Ayodele Harrison shares his perspective on the importance of emotional self-care for educators in her conversation with Edthena CEO Adam Geller. This is part 4 and is the final part of their PLTogether Lounge Talk conversation.

Here is a transcript of their conversation.

– Welcome to PLtogether Lounge Talks. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena. Today we’re talking with Ayodele Harrison. He is a former classroom teacher, currently the senior partner of education at CommunityBuild Ventures. And he’s also a mentor to black male educators. Ayodele, thanks so much for joining us.

– Thank you for having me.

– So, we were just talking about how to begin the process of becoming anti-racist. And in, in that discussion, you brought up the idea that as an educator and really just as a human, you need to be taking care of yourself emotionally. You said the emotional self care. I know you also use another word with that phrase often, which is the healing part of the process. So yeah, I mean, I guess like take us through this. Like if I’m thinking, like, what do you mean? Like, why do I, I’m doing fine. Like, am I doing fine? Is that just me, and I’m like lying to myself?

– Well, you know, here’s the thing, we understand that for some time or previously, like in 1950s, oral health was not something that we took very seriously. And this idea of brushing our teeth was something that was brand new, right? This idea, I mean, I heard something on ESPN where it was talking about, like this idea of jogging, or getting out and running and doing regular exercise was not something that was a part of our consciousness, but we began to understand the health benefits right of this, and so there are so many health benefits when we begin to engage emotional self care and self care in that particular space. And so, it’s important that we begin to engage just with something as simple as the breath. And we know that biologically, we cannot survive without our breath. But it is able to bring us calm, it is able to take us from our most survival mode, our most, what is the word? Memoric place in our brain, retina place in our brain, to our prefrontal cortex, which is the front part of our brain to really be able to learn our thinking, our processing, our structures, our understanding are able to come from. And so, having these practices that allow us to be our best functioning self, to our most resilient self, this is something that’s really, really powerful and important for us to practice. We can’t just assume that it’s gonna happen by taking a break or sleeping, those are things that can help us physically, but emotional self-care, I think one of the things that’s important is for us to differentiate that there is care like healthcare, there’s physical care, but emotional self-care is really about anything you do deliberately to take care of emotional health and wellbeing. So, that’s what’s really key for us in this time.

– I think you said something there, at the end that’s feels really important, which is it’s a deliberate practice, right? So maybe, maybe you were, doing things previously, that were keeping you in a good emotional place. But this idea of doing it deliberately, or routinely is maybe what is new or is what is kind of how people should be thinking about the importance of bringing this into their everyday. Let’s say I feel like I’m swimming in the deep end. And obviously that could be for a variety of reasons, as an educator, could it be because of everything going on this year, I doubt it could be because of trying to be an adult in the time of COVID, whatever it might be. It could be because I don’t have a job maybe. So, where do I start for building the habits? You can certainly tell us a habit or two, and I know you even mentioned some, but where do I start for building the habits? But you don’t get to tell me Google this time.

