Protecting Your Peace in a Culture of Martyrdom

Recap time!

In a world where caregivers are expected to shed blood, sweat, and tears beyond their capacity, it’s hard not to become a martyr for the people you serve. Education, health care, and social services are all industries that rely on employees to completely surrender their own needs to serve the greater good – without recognizing that the system in itself is flawed, and is NOT sustainable by exploiting our labour this way.

And yet, here we are, begging the question, “How do we protect our peace?”

We spent half an hour a couple of Wednesdays ago during our second discussion panel chatting with two incredible individuals: Gabriel Malquisto, who works with street children in Manila, Philippines; and Michelle Gordon, who’s worked in America’s Title 1 schools, sojourned to the United Arab Emirates to learn work-life balance, and is now teaching in Texas, USA. Both had wisdom to share about how they deal with the trauma that comes from their work, and both had so much to say about how they unapologetically protect their peace.

The key takeaways:

  • Set strong boundaries, both physically and mentally.
  • Leave the trauma at work; don’t bring it home with you.
  • Make time to rest, or you will lose your passion for your work.

Obviously much easier said than done. In order to actually implement the aforementioned wisdom, there needs to be a complete shift in mindset for us – heck, even to BELIEVE we deserve to be at peace, even when the needs of our students are so pressing, requires bravery on our part. We cannot do our work if we burn out. Period.

So how do we protect our peace?

Click here to have a listen to the recording! We hope you get as much out of it as we did. We will update the blog post with the transcript once it’s ready 🙂

Enjoy!

How do you care without burning out?

Dearest ECN community,

Tell me: how do you care without burning out? Send me an email or leave a comment; I read every message.

It wasn’t too long ago that I burned out hard.

I crashed so hard that I was forced to take time off from work in order to rest and unfrazzle my frazzled nerves. This happened officially in April of 2018, though I had been burning out for years before that and didn’t think anything of it. I mean, come on. Wasn’t everyone working in education completely burnt out by mid-year? What was so special about me?

BY THE WAY, it’s a red flag when feeling burnt out is normalized in your industry.

The fatigue I experienced back then was deep and heavy. On top of being the eldest daughter from an East Asian family, I was also a teacher with a saviour complex, and that was 1000% a recipe for high anxiety. I ate up all the toxic messaging, including Ellen Gruell’s Freedom Writer mentality – EVEN THOUGH Ms. G’s personal life fell apart when work completely consumed her. There’s caring, and then there’s THAT.

This was my ol’ mug back in January of 2020, unable to get off the couch because my organs felt like they were dying. Yes, a year and a half after my bout with shingles and I was still randomly hit with this fatigue.

It actually took burning out for me to finally realize that my need to solve everyone’s problems perfectly in every way possible was making me sick. Articulating it this way makes me seem like I was insane, but there you have it. My close friend Helen even called me from San Francisco, California the week I got shingles. “Kay,” she yelled at me, “do you really need to drop dead in front of your classroom before you give yourself a break?” It’s one of Helen’s favourite moments, because it was the kick in the arse I needed to finally put my health first and get my head right (thank you, squidgette).

It’s now 2022. 4 years later, I’m healthier, calmer, and happier than I’ve ever been.

It took a lot of hard work in therapy, deep introspection of who I was going crazy for and why, untangling self-worth issues, and reimagining the kind of person I want to be. But I did it. 

And I’m still me. Just… 2.0 ☺️

Happy me!

I tell you this story, dear community, because it’s one that is so common in our profession. We’re worked to the bone and told we do it for the kids at all cost, even if it’s to the detriment to our mental and physical health. It’s the same with nurses, social workers, PSWs, and many other caregiving frontline workers. The guilt imposed on us when we try to live a rich life is overwhelming.

(And the impacts of this are ever amplified when you consider the intersectionality of marginalized identities in North America, aka everyone except middle-upper class cisgendered straight white men.)

So we normalize endless sacrifice. We normalize burdening ourselves with the problems of those under our care. We normalize becoming martyrs for our work.

Something has to change. But how?

