Calling Headteachers and Teachers: It's All About You
Having spoken and emailed with a number of headteachers over the last couple of weeks the same messages are loud and clear. Exhaustion, worry, stress, even distress at times; feelings of being out of control. From personal experience, I know being a headteacher and teacher is much more than just a job; it is a way of life and a way of being. The worries and stresses do not stop at 3pm, you carry them with you because you care passionately about every child (and their families) and every member of your staff team.
Living in these unprecedented, very strange times just heightens these worries and stresses. Routines, policies, practices, everything that is familiar disappeared in the few hours’ notice you received to close schools. And as the weeks pass, you overcome more and more hurdles, new routines and practices are developing but with these new stresses evolve. Checking in on vulnerable children and families, food parcels, online lessons, technology, opening school for key worker children… and then trying to contemplate when and how school will reopen for all!
So it is especially important to proactively look after your well-being and self-care. It is not selfish (I know so many headteachers and teachers who continually neglect their own needs to look after others), it’s vital! Remember the oxygen mask on the aeroplane! You can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first.
The closure / partial closure of school and now the imminent reopening will most probably have impacted on your feelings, thoughts and behaviour.
Check-in regularly with yourself throughout the day. Acknowledge how you are feeling, but don’t judge it, just accept it. Check in with your mind (thoughts) and body.
You may notice you cannot stop thinking about what is happening and are feeling anxious, irritable, angry, tearful at different times then at other times you feel like you are fine. You may notice physically that you feel extremely tired and may be having difficulty sleeping; you may have headaches, loss of appetite, aches and pains.
Once you begin to notice how you are feeling then you can proactively look after yourself better.
You may laugh loudly at this! I work with so many teachers and headteachers that don’t have this balance at all and my passion is to help them establish and maintain this. In these times it even more important to find some balance. This is a marathon not a sprint so it is essential to keep emotionally, mentally and physically well. Set clear boundaries between work and leisure time; make sure you are not ‘connected’ (checking emails and being online) after work time has finished. Develop new routines and structures throughout the day with breaks.
When working in school you are constantly surrounded by people; little people and big people! Life is very busy. The sudden change to remote working can bring feelings of isolation so finding alternative ways to nurture a sense of belonging and connectedness is vital for well-being and self-care. Stay in touch regularly with colleagues but remember everyone is handling this in their own unique way so don’t compare yourself to others. Ask for help if you need it. Spending time connecting with friends and family outside school is also important.
Take time to look after your physical health. Are you eating properly? Are you keeping active? Getting out in the fresh air for a walk every day will positively impact on your physical and mental well-being hugely and will help you sleep better.
Balancing the priorities of work life and home life, especially if you are responsible for home schooling your own children, can leave very little time for you. Don’t let ‘you time’ be at the bottom of the list which you never reach! Do something to nurture your creativity, draw, write, paint, garden, bake, sing, practice yoga…even just for short periods of time will make a difference.
Be realistic and accept what you can achieve and be responsible for. I know many headteachers and teachers are their own worst critics and have this innate belief that they can always do more. There will be many things that are outside your circle of influence during this time.
ACCEPT AND ADJUST
We can use so much of our emotional and mental energy battling with things that we have no control over. Accept that these are unprecedented times and we have very little control or certainty over what is happening and what is going to happen. Our power and control come from how we respond. Keeping physically and mentally well enables us to think clearly and make choices as to how to respond.
So prioritising self-care has never been so important, to nurture our well-being and resilience as we continue to adjust and adapt through these times.
In the words of John Kabat-Zinn
“we can be more resistant to stress, more resilient,
if we build up our resources and enhance our physical and
psychological well-being in general”