– Well, I will say two things. Where you can begin is with the breath, right? Taking a moment to take a deep breath, in and out, and being present with your breath in that particular moment. That is always available to you, and it’s free. You know, there are, if you notice, if you see athletes before they began a process, what do they do? Right? And that’s the centering practice, that is a form of emotional self care. Yes, you can sit and do and I teach people, focus breathing that goes on for five, 10, or 20 minutes. We can meditate, but it’s also available to us in that particular moment. But then also this practice of going beyond that is, when we talk about emotional self-care, is really thinking about one of the things we can dive into is self-talk. How do we talk to ourselves? What are the ways that we engage, right? One of the exercises that we do in one of the classes that I lead is this idea, let’s say a friend is going through a very challenging time. Maybe they messed up in a very public presentation, they lost out on their contract and they came to you and said, “I was a complete failure.” What would you say? What would you do? And we have people practice saying that, right? And they would say words who encouragement. And then we asked them to think about what if you did that? What would you say to yourself, right? And so, those words that we often say to ourselves are a lot more destructive. And the words that we say to other are constructive. So emotional self cares about analyzing, pausing to interrogate the ways that we talk to ourselves, the ways that, how can we take some of our most loving, kind words that we use for others and use them for ourselves on a daily basis, on a regular basis. And so one of the things that we lead, this practice that comes from Emory University Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics. They talk about this idea of a practice of its kind of like a mantra. I’ve turned it into a mantra of saying, “I will practice reminding myself that I have a fundamental desire for wellbeing and wish to avoid suffering.” So it’s this idea that I have a desire. I might not be in a space of wellbeing, but I have a desire for it, right? And I want to avoid suffering, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to avoid suffering. We have to acknowledge and make space. One of the other mantra, things that I’ve turned into a mantra this idea of, “I will practice accepting my limitations and vulnerabilities with kindness and understanding.” How many times are we able to say that to ourselves? I know as a black male, me saying that I have limitations, that goes against everything that I’ve kind of been taught, whether it’s me as an athlete on a football field, like, “You could do it, you can run through a brick wall, you can do.” All those things to get me motivated to do, right? Is I’ve been taught that I am the sky’s the limit. I can do anything, I can be all. I can have my cake and eat it too, when the reality is I have limitations and I am gonna be vulnerable. I’m six, two, 325 pounds, right? You would, I could walk through this space and people I’ve seen people turn the other direction, and leaving, and you know, because of my presence. And so I can be, feel like there’s more for minimal, but we know that seasons change. I can get sick. I know that I’m gonna experience loss. I know that I’m gonna experience some sort of dissatisfaction. So it’s understanding that I’m not in full control. And so that’s some ways that we can begin to think about some of the ways that we practice emotional self-care that goes beyond health and beauty, beyond going to get a massage or going to hang out with the fellows and play basketball, or going to get a haircut or going to get a bar of ice at the bar, ice cream cone, or treating myself to shopping or something like that. That is self care, but emotional self care is when we get to the ideas of our thinking, our understanding, and how we relate with that. And everybody has space to work on that, even though I’ve been teaching this work for over three years now, I’m still running up against learning edges saying, “Oops, I thought I didn’t have any limitations.” I do, how do I now navigate that and continue to grow and experienced joy in the way that I so desire, even though I’m facing this idea that I might not be able to overcome this particular situation in this moment.

– Your description of the positive self-talk and the mantra is reminded me of a practice that I’ve heard about which is the gratitude journal, where every day you just write down something good that happened to you today, or something that you well today. And it could be small, but there’s research that proves that you know, can actually improve your emotional wellbeing.

– Yeah, I will say that, that’s why within our brave space protocol, we begin with gratitude, right? And I have myself have struggled with relationships where I remember I was on part of my morning practice. I was writing in a gratitude journal, where I was forcing myself to think about positive, like things I’m grateful for with that person, that I might be having a struggle with. And I literally had to, I would sit there. And it was a practice of trying to, what I’ve often said is we’re trying to soften this hold on, keeping people in a box or a category. And I’m not saying releasing, cause it’s I think it’s false to believe that we can release and let go of everything, “Oh, don’t mind that, just let it.” But what we can do is we can, or a better way to think of it instead of holding it as a fist of like, “I don’t like this person at all, we’re always having this issue.” If I’m able to find a moment of gratitude, something that I can see, I thank them for being alive for being present, I thank them for even just, you know, driving me home or whatever that might be, with the gratitude I can begin to loosen, right? I can loosen my grip around where I’m holding them in that space. And what I do is I’m actually able to recapture that energy, right? And I can place that energy in a place that I feel is more healthy. And so, one of the things I wanna back up and say is that it’s not a, there’s not a, we often get into this duality nature of positive negative. It’s really more of what’s healthy for us and what might be harmful for us, right? There are times where sadness is really helpful for us. Grieving is very helpful for us. That’s not a negative emotion, right? It is just an emotion that we can now see benefit of like, I now recognize how important that person or thing was to me and I can grieve it, right? I can hack and be in that emotional space and actually be very healthy. The key is, how long am I staying in that emotional place, right? Is it now serving me a day from now, a week from now, 10 years from now? I’m not the one to decide that the other person is. So it’s really about gratitude allows us to have this space for learning to take place. And that’s what I think is one of the great benefits of having a gratitude journal.

– Thinking about if you’re a school leader, trying to encourage the educators in your community to adopt these practices, it probably doesn’t work well to tell them to do it. So maybe a menu of ideas. And also, I think I hear you repeating something which is that it can be modeled in the other structures in the way you’re leading. So for example, if you’re a leader who’s helping create these brave spaces. If part of that is demonstrating and modeling the gratitude and the positive thinking, then suddenly the idea of adopting one of these practices for yourself, isn’t so far a field from what you might’ve experienced, or what you may believe will lead to something that feels good for you cause you know, obviously we’re all motivated by wanting to feel good.

