RTRL.65: Reported Self-care Practices of Music Educators (Kelley et al., 2021)


Kelley, J., Nussbaum, K., Crawford, M. O., Critchfield, J. B., Flippin, S. H., Grey, A. N., & Mahaffey, C. R. (2021). The reported self-care practices of music educators. Journal of Music Teacher Education. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/10570837211056615

What did the researchers want to know?

What are the reported self-care practices of K-12 music teachers, and do they vary by teaching experience, age, gender, or level of instruction?

What did the researchers do?

Kelley et al. surveyed 337 K-12 music teachers in a southwestern U.S. state on their personal and professional self-care practices. Personal self-care includes behaviors that promote well-being, interpersonal connections, physical wellness, and leisure while professional self-care includes work-related behaviors like building professional knowledge, developing professional support systems, and work-life balance. (See table below for a full list of survey items.) Participants rated their agreement for each item on a 5-point scale (5 = strongly agree, 1 = strongly disagree) to indicate the degree to which they do or do not engage in each self-care behavior. (In other words, the closer the rating was to “5”, the more the teacher reported engaging in that behavior).

What did the researchers find?

In terms of personal self-care behaviors, the most highly-rated items were “I spend time with family or friends” (average rating= 4.34) and “I spend time with people whose company I enjoy” (average rating= 4.31). The lowest-rated personal self-care item was “I take time off when I am not feeling well” (average rating = 2.70). Participants also rated other physical and health-related items similarly low.

The most highly-rated items for professional self-care behaviors were “I participate in activities that promote my professional development” (average rating = 4.26) and “I find ways to stay current in professional knowledge” (average rating = 4.26). The lowest rated item was “I avoid over-commitment to work responsibilities” (average rating 2.79).

Kelley et al. also calculated composite scores for personal self-care, professional self-care, and total self-care by adding up the scores for the items in each category. Out of a total of 140 possible points, the average score for total self-care was 104.16. Overall, teachers reported engaging in more professional self-care than they did personal self-care. Specifically, “participants indicated the lowest levels of engagement in common self-care practices within the physical subcategory. Most participants indicated they continue to work when they do not feel well, do not maintain a physical activity routine or a healthy diet, do not take regular breaks during the workday, and over-commit to work responsibilities” (p. 8).

The researchers also conducted statistical analysis to see whether self-care differed by age, years of teaching experience, gender, or level of instruction (elementary vs. secondary). They found weak correlations between age and self-care and between years of experience and self-care, meaning that older teachers and/or teachers with more experience were slightly more likely to practice more self-care than younger teachers and/or those with less experience. There were no significant differences in self-care between male and female teachers or between elementary and secondary teachers.

What does this mean for my classroom?

Particularly in times of extreme stress, it is important that teachers engage in personal self-care behaviors. Given that Kelley et al. found teachers are more likely to engage in professional self-care behaviors than personal, it is important for teachers to consciously choose to commit time to taking care of themselves, both physically and emotionally. Most teachers are extremely passionate about what they do and are constantly striving to improve the learning experiences they provide for their students. However, given the extreme and prolonged stress of teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic, teachers must prioritize their own health and well-being. If this means temporarily dialing down efforts to advance their professional expertise, so be it! As the researchers clearly state, “we do not advocate for an additive solution to promote self-care” (p. 9). School districts should not add requirements for teachers to complete training on self-care. Instead, music teachers and music teacher educators should be encouraged and empowered to model “purposeful self-care, to promote healthy boundaries and work-life balance, and to embrace values of self-care over self-sacrifice” (p. 9).

I spend time with family or friends. (social)4.34
I spend time with people whose company I enjoy. (recreation)4.31
I make a conscious effort to appreciate positive things in my life. (psychological)4.31
I seek out activities or people that encourage and/or comfort me. (social)4.04
I find ways to cultivate a sense of social connection in my life. (social)3.84
I share my feelings with others during stressful times in my life. (psychological)3.79
I seek guidance or counseling when necessary. (psychological)3.45
I see a doctor or other medical professional when I have health concerns. (physical)3.43
I participate in physical exercise (physical)3.38
I make an effort to get enough sleep each night. (physical)3.37
I take some time for relaxation each day. (psychological)3.33
I eat a balanced and healthy diet. (physical)3.17
I make physical activity part of my regular routine. (physical)3.14
I take time off when I am not feeling well. (physical)2.70
I find ways to stay current in professional knowledge. (professional development)4.26
I participate in activities that promote my professional development. (professional development)4.26
I monitor my feelings and reactions to students and colleagues. (professional psychological)4.16
I cultivate professional relationships with my colleagues. (professional social)4.15
I confide in a trusted colleague regarding work-related stressors. (professional social)4.08
I try to reduce stress by proactively navigating challenging situations in my professional work. (professional psychological)3.99
I anticipate situations which may cause me stress at work. (professional psychological)3.98
I tell colleagues about positive workplace experiences. (professional social)3.96
I maintain a professional support system. (professional social)3.89
I make personal connections on campus to avoid feeling isolated. (professional social)3.70
I connect with organizations in my professional community that are important to me. (professional development)3.66
I choose to participate in school-related social and community events. (professional social)3.52
I take breaks throughout the workday. (work-life balance)3.14
I avoid over-commitment to work responsibilities. (work-life balance)2.79
Table 1: Survey Items and Average Responses

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