Teacher Wellbeing: Staying Healthy in the run-up to Christmas
There's so much chocolate…
As the holiday season rolls around again, teacher wellbeing becomes an important issue in school. Winter bugs are flying around and staff and pupils are worn out. With this in mind, we thought it would be good to ask teachers for some tips for trainee teachers and NQTs, to help them stay healthy in the run-up to Christmas. The end of the autumn term is challenging for everyone in school, but it's especially tough for those new to teaching.
In October 2019, we asked for your help, and nearly 150 teachers shared their tips for staying healthy and happy during the last few hectic, exhausting, crazy weeks of term before Christmas!
You'll find all of these teacher wellbeing tips further down – but first, here's our information and advice for staying fit and healthy at school in the run-up to Christmas:
5 teacher wellbeing tips for staying healthy at Christmas-time
The last few weeks of the year can be a stressful time for primary teachers preparing for the Christmas break. It's at this time of year when teacher wellbeing takes a hit, as virtual epidemic of coughs and colds spread throughout school affecting staff and children alike.
We're sure that you, like us, have heard plenty of suggestions for various vitamins, supplements and herbal remedies to battle the symptoms of a horrible cold; we can't comment as to the efficacy of these (although here at PlanBee we're agreed that a hot toddy while wrapped in a blanket on the sofa at home can't hurt!), we have gathered a few other tips to help primary teachers get through to the run up to the Christmas holidays.
Teacher wellbeing: how can teachers stay fit and healthy?
- Look after yourself!
- Get a flu jab.
- Look after your voice.
- Clean up the classroom.
- Take steps to improve your work-life balance.
Now, let's take a closer look at these five teacher wellbeing tips…
1.The obvious stuff - look after yourself!
- Plan for a few minutes of selfish non-teaching related ME time: Take a minute or two to focus on your breathing and visualise the day ahead before the kids arrive in the morning. Repeat this as required at morning/lunch break. You’ll feel better for it, and your kids will too.
- Be strict with your water intake. Aim for a minimum of 1 litre a day (no, coffee and tea don't count!) It’ll keep your brain functioning at its peak and make you feel less sluggish.
- If you’re too busy, enlist the help of your partner to help plan and make healthy food in advance, or join forces with a colleague/flatmate/BFF to make packed lunches that are healthy.
- We know that some of us reach for the wine to help us relax and unwind when we get home, but how about a quick nap instead? Just so long as it's not for too long, you'll feel the benefits for the rest of the evening.
- Take a few minutes to meditate, or just try to clear your mind and focus on your breathing. 5 minutes a day of focusing purely on breathing can help reduce stress. Stick your earphones in on the train, or take 5 mins before you leave the house.
- This one's good for you and your class: Ensure that children are washing their hands, covering their mouths when they cough or sneeze, using tissues (and actually throwing them away!), etc. Not only will you avoid the spread of germs and horrible bugs before the Christmas holidays, it’ll make life much more pleasant for everyone during the winter months!
2. Flu jabs – not just for the elderly: we’re eligible too!
You may not realise it, but flu jabs aren’t just for the elderly – there are lots of people eligible for free flu jabs; if you’re pregnant, diabetic, asthmatic, etc. Plus, if you are teaching children in Year 1 and 2, it's worth checking if they have previously had their flu jabs.
If you haven’t had yours, it’s cheap, quick and easy to get one done. And if you aren’t sure, it is only a quick call to your local GP to get a checkup organised. Some primary schools do actually organise flu jabs with your local GP anyway, and will even help arrange cover for you to go for your jab during school hours.
Check out the NHS website’s page on flu vaccinations for more info.
3. Singers look after their voices; so primary school teachers need to as well!
Top tips for teachers looking after your voice:
- Drink lots of water to keep hydrated.
- Work with smaller groups in class to avoid having to raise your voice too often.
- Try to avoid clearing your throat constantly if you have a tickle. Water should help this.
- Never teach if you really don’t feel up to it. We know you have a responsibility to teach your class, but if you aren’t feeling great it’s better that you rest up and get better without making it worse.
We've gathered some top tips from singers and actors, to help you look after one of your most important resources - your voice:
- YAWN!! It’s not rude, it's good for the throat and stretches out the muscles. If you want to yawn, do it. Just hide behind a book.
- Avoid or limit dairy. It encourages the build up of mucus which means you’ll be clearing your throat more and making it raw.
- Avoid excessive consumption of caffeinated tea, fizzy drinks, alcohol and coffee because they really do dry you out, and drain your energy in the long-term.
- Get plenty of sleep during the week!
- Vocal Exercise: Start by making high-pitched whiney sounds, like a dog makes when it cries. Do this 2-3 times and then continue the whine, but make the sounds go from a high-pitched whine, down to the lowest you can go – and back up again. Do this 3-5 times, but maybe find somewhere private!
- Vocal Exercise: Simple humming on one note can warm up your voice – this is going to help if know you’ve got a heavy day of talking and
shoutingexpressing yourself assertively! Humming for a few minutes at a time can help. You can do it in a busy train station or in the car – no one will hear you!
