My role as the RespectWorks Advisor at Vanier College consists of overseeing the College’s Harassment & Discrimination Policy, assisting employees in complaint-resolution procedures, and facilitating initiatives to cultivate respectful, inclusive working and learning spaces. In this article, I will explore how to exercise different forms of care in our work together, and how this attention towards care supports our work with students. I want to recognize and thank Rushdia Mehreen (Humanities, Politics & Care) for her input, feedback, and peer review of this article. I also want to thank Krista Riley (PSI office) for her support and contributions to this article’s development.

What is the number one quality used by students to describe their best teacher? According to research conducted by Skovholt & Trotter-Mathison (2016), the answer is care. In their book The Resilient Practitioner, the authors discuss how interweaving care into teaching approaches can largely support student success (Skovholt & Trotter-Mathison, 2016). Similarly, in data collected from Vanier’s 2019 staff and student surveys to support strategic planning and student success planning; care, consideration for well-being, and cultivating belonging were identified as priorities (Hudson, J., Personal Communication, November 18th 2020). When we are positioned to provide such care to students, what kind of care do we need for ourselves and in our shared spaces? Care—for the self and for others—is essential for those working in roles that involve supporting other humans, including educators (Skovholt & Trotter-Mathison, 2016). This article will explore different forms of care and how they fuel our capacities to serve in our roles as helping professionals. 

Why Talk About Care? 

There are many motivations for entering the field of education; being able to support students in their learning journeys is one I have heard most consistently. Other responses to the question “why do we do this work?” include professional ambition, personal fulfillment, wanting to help others, inspiring global change, and nurturing our own academic growth. There are certainly many benefits to working in helping professions such as education, which can be motivational to name. Alongside these benefits, there are also realistic challenges.  

As is outlined by Skovholt & Trotter-Mathison (2016), working in helping professions can elevate certain risk factors, including:

  • Burnout (a feeling of “what’s the point?” caused by being overworked, feeling undervalued, lack of community, and experiencing ongoing unresolved conflicts, harassment, or discrimination)
  • Compassion fatigue (“running on empty”; when we use all of our energy giving to others without sufficient space to receive care)
  • Vicarious trauma (being exposed to another person’s traumatic experience and then having symptoms as if you lived this yourself)
  • Ambiguous endings (not having closure when the working relationship with the student/client ends, not always seeing the influence our efforts had on their journey) 
  • Professional uncertainty (caused by many unpredictable factors that frequently arise in this field) 

By placing care at the center of how we work together, Vanier community members can enhance self-awareness and cultivate empathy, connection, understanding, and belonging.

In a time where we have been confronted by so much uncertainty, in life as well as at work, holding space to name the above-mentioned risk factors can help us identify signs of such impacts when they happen (Robinson & Smith, 2020). They can also help educators prioritize making space for protective factors, including care, to prevent burnout and other such risks. Care is arguably essential to any human’s well-being, and it is a core component of resilience for helping professionals (Skovholt & Trotter-Mathison, 2016).

Different Forms of Care

In Deanna Zandt’s illustrated blog, The Unspoken Complexity of Self-Care, the author outlines four forms of care (self-soothing, self-care, community care, and structural care), advocating for how each can influence the other while also validating that we can’t exercise all forms of care at all times (2019). Another form of care is collective care, which is more specifically about mutual care in a given space or group (Mehreen, R., Personal Communication, Nov. 25th 2019). In what follows, I outline these different forms of care and describe how they can influence our work.

Self-Soothing and Self-Care:

I often hear “self-care” promoted as the number one solution to prevent professional burnout. But what do we really mean when we talk about self-care? Deanna Zandts’ helpful model distinguishes between self-soothing and self-care, advocating for the importance of each (2019). 

  • Self-soothing is about simple enjoyable acts that require little effort and provide an escape from our daily stressors (Zandt, 2019). Some examples include binge-watching your favourite show, treating yourself to your favourite meal, taking a bubble-bath, dancing it out to your favourite song, or having a (virtual) hangout with friends. 
  • Self-care takes more effort but is ultimately nurturing for our growth and well-being (Zandt, 2019). Some examples include engaging in therapy, exercise, getting enough sleep, setting limits around social media consumption, and meditation (Santos, 2020). In the workplace, self-care can involve taking a break from our screens to go for a walk or have a coffee; arranging our schedules to focus on priority tasks and making space for unexpected stressors that can arise; advising people when we are not reachable (turning off our email notifications when we aren’t); as well as other limit-setting strategies to help us conserve energy (Giurge & Bohns, 2020 ; Selva, 2020). 

