Look after yourself
Caring about students is a natural part of our job. But how many of us remember to care about ourselves too? Read our latest blog, looking at Improving Teacher Wellbeing.
When we’re full on with teaching, planning, marking, staff meetings and parents’ consultations, as well as having a home life with all its accompanying responsibilities and possibly our own children to take care of too, our own wellbeing is often bottom of our list of priorities. But it’s just as important as our students’. If we’re not fit and healthy, both physically and mentally, we can’t be the best versions of ourselves and our teaching will inevitable suffer.
Awareness that happy teachers are the foundation of a school is increasing and actions’s being taken to reduce stress, anxiety and poor mental health. However, nice as the odd wellbeing day, biscuits at break time and similar token gestures of care are, they’re not enough to create a healthy work-life balance. Here are some tips on how you can look after yourself for a healthier, happier life.
Organise your time
Plan out your week ahead, so nothing is left to the last minute. If it helps, come into work earlier than usual or stay a bit later so you can do this uninterrupted.
Highlight deadlines and aim to meet them a few days ahead of schedule to avoid last minute stress. Print out any resources needed for the week ahead.
If you’re using presentations, check them at the start of the week and open them at the start of the day so you’re not fumbling around during class. List when homework needs collecting and handing back. The more organised you are, the less stressed you’ll feel.
Ring fence your time
Allocate periods of time for work you need to do outside of the classroom, such as marking, planning or creating resources. When that time is up, stop! It’s too easy to think: ‘I’ve only got a few more papers to mark; I’ll get these done before I go to bed.’ And before you know it, it’s gone midnight and you’ve missed out on the chance of a good night’s sleep.
Don’t try to do everything
I have a poster on my wall that says: ‘You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.’ This is particularly true for teachers and teacher wellbeing as a whole. As much as you may want to, you can’t physically do everything, and shouldn’t be expected to.
If you’re asked to do something and you can’t see the benefit to your students, ask what the purpose and expected outcome of the task is. If you’re not satisfied with the answer, ask if there are other less time-consuming options, or if it’s needed at all.
We all want to help out when asked, but if it’s going to result in excessive work for you or put you behind in your own work, don’t be afraid to say no. Creating unnecessary stress isn’t going to do you, your students or your colleagues any good.
Work together for the greater good
If fellow teachers want to work together, seize the opportunity. Sharing resources and collaborating on projects, with teachers from within or outside your school, saves you all valuable time and encourages good relationships among your peers.
Focus on feedback
Feedback is increasingly replacing marking. Instead of painstakingly writing the same comments in every students’ books, a variety of feedback methods can be used instead. The time saved can be used for planning and supporting progress instead, meaning you’re putting that time to excellent use for you and your students.
Have fewer assessments
Half termly assessments are commonplace. But many students are unable to demonstrate significant progress in the space of a few weeks. This results in pupils feeling demotivated and less likely to do well. Such frequent assessments also put a lot of stress on teachers to get through topics and mark them. Termly, rather than half-termly, assessments would be much kinder to everyone.
Take a break
If our physical health takes a knock, with a bad cold or flu, we rest until we’re better. We need to get into the habit of doing the same for our mental health when we’re feeling stressed.
Allow your mind to switch off, relax and reinvigorate itself. Meditation is an excellent way to do this and there are many apps to show you how to do this.
Exercise is excellent for your mental wellbeing too. A brisk walk in the fresh air is an easy and quick way to escape, either during break or lunch, after school or at the weekend. Not only will it be invigorating, but the change of scene can also help change your perspective on what was worrying you. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to tackle the work that seemed unmanageable before your walk.
Listening to music is another proven way to help alleviate emotions, stress and wellbeing. If dancing helps with this – go for it!
It’s good to talk
If you’re worried, stressed or upset about something, don’t let it fester – talk to someone or the issue will grow and impact your health and wellbeing. This could be a trusted colleague or friend, or you could speak to someone impartial from as organisation such as the Education Support Partnership (educationsupportpartnership.org.uk/).
Organise regular lunch breaks with your peers. You could all bring in some food to share and spend the hour lifting each other’s spirits in an informal and fun way.
Ask your education leader to provide an impartial and private space for staff to get together and talk about the stresses of the job, possibly in a Wellbeing Buddies scenario. Having someone who empathises and is there to support you gives an instant feel-good factor. Wellbeing buddies are paired up and look out for each other through regular conversations.
Keep a memory box in your drawer of things that cheer you up. These could be messages from students, ‘World’s Best Teacher’ gifts, cards and drawings. During stressful times, have a look through the box to remind yourself of your successes, uplifting moments, and the reasons you became a teacher in the first place.
Time to relax
Ask your education leader to provide a relaxation zone. They don’t need to create a luxury spa-like experience, just a space in the school where teachers can take some time out when things are particularly stressful. Ask for some books, music and comfortable seating to enable teachers to unwind when they need to. Although a spa-like experience wouldn’t be turned down if that’s an option!