We’re all going on a summer holiday? | Education Support
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Taking a break over the summer holidays - teachers and education staff

We’re all going on a summer holiday?

6th July 2020

Teachers need this break to unwind, relax and recharge to deal with the many challenges ahead. Deputy Headteacher Andrew Cowley outlines some simple ways that school leaders can ensure staff take time out and look after themselves during the summer break.

The forthcoming summer break is going to be one like no other that has gone before. The ongoing Covid-19 emergency has seen to that.

Right through the course of this crisis, schools have not closed, but have operated in different ways. 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. Add to this mix a plethora of guidance for a phased and partial return of some children and the conundrum of how to safely manage the return of the whole school.

Teachers and leaders haven’t had a break since February half term, maybe not a proper break since Christmas. There are few people that swallow the myth of the ‘lazy teacher’ doing little for the past four months. Teachers need this break to unwind, relax and recharge to deal with the challenges ahead.

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 the summer break.

Opening of schools

Though there has been chatter about schools being open in the summer, the Department for Education has made it clear that this is not to happen. Schools will be open for maintenance work over the summer, a time which is often used by teachers to set up their rooms for the year ahead. This year, this should be discouraged perhaps by limiting opening to the first week of the break. More practically, with schools currently open to children for shorter hours, some preparation can be completed before the term ends.

Email and communication

Email is often a bugbear for teachers, bringing perceptions of pressure and anxiety particularly if it comes in great volumes. Try imposing an email curfew for the whole of the break with the exception of a day or so in the final week of the holiday, and this only for essential information sharing, not requests for action. Encourage all your staff to set up the ‘out of office’ reply, take work email off their phones and tablets as well as any parental contact apps. Try the same with staff communication groups: mute or even dismantle the group for the summer, because the last thing some of us need is the constant ‘ping’ of messages that aren’t essential.

Social media

The last few summers have witnessed a phenomenon on social media of teachers posting their preparations for the coming year; plans, displays, book corners, knowledge organisers and the like. Teachers reading such posts react in one of two ways: they respond in a critical manner which upsets the person posting, or they may feel anxious or ‘guilty’ for not making such preparations themselves. Whilst we cannot and should not be policing our teachers’ social media usage, we can model means to eliminate such stress. Muting certain words and phrases will stop them appearing on timelines; muting or blocking antagonistic posters, including news outlets, works just as effectively too, as does deactivating an account. Teachers must not be made to feel guilty because of what others post.

Pressure and deadlines

Make it very clear that perfect classrooms are not the expectation for the first day back and recognising that it does take time. A ‘warm’ or ‘soft’ start to the term sends a strong message about school culture that you wish to encourage in these unusual times. Real life of course has deadlines, but this year none of these should be falling in August. If you have any deadlines to set, give plenty of notice of them for the Autumn Term. Where possible, key information should be distributed before term ends. It is going to be a challenge to address all priorities before the end of term, particularly in what is an ever evolving situation, but we should endeavour to ensure there are no surprises or new initiatives on returning in September.

Have a heart

The best leaders are those who are empathetic, and never has empathy been more needed. There can be few school communities that haven’t been impacted by loss or illness since March. Wider than this is the impact of lockdown on our staff, many of whom will have missed human contact; there are teachers who have not seen or hugged their families in months and may not for months to come. Teacher weddings, often planned for the summer, will have been postponed and some staff will have found their personal relationships under considerable strain during this time. Take the time before the break to wish them well, ask how they are and more importantly to thank them for what they have done during these challenging times.

Work-life balance has never looked so different for schools as it has these past few months. Following a few simple principles will allow the ‘life’ part of that balance to be restored over our summer.

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

How we can help 

Teachers and education staff, in schools, colleges and universities, who are feeling stressed or anxious during these uncertain times can get confidential emotional support from our free and confidential helpline: 08000 562561.

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