If you’ve been following along on our socials over the last month, you’ll notice that basically all the content has been geared towards making sure y’all take care of yourselves this summer. Because you deserve the rest. And on top of that, our next Discussion Panel is all about how to care without burning out, aka fighting the Culture of Martyrdom that pervades the education industry. Everyone who’s caught wind of the discussion topic had the same response: “Whoa. That’s quite a topic.” And it is.

We’re going to unpack it with Michelle Gordon and Gabriel Malquisto during our Discussion Panel on Wednesday August 17th at 8pm EST/5pm PST.

Our hope is that you won’t feel so alone in your struggle. Please send us your questions for our panelists when you RSVP and we’ll do our best to answer them! And if you’ve got any tips for us that work well for you, feel free to share in the comments or email us. We’ll be sure to pass it along to our audience.

We’re all very excited to be hosting this much needed conversation. We hope you can join us.

Until August 17th, we’re sending you Love in the name of Peace and Justice.

Have a wonderful rest of your week 💖

– Karen and the Educator’s Coaching Network

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❤️

Life and Lemons: Michelle Gordon

Our #FeatureFriday Series serves to honour educators and stakeholders of education in their ongoing hard work. Creating a more mindful, trauma-informed practice through an anti-oppression framework is not easy, but the work IS being done. Every day folk are not getting the recognition they deserve, so inevitably, we feel isolated in our grind. Our hope is that this series can be a reminder to you that we are NOT alone. Let’s connect and do this together.

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Mother of 3, wife, teacher, newly transitioned back to the US from teaching in Dubai. Michelle Gordon is quite a force to be reckoned with.

She reminds us that even such forces need to be fierce in protecting our peace and finding balance. We are so lucky to have her as our second panelist on August 17th for our talk on “the Culture of Martyrdom: how to care without burning out”.

A Story of Strength and Vulnerability

When Michelle first welcomed me to my video conference room (yes, it was MY link, but I felt welcomed by her), we clicked immediately. There was something about the smile in her eyes, something about how happy she was to meet me, that made me feel immediately comfortable in her presence. It also didn’t hurt that she offered to support our network without a second thought. My cousin Janice was the one who introduced me to Michelle; they taught together in Dubai. I kid you not when I tell you that Michelle said to me, “Karen, I love Janice. And so I love you too. I’m happy to help!”

(Can you imagine how loved she is able to make her students feel? One dreams of such a capability.)

So of course, while I was grateful for this kind soul, I also wondered how well she was able to maintain her boundaries between supporting others and ensuring that she didn’t burn out. And during our conversation, she didn’t disappoint. Michelle is the perfect embodiment of what it means to fall, push through, get back up, fall again, and relentlessly find ways to take care of herself so that she doesn’t end up a martyr for this system of ours. Her gentle strength and resolve had me in awe.

Didn’t I tell you she smiles with her eyes? Kindness and self-assurance flows from her.

Michelle is originally from Illinois and currently teaches Gifted and Talented students in Texas. She taught in the United Arab Emirates for 5.5 years, the first 3 of which was spent teaching Al Ain’s local children English in math, reading, and science. The last couple of years was spent at an international school in Dubai. Both experiences were so unique and rewarding, and as you can imagine, both dramatically different from teaching in North America.

But those are just the checklist of her recent repertoire. Her journey takes a much deeper dive than this.

Life and Lemons

My cousin Janice and her husband Jake both agreed that Michelle would be the perfect person to speak on the Culture of Martyrdom and what it means to maintain boundaries. Janice explained, and I quote, “[Michelle] works so hard at her job. She’s the one who will put 120%, and yet at the same time she recognizes how important it is to have an outside life. [This includes] her kids, her friends – she cares a lot about them… She holds true to her values.”

Isn’t this what we all wish to achieve? Excellence without sacrificing our own lives?

Sometimes though, life throws you lemons, and sometimes those lemons are just rotten. You really need to sift through the rot in order to find ones good enough to make lemonade.

