In this blog on teacher wellbeing, we explore how you can look after your mental health as the new school year begins!
In our recent blog posts, we’ve been focussing on practical ways you can prepare yourself for the return to the classroom. However, we can’t ignore the fact that globally, the past 18 months have been very hard on a lot of people. The stresses and strains on teaching staff, in particular, have been amplified. The NASUWT discovered that 80% of teachers reported an increase in mental health issues during this time. Recent reports from teachers show that the last-minute changes that schools were expected to adapt to overnight and the huge increase in workload were big factors in this. The fact that secondary schools were told in the summer that the start of the term could be delayed shows that this unpredictability may not have left us yet.
It is therefore totally normal if you are feeling a little apprehensive about returning to school. Below, we hope to give you some great ideas for looking after yourself in the autumn term and beyond.
Teacher wellbeing on a personal level:
1. Set intentions for the year ahead
This could apply to your professional life, but perhaps more importantly, your personal life. For many, the past 18 months have felt like a bit of a time vacuum. There has been that unsettling feeling that a lot of time has passed by without much opportunity to be productive with it. With social and professional calendars opening up, a sense of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) can take hold.
To combat this, set yourself a few simple personal intentions or goals for the year. Things that will give you a sense of achievement as you make progress. We recommend setting a few that relate to out of school activity, for example:
- sign up for a local 5k or 10k charity run and start training
- join an online class or group (e.g. book club, quiz night, yoga class) perfect for squeezing in around a busy schedule.
- Aim to visit 12 new areas/towns/boroughs within the school year (i.e. one day trip to explore per month!)
2. Be a weekend tourist about town
You may have squeezed in a bit of a getaway holiday over the summer holidays or stayed mostly local. The first term back at school is the perfect opportunity to continue to plan fun activities for the evenings and weekends. I always make sure I plan for one earlyish departure from school per week to go to the cinema, for dinner or to see a show. Make sure you book in some fun things for the next few weekends too – your nearest city or town may feel like a whole new place with a full calendar of events to get stuck into.
3. Build up your tolerance
Having just encouraged you to get out there and get busy, we also want to acknowledge that this may not feel as easy as it used to! There is no rush, and it’s completely normal to feel quite overwhelmed with the prospect of having a full social calendar again.
Challenge yourself gradually by trying new things that may be out of your comfort zone (for example joining a new club or planning a dinner with friends). Recognise that your ‘comfort zone’ may have changed after enduring the pandemic. Be kind to yourself if you don’t yet feel up to doing something you wouldn’t have thought twice about 18 months ago. You’ll get there!
4. Continue to connect with nature
Outside spaces were a huge source of comfort for many during lockdown. Most of my friends and colleagues found a real sense of connection and appreciation for local green spaces. It’s important that we continue to connect with nature as we return to work. Especially with the shorter (and darker) days on the horizon. Perhaps your commute in or cycle home can incorporate a scenic route involving some greenery? Or your Saturday mornings could involve a conscious effort to take that book/coffee/paper out into the garden or park.
5. Practice gratitude to boost teacher wellbeing
Throughout literature and philosophy, a widely accepted truth is that gratitude is the key to happiness. It is all too easy in modern society, with its pressures and strains, to take things for granted and to end up focussing on the negative.
The mind is a very powerful tool. It is possible to shift your mindset to the positive by practising gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal can be very effective for building up a more positive outlook in your day to day life.
There are many different gratitude journals available to purchase, although you could also create your own. They involve spending a few minutes each morning recording what will make the day a good one: e.g. lunch with your old partner teacher who has moved into KS1. Then reflecting on the things you felt grateful for that before bed. It could be as simple as writing down three things you feel grateful for at the end of each day, no matter how small.
This takes time and dedication to get into. However, once you are into a routine with this, it can have a really positive effect on your mood and wellbeing.
Teacher wellbeing on a professional level:
6. Have ownership over what you can control
In recent times, there have been lots of things which have been quite out of our control. This can lead to feelings of anxiety. Recognising that there are some things we can control, and some things we cannot, can be a source of comfort. When you are back in the classroom, there are lots of things that you can manage and plan for.
Teaching is one of the few professions where you can maintain a sense of control. To utilise this to boost your teacher wellbeing: put the effort in early to get on top of your classroom organisation. You will soon be infused with a renewed sense of control, purpose and stability.
7. Pace yourself
Getting back to a full social calendar can be daunting and overwhelming after such a long time away. There’s no need to rush – gradually build yourself up to getting more active outside of work. Be positive and patient with people who may need more time than you.
8. Seek support
If you feel you are struggling with your own teacher wellbeing, reach out to the channels of support available.
9. Be kind to yourself
Whatever you do, enjoy the moment and be kind to yourself. It has been a rocky year for teacher wellbeing. Don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t go as planned. There is always another day to go again.