Those in the field of education are supporting students on many levels. We are working incredibly hard throughout the year while also likely devoting time to caring for loved ones. When exercising so much care for others, taking space for self-care can be an empowering way for teachers and other College employees to tune into, and address, our own needs. Self-soothing is also important for recharging our batteries. In times of crisis, we need to be mindful of how we each have different internal and external resources to work with. We want to be kind to ourselves in the context of our capacities and limits, and any pocket of time we can allocate to some form of self-nurturing pause, even if for only five minutes a day, can be greatly beneficial.

Community Care

In the editorial “Who Cares?” by Upping the Ante, the authors draw from the work of Black Feminists and scholars to advocate for a shift from perceiving self-care as the responsibility of individuals, to viewing care as a shared framework of community responsibility (2016). This concept of community care has been evolving in relation to social movements for some time, as a form of mobilizing community support to address the risks of burnout from the emotional labour involved in social activism (Activist trauma support, n.d). At a very basic level, community care is “…any care provided by an individual to benefit other people in their life” and is rooted in collectivist ways of knowing and being (Dockray, 2019). Community care is often seen in non-profit and community organizations formed by and for marginalized communities (Dockray, 2019; Zandt, 2019). Examples of community care include The Black Panther Party’s initiatives such as the “Breakfast for School Children Program”, and “People’s Free Ambulance Service”, and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s work to provide food and transportation that ensured accessibility to events and actions (Upping the Ante, 2016). Another example of community care would be when folks step in to offer help as a bystander witness to public harassment, such as by exercising one of the 5 D’s  (Direct intervention, offering a Distraction, Delegating to an authority, Delaying your response to check in on the person afterward, and Documenting what you saw) (Hollaback!, n.d.). 

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many ways we are witnessing community care being exercised in society, including the measures we each take to protect those most vulnerable to the effects of the virus. More than ever before, we are recognizing what psychology research has indicated for some time now: that social connection is essential to well-being (Diener, & Seligman, 2002; Epley & Schroeder, 2014; Santos, 2020). When struggling with physical isolation, we have needed to find creative ways to be there for and with each other (Cherry, 2020). This can involve reflection and motivation to tend to our own needs while also working to support loved ones and the wider communities around us. 

Caring for the self and for others arguably takes work. Often, it also requires a level of financial means and access to resources that not everyone has (Dockray, 2019; Valerio, 2019; Zandt, 2019). For folks who are struggling, it can be very hard to reach out and ask for help. Community care is about making a point to check in on others and alleviate some of that burden. As community organizer Nakita Valerio articulates, experiencing community is reciprocal; we feel cared for while also offering care within our realistic capacities (2019). This shared framework of responsibility towards care can, in turn, support each of our abilities to engage in self-care practices (Upping the Ante, 2016). 

Collective Care 

Politics & Care, a Montreal-based collective that cultivates “…spaces to interweave links between collective well-being, self-care, and politics” is one of many organizations that examines and cultivates collective care (2020). Collective care focuses on a specific group or given space and sees well-being for members as a shared responsibility of the group (Mehreen & Gray-Donald, 2018). In education, we often work autonomously and thus may be absorbing the impacts of our work with less opportunity to debrief about the challenges we are experiencing. When every person in a team, working group, or classroom is considering and showing care for each other, this provides a reciprocal form of care that benefits everyone in the given space (Mehreen & Gray-Donald, 2018). 

Rushdia Mehreen, who works with Politics & Care and teaches Humanities at Vanier, has been facilitating initiatives (since well before the COVID-19 pandemic) that create spaces for CEGEP-level faculty and staff to collectively support each other through the challenges of their work. In these conversations, different kinds of spaces within which connection and care can be nurtured have been explored:

  • Spontaneous connection (e.g. running into someone in the hallway);
  • Existing spaces (e.g. department meetings);
  • Intentional spaces (e.g. collective care discussion circles). 