In Michelle’s unique case, her teaching job was NOT where she was expected to martyr herself; it was dealing with the culture shock of an uncompromising, xenophobic American credit system that made transitioning back to the US from Dubai a near nightmare. Somehow, the American system made it so that it was easier transitioning overseas than it was coming home. “I felt like a foreigner in my own country!” she exclaimed.

Between paying a disproportionate amount in rent compared to her salary, her family also found it difficult to lease a car without a credit card, even though they were able to pay cash. These simply were not issues in the UAE. “The list goes on and on,” she said, “Needless to say, my anxiety hit the roof. I ate everything in sight, clothes no longer fit and I lost sight of what I was passionate about. It took me losing my cousin to remember that we are not promised tomorrow. I have to make sure I take care of my mental and physical health to continue to thrive.”

So what has she tried to do in order to find balance through all the chaos?

“Being a mother of 3, a wife, teacher, etc, it’s challenging at times, but I attempt to find balance when I exercise or read. You have to do it; you have to find time. Otherwise, you’ll just get lost.”

And that’s the harsh truth of it. There is no Hogwarts wand to wave, no special lavender potpourri to sniff, that will magically keep you from burning out. You have to do the work and figure out what works for you, and be relentless and uncompromising in protecting it.

We’ll dig even deeper and talk more about how during our Discussion Panel on August 17th.

The Lemonade

As she processed her grief over the loss of her cousin, Michelle took a breath and reflected on what it was that she enjoyed about her vocation. As much as the inanity of thinking about work during such a big loss makes you feel like you shouldn’t, it was still a nice moment to remember her passion and her why for what she does. “I teach because I want to make a difference.” She said to me, “I want to be a role model for children, be a shoulder they can lean on, as well as for their parents. I also teach because I honestly adore working with children.”

And in this way, Michelle is working away on the lemonade. Through her grief, through the messy transition back to America, through the responsibilities of being a mother and a wife, she is actively searching for ways to find balance so that she doesn’t become a martyr within an uncompromising system. Thankfully, her job gives her the autonomy and time to figure out her role, so in a rare case of teaching in America, Michelle’s job isn’t adding to the pile of rotten lemons (do you see how not being dbags to your employees can be such a make-or-break for them??). This is something Michelle is so grateful for, and absolutely does not take for granted.

What’s Next?

We take a deeper dive with Michelle (and our other panelist, Gabriel Malquisto) on how they came to recognize that protecting your peace is an absolute must as educators and caregivers. Thank you so much Michelle for joining us, even through all of your own challenges, to support our community as we go through the toughest years in all our careers. We appreciate you so much!

To our readers: don’t forget to join our mailing list for updates, as well as RSVP to our Discussion Panel in August!

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[IDs: Michelle sits by a window with the sun shining over her face. She is smiling brightly, her face propped up by her hand with her elbow on the window pane. Her hair is partly covered with a yellow and orange scarf, and her wrist sports colourful bangles.]

Setting Strong Boundaries: Gabriel Malquisto

Our #FeatureFriday Series serves to honour educators and stakeholders of education in their ongoing hard work. Creating a more mindful, trauma-informed practice through an anti-oppression framework is not easy, but the work IS being done. Every day folk are not getting the recognition they deserve, so inevitably, we feel isolated in our grind. Our hope is that this series can be a reminder to you that we are NOT alone. Let’s connect and do this together.

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As soon as I met Gabby over video call, I knew he was something special.

There are people in this world who are remarkable without really trying to be. Gabby had this quiet wisdom about him that reached out to me from the other side of the world through the glowing screens on our computers. I longed to learn what he knew. Discussion Panel #2 couldn’t come soon enough.

Who is Gabby?

Gabriel Malquisto (he/him), who goes by Gabby, is an individual with many talents. He’s a hip hop dancer, a musician, a motorcycle enthusiast, a tattoo artist, a program coordinator and teacher with IT Tender, a pastor, and a loving father and husband.

Oh and did I mention he’s also a pastor?

It’s not everyday that you read tattoo artist, hip hop dancer, and motorcycle enthusiast, in the same description as pastor, and yet here we are with Gabby. He’s also a lover of karaoke, but really, I think it comes with the territory of being Filipino.