– I can say you had brought this up, cause I think this is really important is, I like to think of the idea of like weaponizing wellness, right? Like you have to do this. What we’re doing is it’s more about creating space for it. So one is modeling it, but with our brave space, we invite all to participate, but you don’t have to participate in that. So I’m not, cause what I’ve seen is, I mean, we as educators, we love lifting and transporting into our classroom and trying to do right away, so this also happens with wellness practices where we, you know, I think of my six-year-old, and she’s with her school, she’s learned breathing practices. And when she is, at a very heightened sense of emotion, and all these things are going on and she might be angry, I’m not in that moment gonna say, “Breath, you need to sit down and do your meditation, you need to practice this.” That’s weaponizing it. What we do is we create space and say, can we lean on something that will help us calm and be in that space? So school leaders, are often saying they, I believe they’re all well-intentioned about wanting their staff to be well, the key is part of wellness. part of that healing, is that you mentioned earlier is about inviting people to take part, but not requiring them to take part, right? So it might be, you might start off in the morning, a meeting like, “Hey, let’s just take, you know, I invite us all to take a collective breath together.” I’m not looking around to make sure that if people are taking a collective breath together, and I’m not checking them off and doing that, I’m just saying, we’re gonna have that. And I want to open this up with a brave space. “Would anybody like to share a moment of gratitude?” right, with them? And I might lead as a school leader to do that if I believe that, but I’m not gonna go around and make sure everybody in the room does that because now they might not be in a space where they can access gratitude, but now they have to manufacture something, in a compliance mode for you in that situation. That’s not helping anybody.

– I know that CommunityBuild Ventures, you guys have an online resource that’s available right now. So I wanna make sure to mention that to everyone, it’s called, “Get Out of the FIRE.” give us the, 60, no, not even the 60 seconds. Give us the three sentences. What is it? And why might I be interested in checking it out?

– Sure, if you’re feeling overworked, overwhelmed, underappreciated, this is a space for you to learn tools, to empower, to enhance your sense of emotional wellbeing. Your practice, we will introduce you to various breathing practices and other things, and also teach you about the science of brain chemistry and the fight, flight or freeze. So you’ll learn about all that, and we will guide you along with some wellness practices that you might invite into your practice as you move forward. And it’s free, so just know that when you go on our website, it is free for the entire, for the remainder of the year. There’s an offer code and it’s Juneteenth, `cause that’s when we actually launched the free platform and engage it’s five, this is more than three sentences, I’m sorry. It’s five videos, there’s a workbook that’s included, all of these things that you can get a better sense of what an emotional self-care practice is and begin it.

– So if that sounds interesting, head to CommunityBuild Ventures .com, it’s on their website, it’s front and center, you will see it. Before we head out Ayodele, I want to ask you our extra credit question.

– Okay.

– The question here is thinking about all that has changed in life since Coronavirus has come onto the scene, what is one thing that has changed, that you hope will continue, or that you want to try to continue for yourself in your daily routines or practices or ways that you’re working with folks?

– So Adam, how long do I have? `Cause I could tell you… I think one of the practices that have changed for me, and I think for many parents, I’ve actually had a very active role in my child my children’s learning, with my child being in kindergarten last year, when the pandemic began and in-person learning had stopped. I went to parent meetings, I got the print out all the checklists. I actually got a chance to sit alongside my daughter while she was learning and experience learning and understand how she learned. I wouldn’t trade that for the world, I realized even as an educator, how little I, I knew about the way that my child learned and how well my teachers were leading them through that process. So for me, I don’t wanna go back to not having such an active role, in her life. `Cause as we all know, we got the commute and all these things and we might have between 5:30 and 7:30 to really engage, and that’s bedtime, that’s food, that’s homework. There’s not a lot of time to do a lot of extra reading and cite words. And so for me in this time, it’s been being able to spend time and have an increased role in my child’s learning.

– Ayodele thank you so much for being part of together. If you’re watching this conversation and wondering, what we talked about before the segment or wondering who else I’ve talked to, head to Pltogether.or for a lot more. Ayodele Harrison, thank you again.

– Thank you for having me.