Real-world tips for teacher well-being - A guest blog
This guest blog has been written by Marie O’Sullivan, an experienced teacher, counsellor and Course Author at Anokha Learning.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.” - Audre Lorde
In an ordinary year, the first term can be a hectic time. Getting to know your class, settling back into the daily routine, setting up the classroom. Sunday evenings spent staring at seventeen tabs on the computer screen, struggling to complete a lesson plan. Laughing ruefully as the halcyon days of August seem like a dream. Recalling the optimistic conviction that THIS would be the year of the healthy work/life balance.
Let's face it, 2020 has NOT been a normal year. The usual stresses associated with teaching are compounded by Covid-19. Juggling the (competing) expectations of children, parents/guardians, colleagues and the media while adjusting to lockdowns, restrictions and changing work practices.
In this blog post I want to explore some real-world tips on how you can look after your well-being and shore yourself up.
Have a daily check-in
I bet you are a ninja at monitoring the well-being of the children in your care. But have you forgotten to do this for yourself? Teaching is a challenging profession at the best of times and it’s so easy to neglect our own self-care. My favourite analogy for this is that of the watering can. When the can starts to empty you need to replenish the water or else there will be nothing remaining. It’s better to keep the water topped up. Notice when you are nearing the bottom or else you will not be able to flourish. If you don’t look after yourself, sooner or later you will end up physically and emotionally depleted.
Tip: Each day, ask yourself what you need to do to look after your physical, mental and emotional well-being. For example:
- Have you had enough sleep? What steps could you put in place this evening to get tomorrow off to a better start?
- Have you eaten breakfast?
- Instead of munching a sandwich at your desk while marking work, could you (whisper it) actually take your lunch break?
- How is your self-talk? Could you challenge some of your unhelpful thoughts?
- How could you make time for nourishing activities or things that light you up?
Tweak your habits
A little tweak to your daily routine could make a big difference. Sometimes we find ourselves mindlessly falling into habits that don’t serve us. It might be that you find yourself feeling anxious after a news update. Whoops, you have fallen down the rabbit hole of searching for more information. Instead, it might be more helpful to limit your media exposure. No more aimlessly scrolling on social media when you should be tucked up in bed. Time to set a boundary!
When it comes to work, planning lessons and creating resources can be very time consuming. Feeling frazzled from lesson preparation can spill over into your performance in class. There's no time left for areas of your life that nourish you. Intentions of connecting with family, friends or yourself have gone out the window. It doesn't have to be like that. Tap into the wealth of carefully curated resources available on sites such as PlanBee. Free up your time by using tried and tested resources.
Centre and ground yourself
Inevitably, your buttons WILL get pushed. How can you resource yourself? No doubt you equip the children with fantastic self-regulation tools and have huge empathy for them on their tough days. Isn’t it about time that you treated yourself with the same kindness? Just like the children, mindful practices can help you to cope. There are lots of ways to weave these tools discreetly into your day. You could even use these micro moments of self-care as a teaching opportunity!
Here are some examples:
- Sip some water
- Take mindful breaths while waiting for your computer to turn on
- Display positive affirmations on your desk or in the classroom and take a moment to repeat them to yourself
- Tune into your five senses to ground yourself
Model the self-regulation process to the class by naming how you are feeling. Explain how your coping strategies help you to feel a little better. It might be that you apply a scented hand cream and relish the smell. Perhaps you have a picture of your happy place on your screensaver. Maybe take a few deep, calming breaths before responding. Self-care looks different for everybody.
Asking for help is NOT a sign of failure. It could be that you link in with a colleague who has expertise in an area you struggle with. Debrief with a family member or a friend after a tough day.
If you find lesson planning challenging, you could approach a mentor and ask them to help you. If you want to reconnect to your purpose, you might decide to strengthen your professional support network. For example, you could engage in CPD, read blog posts, listen to Podcasts, attend a webinar or have a Zoom call with someone you trained with.
You are also allowed to access support in your personal life! That can look different for everyone. For example, if it’s the week of parent/teacher meetings you don't HAVE TO trawl the supermarket aisles. Wouldn't it be easier to do an online shop after a hectic day?
If you are finding things particularly challenging right now, think about seeking professional help, such as counselling. Counsellors are trained to provide a non-judgmental space where you can share your worries and concerns. By giving yourself time to process your feelings you can ultimately come up with a solution.
Anchor in the positives
When we are going through tough times, our brains tend to focus on the negative. This is a protective mechanism, but it’s not always helpful! We can start to ruminate on things that went wrong, or worry about the future. There are a lot of things outside our control right now and that can lead us to anxious thoughts. Sometimes we add to the stress by beating ourselves up. Instead, we can remind ourselves of what went well personally and professionally. Think about setting up a “success file”. This is a place where we store thank you cards /reminders of what we did well/what we are proud of and a notebook where we journal about positive feedback that we have received. Make a list of CPD that you have attended and list your professional accomplishments.
We can create new neural pathways in the brain if we establish a consistent practice of recording what went well or things we are grateful for. Over time, this trains the brain to search for the positives in our lives. Even if something has gone wrong, we can practice self-compassion. For example, you can reflect on how you can be kind to yourself in this situation. What would you say to your best friend if they came to you and confided that they had made this mistake? It is more helpful to focus on what we would do differently than to give out to ourselves!
End of day rituals
It can be challenging to “switch off” from teacher mode. It’s imperative that you find a way to park your teacher hat and spend time nurturing yourself. Otherwise it’s a recipe for burnout. Think about how you could schedule your planning and corrections so that you can weave time into your week just to "be". Could you collaborate with another teacher on planning? Or stay back in school one day a week and focus on marking so that you don’t have to bring bags of books home? It’s easy to get bogged down with the admin work. Could you raise this as an item on the staff meeting agenda and problem-solve together?
If you commute, think about how you could use this time to “close off” the day. A friend of mine picked a landmark that he passes every day on his way home from school. He set a boundary that once he drives under that bridge that’s his cue to forget about school. For some of us it might be that we need to distract ourselves by focusing on something else. Could you listen to a playlist or Podcast that you enjoy? Finally, remind yourself that no matter what did or didn’t get done, you are enough.
Marie O’Sullivan is an experienced teacher and counsellor. She holds an M.Sc. in Child and Adolescent Counselling and is a Course Author at Anokha Learning. Anokha Learning provides online CPD Courses for teachers approved by the Department of Education and Science in Ireland. Anokha Learning also offers a range of practical, accessible, inspiring courses for the general public.