

In afterschool, you can take a similar approach by creating partnerships with other programs. This allows you to share curriculum, activity ideas, best practices and even resources between sites. It also gives you a chance to build valuable relationships in- and outside the learning environment.

2. Find volunteer opportunities

Volunteering is a great way to build friendships while giving back to a worthy cause. It also helps to counteract the effects of stress and anxiety, while the social aspect of helping and working with others positively impacts your overall psychological well-being.

To find the right volunteer opportunity, consider your interests, skills and passions. Then find a community organization that aligns with your preferences. You can visit your local library or use an online tool like VolunteerMatch to begin your search. The time you give to others will pay dividends in terms of your social well-being.

3. Attend meet-ups

Meet-ups are a great way to meet new people who share your interests or hobbies.  You can even use to join or host your own meet-up. The online service has an entire section dedicated to helping people meet other educators in their local areas. There are over 800 groups with nearly 225,000 members, and the topics span learning, educational technology and social. These meet-ups are great for socializing with your peers, and can double as professional development opportunities.

4. Create and participate in social activities

Whether you teach in a school or afterschool program, there is always a need to bring educators together to meet, socialize and build working relationships. This can be a team-building activity, coffee break, group lunch in the cafeteria or even a happy-hour gathering.

Add the next social activity on your calendar, or initiate your own. Building a supportive social network in your school or program can make you feel more connected and engaged, while strengthening your relationships with other educators.

Social wellness is critical for educators and, along with other social-emotional practices, it can increase your overall well-being. The National AfterSchool Association (NAA) started a summer webinar series, SEL for Kids Starts with the Adults, to help leaders understand and develop their own social and emotional competencies. Executive members of the organization can tune into topics such as “Leading with Emotional Intelligence” and “Living, Teaching, and Embracing ‘YOU MATTER.’” Invest time into your own social and emotional skills to be better equipped to help your students learn and grow.