6 tips to ease teacher stress in the run-up to Christmas - A guest blog
This guest blog has been written by Jean Ramsey, an experienced teacher, education coach and author. She is passionate about introducing the benefits of a coaching culture to every classroom.
I remember the family rows oh so clearly. As a full-time Head of Creative Arts in a large, mixed comprehensive in Oxfordshire, I used to dread the annual row about when we could begin the ‘Christmas Season’. I could not contemplate the thought of our family Christmas until I had got all the school stuff out of the way: Carol Concerts, Christmas Shows, thank you presents, students’ Christmas parties; cards to write and sometimes even mock exams to mark! Occasionally, term would end uncomfortably close to the Big Day and that would just escalate the domestic tension. I can only imagine what it is like for serving teachers this year with all the trauma and constantly shifting goal posts of the pandemic. My heart goes out to you all.
Here are some tried and tested tips to ease the stress and manage expectations (including your own)!
Tip 1: “Me Time”
I have deliberately put this first because self-care is often at the bottom of the list. NO, don’t feel guilty at the very thought of this: it is absolutely essential.
You have to make time for yourself because when you do, it makes you better at what you have to get done.
If you think of all the busyness of life as exhaling; time for you is inhaling. How far would you get if you never took time to inhale? I love this thought because as my yoga teacher says: ‘We should be guided by our breath in everything. The aim is for calm and steady breathing to still the mind.”
To make it happen, you need to book “Me Time” into your diary and if necessary, ask for help to achieve it. What brings you the most joy? A walk in the fresh air? A long, hot soak in a bubble bath with candles? An hour or two with that book that has been on your bedside table for months? You get to choose, and it is to be sacrosanct! It’s especially important to shelve all the school stuff this year.
Tip 2: Have clear boundaries at home and at work
Be very wary of setting yourself up to fail with a ridiculously ambitious holiday to-do list.
Set a firm boundary over how much time you are going to spend on school stuff and be cautious of how many things you leave to finish in the holiday.
Tip 3: Set your intentions for the festive period
I think this is the biggest thing that gets missed out at Christmas. How do you want your final few days of the school term to go? Make a list (oh no! Not another one I hear you cry but this one will pay dividends!) of what you want to happen AND how you want to FEEL. We get so involved in all the DOING we totally forget about the BEING part.
- Be realistic about your expectations. See what it is like if you accept people as they are.
- Know how you want to FEEL during the holiday e.g. “I want Christmas to be fun, inclusive and I want us all to enjoy it.”
- Make decisions based on what works for you and your loved ones this Christmas.
Your conversation with your loved ones could run like this:
“This year I want us to have a stress free, uninterrupted dinner so here are some things I request. If you have friends over, make sure they have gone home before we sit down to eat. Do not bring your mobile phone to the table, we will be having a TV free dinner, if there is anything you particularly want to watch, we can record it. Also, to take the pressure off we will all take responsibility for part of the meal. What would you like to be responsible for?”
Tip 4: Make a plan at work
Now the plan has to take shape and you need to make sure you communicate clearly with others in the school community. Check in with your colleagues and see how you can support each other and find out what your students would like. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to reinvent the wheel, websites like PlanBee can help you save time on resource preparation.
Ask: What 3 things do you need to happen for you to enjoy the end of term?
Now you can fit the pieces of the jigsaw together and work out how everyone’s needs can be met. You will need to compromise but aim to get everybody’s top wish fulfilled. Share your plan and make sure you play to people’s strengths!
Tip 5: Enact your end of term plan at work
So now you have a clear vision of what you all want and a loose plan. Give everyone ownership of something so they feel they have some control.
Remember you do not need to do everything. Work together and accept help and support from the people around you.
Don’t forget to give your students responsibilities and ownership of the activities, for example they might like to teach the class a new game.
Tip 6: Have fun and lighten up!
Christmas has a serious message, and I will be in Church celebrating it. Christmas also has another message and that is about having family around, enjoying their company and having fun together. This Christmas especially is going to be different for all of us with the pandemic rules and regulations. We may be missing beloved family members who are no longer with us.
When my one in a million mum was dying, she told our elder daughter, “When you have lost your sense of humour, you have lost everything.” How right she was. So, in her memory, we will be having the traditional fishing game competition.
Ask: What fun thing do you want to do today?
Maybe capture the ideas and put them in a bowl, then they can be picked out at intervals throughout the day.
Having a stressful job like teaching can make you lose sight of the potential for fun and playfulness, but nothing beats the sound of a family laughing together.
Why worry? Relax. Let it happen. There is so much to be grateful for. Before you know it, the day will have gone. I will picture my dad’s wry smile and hear his voice saying: ‘Ah well! That’s it for another year.’
One final thing: don’t make the mistake of not checking the weight of the joint until Christmas morning. Mine was huge, it took longer to cook and all my timings were out. Disaster! I was so stressed I did not see the obvious solution: cut a bit off!
By Jean Ramsey
Early Career Teacher Coach, The JollyStaffroom FB Group