- Gently massage the muscles at the base/corner of the jaw, under your chin (where you can feel the muscles of your tongue) and your temple. We all hold tension here, and this can help loosen things up.
4. It’s (almost) the end of term: time to clean up the classroom!
Although your classroom may get a good ‘once over’ during the week, there will still be months of clutter, papers and general messiness lurking around since term started.
- Throw away grubby paper / card resources you’ve made (wipe them down if they’re laminated).
- Chuck washable resources like Lego or Multifix bricks in the dishwasher! They'll be fine as long as it's not a really hot wash.
- Enlist the help of your class! Not just free labour, but a learning opportunity about collective responsibility for shared spaces.
- Clean your desk, keyboard and mouse – they're filthy!
5. Take steps to improve your work-life balance.
Here at PlanBee, we're passionate about teacher wellbeing, saving teachers time and restoring their work-life balance. We do that by providing ready-to-teach lesson plan packs, so teachers spend less time planning and more time on the things they need for their own wellbeing.
Obviously, we'd love you to try our time-saving teaching resources (you can find some helpful health and wellbeing lesson plan packs below), but whatever you do to reduce your own workload, make sure you use the time you save for yourself!
Oh, and don't forget to send children home with every single one of those smelly P.E. kits and leaky lunch boxes!
Teacher wellbeing at Christmas-time: advice from 100+ teachers for trainees and NQTs on how to stay fit, healthy and relatively sane!
Water, diet, exercise and rest.
Overwhelmingly, teachers said that it was vital to stay hydrated, eat healthy meals and do some regular exercise. Most of those who shared their advice also said that it was crucial to get some rest: they told us that drinking water, eating nutritious food and getting some exercise were important to set yourself up for a good night's sleep, too:
Look after yourself. Keep hydrated and up your fruit and veg. intake.
Eat foods high in vitamin C to help your body's immune system.
Set a time to switch off from work each night. Exercise in the way you enjoy. Eat regularly. Don’t binge on staff room sugar rush food. Sleep, breathe and drink more water.
To indulge, or not?
As Alison mentioned above, at Christmas-time, the staff room is a place where temptation presents itself to weary teachers! Parents, children, governors and well-meaning headteachers often buy chocolates and other festive snacks for school staff. It's a lovely gesture, and while many of us LOVE these Christmas treats, we also know that the sugar and empty calories aren't so good for our health!
That said, teachers were a bit divided in their views on indulging at this time of year. While many of them advised new teachers and trainees to avoid the snacks, a number of them recommended indulging yourself now and again:
Skip the snacks!
Stay away from the treats on the staff room table!
Sleep in the week and drink at the weekend!
Skip the snacks!
RUN from the goodies in the staff room!
Have a hot chocolate at break time!
Skip the snacks!
Don't eat the chocolate in the staff room. There's so much chocolate…
Maintain your work-life balance.
It's no surprise that many of the teachers we asked for advice said that new teachers should try to make at least some time for themselves outside of school. Maintaining a reasonable work-life balance is tricky for teachers, but it's vital for staying mentally healthy, and not burning out at particularly stressful times of year, such as the end of term. Here's what teachers have to say about taking time for yourself at Christmas:
Take at least one evening off each week just to spend on yourself - no work, no Christmas shopping, just me time.
Take one day at a time. Don't take on too much and try not to work every weekend!
Make sure you take time out for yourself. Have a good work life balance (as all teachers recommend and never do). Plenty of sleep and avoid working in the evenings. If you can't achieve it during a very long day, then it can be left until tomorrow. Schools are 'black holes' with time and everyone needs a life outside of theirs.
Be organised, but realistic, too.
As teachers, we all have idealistic visions of how we want our classrooms to look and how our lessons should go, don't we? A desire to make everything perfect seems to be a common trait of educators, but those we spoke to advised new teachers not to go overboard with planning, preparation – and especially not to overcommit yourself:
Set yourself a time limit and go home at that time. Don’t burn yourself out by staying too late doing work that isn’t necessary.
Don’t say yes to everything. Christmas is a really exciting time in schools but so easy to burn out. Share the load! But enjoy your time with the children as it is such a special time.
Print off all your resources at the start of the week. Spread lessons that don’t require marking throughout the week so that you don’t have a massive pile for the weekend.
Use PlanBee resources for a stress-free fun Christmas classroom!
Use. Hand. Sanitiser.
SO many of the teachers who shared their advice for staying healthy at Christmas time told us this. And isn't it good advice for all-year-round, too?! So if you take away nothing else from these teacher tips, remember to keep the bugs at bay with antibacterial hand gel! Teacher Jane L. put it best:
Always keep a hand sanitizer near to your desk and use it regularly to keep those bugs away!
Perhaps not the most festive message for NQTs and trainees, but somehow it feels like the most useful one for staying fit and healthy!
Happy Holidays from the PlanBee Team!