He’s the one crowd surfing because of course he would.

Gabby’s Work

Our next Discussion Panel in August is about the “Culture of Martyrdom: how to care without burning out”. Who better to talk about this than the people who work with the most vulnerable children in the world?

I reached out to an old friend of mine, John Coffey, who is currently the Executive Director at IT Tender in Manila, Philippines. In tandem with local Filipino staff, the mission of the IT Tender team is to empower Manila’s urban poor communities with access to education, relevant skills training, and mentoring. One can imagine how difficult it is to find life balance when doing such important work, and I knew that if the staff at IT Tender figured out how to care without burning out, then so could educators here in North America. I hoped to learn from them and invite one of their staff to join our Discussion Panel. John connected me with the best person for the spot: Gabby.

Not sure what Gabby’s looking at, but that space he’s in is mad cool. Check out Mr. Potato Head in the background just hanging out.

Gabby is one of the program coordinators and teachers on the team. He first started as a Street Educator, teaching street children how to read and write, and discovered the kind of passion in his work that dreams are made of. He knew he had to dedicate his life to this service, and to this day, he continues to work with children in poor communities through IT Tender. One of the programs he recently championed is the Sponsor-A-Child-Now Music Therapy program. Children would come to learn guitar, healing through the power of music, taught initially by Gabby himself. As the children grew and learned how to play, Gabby switched to mentoring young people so that they could become guitar teachers themselves, thereby empowering the youth to become leaders in their community.

Sponsor-A-Child-Now Music Therapy program at IT Tender.

Setting Boundaries

Something Gabby and I have in common was that at one point, we both went too deep into our work and burned out. We crashed hard. We took on the heavy burdens of the children we served, and our bodies absorbed all of the stress. We got sick, we had to take time off of work to heal, and we were forced to face what we knew all along but wouldn’t allow ourselves to reconcile.

It is impossible to fix other people’s problems. We can only offer our best, guilt-free. The rest is up to them.

What a devastating realization for fixers like us. Because how could we not hope to try and protect these kids, to give them everything, to feel as though there was always something more we could do to help them? In accepting this truth though, in accepting that we simply cannot do it all, we also found freedom. Where we didn’t know how to protect our peace, we learned to fortify so we could remain healthy. We care deeply for the children we serve, and yet there is no reason to bear the burden of guilt if it is not within our capacity to fix their problems. It’s a bit of a contradiction, one that we’ve both come to terms with.

So Gabby and I will be talking about how we came to reject the culture of martyrdom and set strong boundaries so that we could continue to do the important work that we are passionate about. It was a journey and a half, with lots of prayers and therapy between the both of us, but one that we’re grateful to have survived and from which we’ve emerged stronger.

We hope that in sharing our experiences, others will feel hopeful that it’s possible for them too.

The most important people in Gabby’s life: his daughter Raya and his wife Jizza.

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Stay tuned for more #FeatureFridays! Our other panelist for Discussion Panel #2 is next!

Until then, don’t forget to join our mailing list for updates, as well as RSVP to our next Discussion Panel in August!

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[IDs: (1) Gabby lying on his back on the laps of 2 of his friends while yelling into a wired microphone. The 2 men are laughing hysterically while Gabby scream-sings into the mic. (2) Photo of Gabby wearing a grey fitted cap looking upwards, sitting casually on a motorbike wearing black jeans and a white tee. (3) Gabby, his daughter, and his wife are lying down on their backs, looking up at the camera that is pointed at them in aerial view. Their last name, Malquisto, is in block letters on the bottom left corner of the image.]

Equity vs Inclusion – Manjit Minhas

#ThoughtfulThursday was created as a space to challenge our assumptions, stretch our imagination, and discover something new. If you’ve got some thought nuggets to share, feel free to send us an email!

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How many times have you been invited to the table, but found you were not given the space to speak? To contribute? Or worse, you would speak – but no one cared for what you had to say, or were openly hostile?

