Why Self-Care is Important for Museum Educators

Added to Medium, June 7, 2018

Self-care has become an increasingly important topic of discussion in the museum field, and we need to express why museum educators especially need to take the care they need. I recently have been in a situation that I needed self-care to help myself get back to where I need to be as a museum educator. Because of recent events, I began to review information I have about self-care and museums.

One of the posts I came across was Seema Rao’s “Focusing on Self-Care is Good for Business” in which she summarized a keynote talk Rao gave at the Pennsylvania Museums Association conference in April. I also read her book Objective Lessons: Self Care for Museum Professionals in the past, and I decided to re-read the book in light of recent events. While there are many resources online that have self-care and self-help, it is overwhelming to dedicate time to sit down and read through every material.

Earlier tonight I hosted #MuseumEdChat on Twitter and since I was hosting I decided to come up with the topic about self-care and develop the questions for the topic. I thought that I would learn more about the current status of self-care in museums by asking the questions I had to the Twitter community. After an hour-long discussion, I found so many great responses to these questions and what I found is that we need to continue to promote self-care and the significance of self-care among museum professionals of all levels.

The first question I asked was “How would you describe self-care?” because while everyone needs self-care at some point or another not everyone would have the same definition depending on the circumstances of why they need self-care. One of the first responses I came across that I think perfectly sums up what self-care is in general is:

To me, self-care is having the time and patience to actively care for your overall health (physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual)

We all need time and patience to provide ourselves with the self-care we need to keep ourselves moving forward. The key, however, is finding the time to do so and not many museum professionals have that opportunity because some managers do not see the value of self-care.

A couple of tweets mentioned this dilemma. One tweet pointed out that “Self-care can be hard for staff who don’t have paid time off or vacation.” Another tweet also said,

Self-care is hard in sector w/ so much of the staff working on term-limited/ hourly wages in precarious jobs. Self-care can be seen as a waste by managers, who put pressure on junior staff to be super productive ALL THE TIME.

There are not many job opportunities that are full-time for museum professionals which provide benefits that will help us with self-care. These situations are a part of a bigger issue in the museum field that we continue to work towards so self-care would be acknowledged by managers, directors, and board of directors and trustees.

Rao has also stressed the importance of self-care in her post “Focusing on Self-Care is Good for Business”, and made an argument for managers to pay attention to this need for not only for their staff but for the managers as well. She stated that burnouts are high in the museum field because of the long hours with little pay and no time to recharge. Her post also directly addressed the managers to set examples for self-care:

Managers need to be honest about their own struggles with burnout and share their strategies to counteract these feelings. Sharing challenges is not a sign of weakness. A good leader is a human who is worth following, flaws and all; a boss is a person who you have to work for.

Our work culture in this society promotes the idea that having challenges are signs of weakness in managers. However, that is not true at all because we are all human and knowing how to deal with challenges and flaws is what makes great leaders a person worth following. A few responses on Twitter also pointed out that they either do not know how to or do not know how to find time to do self-care.

I have said this on Twitter and I will say again here that I don’t think everyone is good at self-care at times because sometimes it is hard to find the time to take care of ourselves. It will take a lot of practice for all of us to practice and promote self-care. Some individuals have shared what we can do to promote the importance of self-care.

One of the tweets talked about promoting workshops and activities for staff with special guests such as individuals from government or higher education agencies. I agree with this suggestion because by having programs like the ones suggested it would start to make discussions about self-care easier for museum professionals and opens up communication about self-care with managers and directors. Another tweet reiterated the sentiments I have about self-care:

All museum professionals, no matter the position, need to foster an environment of caring and understanding. If there is a need to promote self-care at work, professionals need to feel that they can open up and be honest about what they need.

After the #MuseumEdChat discussion, I was reassured that I am not alone in my own struggles to find time for self-care and balance work with much needed self-care time. I was also reassured that this is a topic that we all need to continue to discuss as we continue to find ways to improve the museum field. Self-care is different for every individual in the museum field, and it is necessary for every museum professional on all levels to take care of themselves.

I leave you all with a couple of questions that I have asked on Twitter’s #MuseumEdChat discussion that we all need to think about and share with all museum professionals in the field:

If you were going to explain to your manager and/or colleagues about self-care, how would you explain why it is important for all museum professionals, including museum educators? Please share what you and your co-workers do, or would like to do, for self-care. What method is most helpful for you? What can we do to spread more awareness to the need of self-care?


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