5 wellbeing tips for the new academic year | Education Support
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5 wellbeing tips for the new academic year

29th August 2019

Before I embark on this piece, I think it’s important to be clear that I’m no teacher wellbeing guru – despite years of research and more than two decades of teaching experience, I don’t have wellbeing ‘sussed’. I make mistakes every year – sometimes new ones like taking on too many projects at the same time and sometimes the same ones like going at early September at a thousand miles and hour and hitting my first wall sometime around the middle of the third week. I could tell you to batch-cook wholesome meals every Sunday for the week ahead, take on training for a marathon, go teetotal for the whole of September, or start ‘practising’ for the 6 a.m alarm the weekend before getting back into the new routine – but you might already be doing these things, or, more likely, you might tell me exactly where to stick my (hypocritical) advice.

It’s also very important to be clear, in the words of a headteacher I know, that ‘my ok isn’t necessarily your ok’ – that each of us have different stress triggers, and different things that help to make us feel better; that a brusque failure on the part of a colleague to say ‘good morning’ might ruin my day but not even register on your radar, whereas a last-minute change to an assembly schedule might be enough to have you considering tendering your resignation.

The tips below are ones I’ve borrowed and stolen over the years. They are small things that have – at times – made a big difference to me or to teachers I know. If only one of these helps you to feel better and more balanced about your life and work, this article will have been worth writing.

1. Relish the final days and hours of the holiday

Set aside a few (or indeed all!) of your final hours of freedom to do what makes you feel most human. For me, it’s making a bad job of brightly coloured nail varnish and languishing in a bath in the middle of the afternoon. You might meet an old friend, shop online for bright accessories for the darker months, climb a mountain or simply sleep until mid-morning – because you can! Just don’t bother feeling guilty about it. Returning to school feeling replenished will make you more effective.

2. Hydration and nutrition

This is probably where I should be going on about spirulina or running marathons or something, but I’m not sure what it is and I prefer my toenails attached to my toes, so here are just two very practical ideas that I plan to take on this year:

A) Dried fruit or nuts in the desk drawer. Teaching makes you hungry! Having easily available a job lot of something other than chocolate (that too, of course) can help!

B) A water bottle that keep water cool – apparently, you can buy these and they sound a sight more tempting than a half-stagnant bottle of old supermarket water which may have been there for weeks.

3. Safe people and safe spaces

Early on in the year, identify somewhere where you can ‘hide’ within the building, whether you want to mark uninterrupted or give yourself a little talking to. My favoured places have included with the guinea pigs in the SEN base and a corner of the library. Top tip: librarians are great people for grounding and comfort when you’re having a rough day. Speaking of great people, surround yourself with those with whom you can be yourself – not the ones who tell you not to smile before Christmas or who to ‘watch out’ for. Find people who make you cackle and aim for at least a cackle a day.

4. Look up!

The power of sky and fresh air are remarkable things. If there’s a route you can take across the school that involves going outside rather than along dark corridors, do it! When you’re outside: look up! It makes break duty infinitely more bearable in all sorts of ways.

5. Ruthless compartmentalisation

This is a term I came upon when researching (and living) teaching and parenthood. Trying to do more than one things at a time – cook the kids’ dinner and check school email, for example – usually results, I can tell you from bitter (and usually carbonised) experience, in disaster. Unsynch your personal phone from your school email so you are forced to click through to check your school email – this means that if you fall for it during a family meal, for example, you can catch yourself just before the page starts to load. One brilliant piece of advice that I plan to take is to actively schedule time just for YOU during the working week – time when you’re not actively trying to please anybody else, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.

There’s so much more – don’t be afraid to say no (the word ‘reasonable’ is so powerful), listen to music and audiobooks on the way to and from school to switch off, have at least one day when you leave on the bell, treat yourself to a lovely piece of stationery, wear bright colours… Remember that perfectionism and guilt will never be your friends, that ‘good enough’ is the healthiest thing to aspire to and that ‘this too will pass’ is the most reassuring and real mantra of all.

Above all, hold onto the joys in the marvellous job. Polish the lightbulb moments in the classroom, hold up the impromptu giggles in the classroom to the light, archive the ‘thank you Miss’ and ‘that lesson wasn’t as boring as usual, Sir’ moments. They won’t necessarily happen every day, but they really do make it all worth it.

Get support when you need it 

There may be times when your mental health and wellbeing is being negatively impacted by any work or personal issues. When this happens get support when you need it 

The counsellors at the Education Support Partnership helpline are fantastic! Their free and confidential helpline is available 24/7 throughout the UK on 08000 562561.

Dr Emma Kell is a teacher, researcher, speaker and author of How to Survive in Teaching