Manjit Minhas has been there, in a big way. She is one of Canada’s top entrepreneurs, best known for investing in small Canadian businesses as a Dragon on Dragon’s Den. She co-owns and runs a family business, Minhas Brewery, with her brother. To make it this far as the daughter of Indian immigrants in predominantly white male industries takes guts and grit, both of which Manjit clearly has. Check out this power pose – it’s actually what drew me to her in the first place. And then the content of her character sold me.

Seriously – look at this power pose! Image sourced from CanadianBusiness.com.

In her podcast, “A Wealth of Women’s Stories”, Manjit takes this episode to speak with Fate Saghir about overcoming adversity. They share their experiences, not only as women in business, but as Indian women in business.

Unfortunately, their stories are not so far off from the experiences of BIPOC folk in education. From being told that the company where Fate was just hired rarely hires women, to Manjit growing up facing the racism of being told to change her name, they had no shortage of stories.

And while both Manjit and Fate acknowledge that as individuals, we must push forward in the face of discrimination and use our obstacles to fuel our resolve, they also demand change in the system. Inevitably, equity and inclusion come up in their discussion, and one thing in particular that Manjit said stood out enough to be worth a good ol’ quote:

So I ask you again: how often are you invited to the table, but are discouraged from speaking?

Better yet: if you are in a position of privilege, how often do you invite folks to the table, and yet get annoyed at their “audacity” to challenge you, as if they should feel lucky to have been invited in the first place, so how dare they challenge you?

FOOD FOR THOUGHT.

Change begins within. Equity vs inclusion. It’s time to do more than send or accept invites.

It’s time to dance.

Check out the recap post about our Discussion Panel on “Equity at Work: Northern and Virtual Schools“. We’re just getting started.

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Best Practices for Equity in the Classroom: Northern and Virtual Schools

The Educator’s Coaching Network held our very first Discussion Panel, “Equity at Work”, on Sunday April 10th, 2022 at 1pm. Thank you to everyone who joined us! Our next panel, Discussion Panel #2, will take place during the third week of August 2022. The topic is “The Culture of Martyrdom: caring without burning out”. It will be quite a discussion. Join our mailing list for updates. Exact time, date, and panelists to be announced shortly.

Recap of Discussion Panel #1

Equity at Work: Northern and Virtual Schools

It goes without saying that “equity” has become a buzzword that we all know must be applied to our practice as educators. Our students come from all walks of life, and they thrive best in a space where the adults responsible for their care are attuned to their needs.

It also goes without saying though that we are so overwhelmed and overworked in our professions that being able to provide equitable learning experiences for our students has become breathlessly challenging.

So what then?

The Educator’s Coaching Network sought to address this during our very first Discussion Panel on April 10th, 2022. You may have seen our poster floating around Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. We wanted to give educators the space to talk about all the obstacles within the education system that makes it so difficult for us to do our jobs. At the same time, we strived to have a helpful AND hopeful discussion about how we cope so that we can still do the good work for our students.

Our small and mighty crew of like-minded educators came to our virtual space to listen as our humble yet stellar panelists, Nelson Lew (he/him) and Karah Kushnir (they/them), spoke with me about all things equity. Nelson came from the perspective of having taught in one of Ontario’s Elementary Virtual Schools with me during the 2020-2021 school year, and then teaching hybrid music classes the following school year. Karah came from the perspective of having taught in Canada’s First Nations and Inuit schools for the last few years. We learned a lot from them in the time we spent together; and while one hour is never enough, there were some great nuggets from our conversation that are worth highlighting.

Those Wisdom Nuggets!

The virtual world of teaching is drastically different from teaching in First Nations and Inuit communities for obvious reasons. While things look different on the surface though, the common philosophy of equity for staff and students alike are ultimately the same.

  1. Show up for the kids.
  2. Show up for yourself.
  3. Be humble.
  4. Be adaptable.
  5. Build community.
  6. Find humour somehow everyday.

Easier said than done, of course. In fact, it feels utterly impossible some days.

