Half term: time to rest and recuperate | Education Support
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Taking a break at half term - teachers and education staff

Half term: time to rest and recuperate

22nd October 2020

As we embark upon half term, Deputy Head Andrew Cowley, looks why our teachers and leaders need this break in particular and how to ensure they get a proper rest.  

As schools broke up for the summer, even with a depleted number of children in school, I looked at what educators needed to face the challenges ahead. As we embark upon our half term break, it is worth reminding our teachers and leaders of how much this break in particular is needed.

We will revisit some of the themes of the original post (shown in italics) to review how much this need has evolved in the last three months.

I’m forever blowing bubbles!

“Bubbles” has unintentionally perhaps become an educational buzzword since the summer. Dependent upon your setting, the bubble will vary in size from a class to a year group with maintenance of its integrity being at the heart of risk assessments in every school.

The stress of keeping a bubble intact, from not letting an adult over the threshold of the class to stopping the children mixing at playtime, crossing paths in the corridor or interacting in the lunch hall, has been a huge cause of anxiety, especially in the face of an unseen threat and the rising numbers of infections. As posted elsewhere on the Education Support blog, by the end of September we were reporting ‘Christmas levels’ of tiredness and the weeks since will have only exacerbated this.

Many colleagues will have felt greater stress with positive test results in their schools, the closure of bubbles or the enforced absence of children or adults through families self-isolating or an alert from the test and trace app. In my setting, we have escaped a closure, but others nearby have experienced a bubble breach; we know that despite all precautions, we only need our luck to fail just once.

“Teachers and leaders haven’t had a break since February half term, maybe not a proper break since Christmas.”

Class teachers will have had a break in the summer, leaders much less of one given that guidance was being published through August, often at anti-social hours. The build-up of tiredness has impacted everyone, an exhaustion fed by the raised vigilance at keeping everyone safe.

Keeping in touch online

“Online and digital learning, work copied for those without IT at home, contact with the more vulnerable pupils, schools open for Key Workers’ children through the holidays; our teaching world has changed in many ways”

A Temporary Continuity Direction, coming into force from 22nd October, places a duty on schools to provide an education to children at home, at the same time as providing one for children in the classroom. Quite how this looks in reality is subject to any number of conditions and circumstances. Provision of work through the Oak National Academy is one solution, live simultaneous broadcast of lessons another; whether the children engage in the learning, another matter altogether.

Though this is something we provided in lockdown and we are more than capable of providing, this obligation feels like another rung on the accountability ladder.

Just some of the reasons why it is even more important that educators get a break this half term. Here are a few simple ways that school leaders can promote and support the mental and physical wellbeing of staff and for individual teachers and education staff to look after themselves during half term:

Opening of schools

Short of the days the school is open for regular cleaning, headteachers should keep schools closed for half term and actively discourage teachers from coming in. If they do, how effectively will their time be used? They have done enough in the past eight weeks.

Email and communication

“Email is often a bugbear for teachers, bringing perceptions of pressure and anxiety particularly if it comes in great volumes.”

It remains a bugbear. Simple answer: don’t send any, other than one of genuine thanks. Continue to use the out of office function, mute or disable the WhatsApp groups and only be in touch in dire emergency need.

Social media

The pandemic seems to have unleashed a level of unpleasantness on social media platforms which, although only the voice of a minority, seems to drown out the positive voices. Teachers and schools have again had their turn, unfairly, in the firing line. Again, like with email, why not take a digital detox break, or in the very least mute the antagonistic accounts, chosen words and worrisome hashtags. Honestly: it is liberating.

Pressure and deadlines

“If you have any deadlines to set, give plenty of notice of them for the Autumn Term. Where possible … we should endeavour to ensure there are no surprises or new initiatives on returning in September.”

..or in November for that matter.

Have a heart

“The best leaders are those who are empathetic, and never has empathy been more needed.”

Heartfelt gratitude, good relationships and a thriving culture of trust and respect is what has kept the best teams together and effective through the term so far. March 2020 was challenging in a far different way to September and October and we don’t know what the months ahead will bring. We all need to escape and take it easy this break and ensure that school life is left at school.

“Work-life balance has never looked so different for schools as it has these past few months.”

Keeping true to our values and following these simple principles will allow the ‘life’ part of that balance to be restored this half term.

Andrew Cowley is Deputy Headteacher at Orchard Primary School in Sidcup, co-founder and blogger for Healthy Toolkit and the author of “The Wellbeing Toolkit: Sustaining, supporting and enabling school staff”  published by Bloomsbury Education. Andrew tweets as @andrew_cowley23 and as @HealthyToolkit.

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