Diana Gould, a 2010 Houston alum, shares how self-care has helped her become a more radical educator.
June 20, 2017
"Drink Your Water"
A recurring theme on one of my favorite podcasts is the importance of self-care. Hosts of Another Round, Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu, often share the ways they practice self-care and at the end of every episode sign off with “take your meds, call your mom/person, drink your water.” Almost three years ago, these were things I needed to be doing more of, but not in the literal sense. After time away from working in schools, it has become clear that to be a radical educator, we must practice self-care to sustain ourselves for lifelong work towards achieving educational equity for all.
I dove into my work in 2010 as a Houston corps member and kept swimming through the summer of 2014. During this period, a majority of my time and thoughts were consumed by my students, the injustices they often faced, and the pursuit to help end it. While I had additional interests, the work needed all my attention, all the time. I was exhausted and, as a result, felt I was not being as effective as I could be for my students and in my own career path. I needed to come up for air. So, after years of planning how my students would reach their big goals, I took a moment to reset my own. I made the decision to leave my full-time role as Director of Operations at a Philadelphia charter school and change careers, which allowed me to go back to school and gain experience working in the private sector. Even though I was leaving, I knew I’d find my way back in to education, ready to serve kids, families, and Philadelphia in a different capacity.
Leading Systems Fellowship
While I expected to miss my students and the school community, what has been most surprising about my time away from working in education is the growing void I feel from not actively working to improve students’ futures. When I learned about TFA Philly’s Leading Systems Fellowship, I was hesitant because I had a full workload with school and didn’t want to sign up for something to which I couldn’t fully commit. However, I was also glad that an opportunity so perfect had come along that would allow me to dip my toes back into Philadelphia education and learn how I might best apply my new skill set and knowledge.
Through my participation in the Leading Systems Fellowship, I’ve gained a new perspective on how I can help improve students’ futures even though I’m not currently a formal educator. I’ve learned that I can continue to be a radical educator in a non-traditional sense. I can speak educated truth to power about the strengths and shortcomings of our education system, I can take part in professional development and support others on a similar path, I can be strategic about how I volunteer my time, and I can continue to build self-care practices that will allow me to sustain in work that is challenging.
Moving forward with radical self-care
Currently, my professional self-care involves building relationships with my Fellowship cohort, all of whom I admire and am excited to have as part of my network, and engaging in thoughtful discussion, which has helped me see my strengths and path more clearly. I’m proud to have been able to contribute a different perspective to those conversations thanks to the diverse experiences I’ve gained in the past couple of years. I still have that void, but meeting these people has certainly made it smaller than it was before our first session in November.
While I was still working in schools, I missed early opportunities to practice self-care for my career. I could have taken stock of what was going well, and what goals I wanted to achieve, sooner, and made it a priority to check-in with myself often, to be honest about what path I was heading down. In retrospect, I think this would have led me to be a more effective educator, particularly if I had taken the steps to get what I decided I needed. For instance, asking to shadow different roles, to better understand paths that might have interested me, or being more direct with former coaches and managers asking them for specific feedback and time to discuss long-term professional goals, not just that week’s lessons or observation, and finally asking colleagues about their career goals, and how they plan for their futures. I have found, through the open dialogue in the Fellowship, that having honest and deep conversations about professional goals, is often what has sparked inspiration, motivation, and produced a sharper focus on my own vision.
Taking time to focus on oneself is easier said than done, and often a luxury, however, I have found that it is critical, if we are to be our best selves year after year.