In COVID-19 times, we have lacked opportunities for spontaneous, casual connection. There is an amplified need to interweave care into our existing working and learning spaces. For example, we can enhance our collective efforts to attend to people’s levels of (dis)comfort and develop approaches to cultivating belonging. One approach to facilitating such dialogue is to establish brave space guidelines for how we engage with each other in shared work, recognizing what is both challenging and enriching about committing to hear and learn from different perspectives (BreakAway, 2017). Another practice that supports mutual care is taking time to create a safer space; one that invites empathy, accessibility, and support. This contributes to enabling everyone in the room to feel empowered to use their authentic voices in an exchange (Politics & Care, 2017). Adopting both approaches can show care to both invite courage and nurture a supportive space for us to bring our true selves to the conversation and strive to come to a place of new, shared understanding (Tejpar, R., Personal Communication, Feb 4 2021). 

[A]ttention towards care in our various spaces can help us collectively reflect and gain inspiration on ways to interweave care into our work, both amongst colleagues and with students.

Holding check-ins at the beginning of department meetings, using inclusive language, and establishing guidelines for email communication are all examples of collective care that fuel respectful dialogue (Dugan & Bhatnagar, 2018; UNC, 2019; UVic, 2019). Such considerations take into account the different levels of stress colleagues may each be facing. Being attentive to various tensions and power imbalances that can occur, leaning into workplace conflicts, and seeking out support to address issues we experience with colleagues can also nurture healthier team dynamics (Mehreen & Brunet, 2017, Peterson, 2014). Intentional spaces, including casual (virtual) gatherings organized within departments and discussion circles among faculty and staff, cultivate connection and empathy amongst peers (RSA, 2013). 

This attention towards care in our various spaces can help us collectively reflect and gain inspiration on ways to interweave care into our work, both amongst colleagues and with students. Folks from all sectors of the Vanier community have been working tirelessly to support students through the impacts of COVID-19. For ideas about integrating care practices into classroom spaces, we can turn to resources such as the PSI office (for information on inclusive pedagogical approaches), as well as the range of services offered for students in the Student Services department. The Access team helps ensure accessibility for students, the Social Service Office (Code of Conduct) offers support regarding cyberviolence prevention and response, and the Social Service Officer for Sexual Violence Prevention and Response can offer guidance on cultivating consent culture for students on campus. 

Structural Care

As Deanna Zandt discusses, structural care refers to systems and structures that support our ability to engage in different forms of care; examples include accessible healthcare and education (2019). Workplace benefits including the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and insurance, daycare services such as Vanier’s CPE, and services provided to students are additional forms of structural care. Larger systems also have substantial influence on equity work in organizations (CCDI, 2020). Following the death of George Floyd in the United States on May 25th 2020, there has been an amplified focus and international call to act on the demands of long-standing social movements to combat anti-Black racism and systemic oppression (Permanand, 2020). Networks of folks working in equity and human rights-based services in post-secondary institutions across Canada, including members of the Canadian Association for the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment in Higher Education (CAPDHHE), are involved in structural approaches to combat racism and work towards equity. They are working to ensure accessibility and care for faculty, staff, and students, during and beyond this period of crisis. In these efforts, the imperatives of centering the voices of those who are marginalized and engaging members from all areas of our institutions are emphasized as essential to actionable change.

Balancing Different Forms of Care

I want to take a moment to offer heartfelt virtual care and validation to everyone at Vanier for all that you are doing through this time. While learning about interrelated forms of care, I invite readers to recognize and give yourselves credit for what you are doing while also exploring where and how we can come together in new, supportive ways. I also invite you to consider which aspects of these ideas about care resonate with you most. By placing care at the center of how we work together, Vanier community members can enhance self-awareness and cultivate empathy, connection, understanding, and belonging. This in turn will support our collective well-being in ways that will directly benefit our students in their learning journeys.