Well, the good news is, students don’t really need us to be perfect (more on this in our next Discussion Panel, “The Culture of Martyrdom: how to care without burning out”). Karah and Nelson, like any good educator, both emphasize that we all have things to work on, and that’s okay. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re supporting each other.

First Nations and Inuit Schools with Karah

One of the biggest takeaways from our chat with Karah was that we must meet students where they are. This was especially true for Karah, who grew up in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area. Coming from a place where the norms are that school comes first, and then ending up where kids miss school because they are off on a hunting trip – it’s enough to set you back on your heels. It’s a real culture shock to witness an entirely different way of being; and yet, this is the norm in many parts of our country. It’s something we must come to realize, understand, and embrace.

I laughed with Karah that it was probably good that they didn’t teach “in the south” first like a sweet summer child before going up to Canada’s Great White North. They agreed; it was just easier for them to go to these rural communities up north with a ton of humility and a willingness to learn without an urban educator ego in the way. It worked in their favour.

Even so, Karah has told me how they witnessed colleagues who did the internal work and put aside their preconceived notions of what education “should” look like. It’s hard work, but necessary, in order to meet students where they are. Many kids in northern communities won’t read beyond a 4th grade reading level in English, simply because the focus in their communities are just not the same. For Karah, if all they accomplish in one year is to guide these kids up just one more reading level in English, then they’ve done their job. Sometimes that’s just all we can do. And that, my friends, is how we provide equitable learning experiences in impossible situations: validating student individual needs, shedding our own preconceived notions of “should”, and meeting them where they are. It’s hard work, but uncomplicated, if we are willing to put our egos aside.

Elementary Virtual Schools (EVS) with Nelson

For Nelson, building community with his virtual class of 10-year olds was his focus. As he prepared for pandemic teaching, he knew that having students learn while isolated in their own individual homes was a recipe for loneliness; so, he made sure to prioritize connection above all else.

When he applied this framework to his virtual class, Nelson found the students connected in a way that allowed them to support each other in their learning, even though they were physically apart from one another. They felt comfortable voicing their needs, they felt cared for by their teacher, and they flourished more than anyone could have hoped for. This is another form of equity too, and meeting students where they are: understanding the circumstances, shifting focus, and responding accordingly to ensure student engagement. I worked with Nelson prior to our virtual school experience, and building community was something he was always good at when we taught together in a brick and mortar school. It didn’t surprise me that he made this a priority for EVS too, with much success.

What’s Next?

Reading about what Karah and Nelson have done with their students in a blog post seems like a no-brainer; however, the path to equity, crafted as masterfully as they have given their circumstances, is actually quite exhausting. The current systems in place makes it incredibly challenging for educators to create truly equitable learning in our classrooms. It’s easier to do so when we are partnered with incredible Educational Assistants (EAs) and other support staff; however, given the constant defunding of education in North America and beyond, it’s near impossible to get sufficient support to do our jobs well. As a result, educators like Karah and Nelson are expected to martyr themselves for the cause of education. I fell down this rabbit hole for years, as have many of my colleagues. It’s not sustainable. Enough is enough.

Our next Discussion Panel #2 will address this very issue. How do we care without literally making ourselves sick? Come and join us for a discussion on The Culture of Martyrdom: caring without burning out. This is relevant not just in education, but across many other people-centered industries and non-profits… and quite frankly, across all aspects of life.

Date and time, along with our panelists, to be announced soon. Join our email list for monthly updates.

Humbly yours in Love, Peace, and Justice,

– Karen and the Educator’s Coaching Network

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Biographies

Karah Kushnir (they/them) has been teaching Indigenous students in Nunavut and Northern Ontario for the last few years. Karah truly enjoys facilitating learning, and is relentless in providing empowering educational opportunities for their students – even when it seems like the country has given up on these kids. They’re a gem of a human 💖

Nelson Lew (he/him) has been working for the YRDSB for 15+ years, one of which was fully virtual during the 2020-2021 school year. He is currently the Music teacher at John McCrae Public School. Nelson is also a father, husband, uncle, brother, son, and overall good dude 😁 He’s had to provide equitable learning for music in hybrid mode! Madness, and mad props.