Here are some examples of the different forms of care for reflection and inspiration (with contributions from feedback received in Vanier’s discussion circles)

Self-SoothingSelf-CareCollective CareCommunity CareStructural Care
Taking a bathMeditating/
Establishing safer space guidelines in a group or classroomPhysical distancing measuresCommittee work
Watching TV/NetflixGrounding exercisesCheck-ins and closures during meetingsCommunity Facebook pagesAccessible daycare
Hugging your petExerciseDiscussion circlesWalking groupsMutual aid groups (hearing and supporting identified community needs)
BakingSleep/napsInclusive languageCalling a friend who is strugglingIndigenous Educational Programming
DancingLimit-settingConflict-resolutionChecking in with/
connecting with neighbours
Accessibility Services
Reading novelsPhysical activityFeedback mechanismsSending food to someone who is grievingGender-neutral washrooms
Going for a driveTaking time to unplug from the screenLimit-settingVolunteer workIndigenous Student Circle
Casual hangouts with friendsTherapyCultivating self-awarenessParent groups and childcare collectivesPolicies and Services for human-rights based complaint procedures
Play-datesSupport groupsLearning from diverse lived experiencesBystander interventionSexual Violence Prevention and Response Programming
Puzzles, board games, card gamesArtistic exercises

For additional information and support, you can check out the following internal resources:

  • RespectWorks Website: for information, tools, and resources 
    • RespectWorks Advisor: A confidential objective resource for employees to consult regarding workplace conflict, reports or complaints of harassment, discrimination and sexual violence. The advisor can provide information/referrals related to employee well-being and can facilitate group processes to nurture respectful and inclusive working spaces.
  • Student Services has a wealth of resources available to support students and provide information/guidance to faculty, including support in cultivating civility in classrooms.
  • The PSI office can provide information, resources, tools, and support for inclusive pedagogical approaches as well as for in-person and online teaching and learning strategies. 

Check out the reference list for articles and information on topics discussed in this article, with more available on the RespectWorks website.


Ackerman, E.C. (2020, Oct. 19). 9 self-compassion exercises and worksheets for increasing compassion. PositivePsychology.

Activist Trauma Support (n.d.). Sustainable activism and avoiding burnout (PDF File). 

BreakAway. (2017, Dec 1). Do We Need Safe or Brave Spaces?

Cherry, K. (2020, March 30). How to practice empathy during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Verywellmind.

Diener, E., & Seligman, M. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological science, 13(1), 81-84.

Dockray, H. (2019, May 24). Self-care isn’t enough; we need community care to thrive. Mashable.

Dugan, K., & Bhatnagar, V. (2018, June 25). Virtually alone: Real ways to connect remote teams. Strategy + Business.

Epley & Schroeder (2014). Mistakenly seeking solitude. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(5), 1980-1999. 

Giurge, L.M., & Bohns, V.K. (2020, April 3). 3 tips to avoid WFH Burnout. Harvard Business Review.

Hollaback! (n.d.). Bystander Intervention Training.

Mehreen, R. (2017, March 10). Safer Spaces. Politics & Care.

Mehreen, R. & Gray-Donald, D. (2018, Aug. 29). Be Careful With Each Other. briarpatch.

Mehreen, R., & Brunet, P. (2017, April 5). Caring About Thriving. Politics & Care.

Partington, J. (2020, April 27). A mindset, not a program: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion during the time of COVID-19. Academica Forum. 

Permanand, S. (2020) How to recognize the trauma behind the response to racism. CTRI Crisis and trauma resource institute. 

Peterson, D. (2014, Nov. 7). Lindred Greer: Why Virtual Teams Have More Conflict. Stanford Business.

Politics & Care (2020).

Robinson, L. & Smith, M. (2020, April). Dealing with uncertainty during the Coronavirus Pandemic. HelpGuide.

RSA. (2013, Dec. 10). Brene Brown on Empathy. (Video). YouTube.

Salzberg, S. (2020, Aug. 7). A simple meditation to connect with loving kindness. Mindfull.

Santos, L. (2020, Oct. 8). Dr. Laurie Santos’ 5 favourite coping tips (Video). YouTube.

Selva, J. (2020, Oct. 16). How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 10 Examples + PDF Worksheets.

Skovholt, T.M., & Trotter-Mathison, M. (2016). The resilient practitioner: burnout and compassion fatigue prevention and self-care strategies for the helping professionals (3rd ed.). Routlege. 

The Canadian Center for Diversity and Inclusion (2020).

The University of Victoria (2019). Inclusive Language.

The Writing Center. (2020). Effective Email Communication. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

Upping the Ante (2016, Nov. 10). Who Cares? The Politics of Care in Radical Organizing.

Valerio, N. (2019, April 16). This viral FaceBook post urges people to re-think self-care. Flare.

Zandt, D. (2019, Oct. 17). The unspoken complexity of self-care. Medium. 

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