As stated in our department group WhatsApp chat at 6.15 this morning, there are 17 get ups, I repeat, 17 get ups, until we, and our fellow educational comrades, (not all I know...) break up for the summer holidays. Hurrah! The ultimate teacher wellbeing season is upon us. However, how can we ensure the month of August is one we use to recharge, relax and reconnect with ourselves, our family and our friends?
Busy, Busy End of Term
Each of those 17 get ups leading up to the 6 weeks holiday are followed by a full, busy day of marking Year 7-10 end of year exams and, for some, ploughing through external exam marking too. As a department we are also thinking ahead to next year - curriculum planning, ordering the stationery (fun) and trying to be reasonably organised for September's new start. On top of that we have year 6 transition days, a MAT Focus day (used to be QUAD day) and many, many in school and out of school activities and trips (bagsy Alton Towers). And, to top it ALL off, we often have to say goodbye to dear colleagues as well, which makes for a heady end of year cocktail of physical, mental and emotional 'bluh' (and a very severe hangover).
A Bump To The Head
The knock on effect of this busy, blurry 17 get ups is that when the holidays do finally arrive, they can often feel like a rather sharp bump to the head. This is the difficulty with teaching that is so often overlooked - we go from intensity to lack of daily structure and routine in one day. I have found this transition very difficult to deal with over the years.
To pre-empt this 'bump', my next few posts will be about planning ahead for the holidays so we do give ourselves a good chance of returning to work in September feeling like we have had a holiday and can take on the challenge of the new Autumn term.
See you tomorrow!
I had some great news today. Prompted by a member of SLT, my Head has agreed to a 'teacher wellbeing week' from July 8th-12th. In this week I'm going to offer mindfulness and meditation sessions, my yoga teacher will be coming in to teach a class or two, and I know we have members of staff who will run dinnertime fun and games with a quiz or a staff bingo session.
Other ideas are in the formation stages but I know it'll be a fine thing to put staff wellbeing in the limelight for 5 days. Hopefully, it will spark discussion about staff morale and how we can work together to make teaching a less stressful (unnecessarily so) career.
Looking to the future, I'd love to help facilitate a monthly wellbeing week. This is where you may be able to help me. Does your school run any wellbeing sessions for staff in any shape or form? Or are policies in place to help teachers manage their workload? If so, I'd love to here from you!
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1. Do you wind-down from work?
2. Do you take work home?
3. Do you take work home and not do it? Is it just sitting there, nagging you and pestering you?
4. Do you have boundaries around work?
5. Do you find yourself thinking about work at 2 am?
6. Do you talk yourself out of doing things for yourself, for example exercise, by thinking about all the work you have to do?
7. Would you class yourself as chronically stressed?
8. Are you going to do anything about it?
Here are my answers:
1. Errr… sometimes? Friday - yes. Monday - no.
3. Yes - all the time. I have done it today, I'm not going to do it - I'm tired. It is just THERE.
4. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
5. It happens. Grrr.
6.Yes - a lot. Although tiredness, need to see kids, CBA all come into play here.
8. Yes I am!
How can we be productive, energised and healthy if we do not give our minds and bodies a rest from work? Well, the answer is we can't. We have 24 hours in a day and 168 hours in a week. You spend on average 7-8 hours a day in bed. You spend 6-9 hours a day at work (this obviously fluctuates). This work involves performing, listening, producing, talking, writing, reading, observing, reflecting, organising (and on and on and on). That leaves 7- 8 hours to travel, cook and eat, do household stuff, spend time with family, shower, prepare the next day, exercise, read, watch TV, go on Facebook, do the shopping, text your sister, join in the WhatsApp chat, read with your children, take the dog for a walk, have a relationship...
However, this is assuming we do not bring work home. If so, add that to the 'leaves 7-8 hours...' list.
No wonder we are exhausted. I'm exhausted writing that list!
I know, I know. Realistically, there are times where the boundary between work and home-life are crossed. I work full time and have two teenage sons. I often pick them up from school and this may mean I have to prepare the next day through a 'split-shift' (although the second shift is always very fretful and irritable and I'd rather be watching Homeland). This is the case for many parents and those with care responsibilities. Knowing what can reasonably be done at 8pm when you've been up since 6am can help. Answering e-mails? Maybe. Searching TES? Probably. Marking a set of year 7 writing assessments that you promised your class to be marked tomorrow? Unlikely without putting your wellbeing out the window and the chance of a good night's sleep.
Do you have a boundary between work and home? Or do you have a cut-off point at home when work is done for the day? If so, do you have a ritual?
Alternatively, do you have no boundaries? How do you manage this?
Please let me know! I'd love to hear from you.
A scan over a google search on teacher wellbeing is not pleasant reading. Article after article tells of teachers facing an excessive workload, daily chronic anxiety and stress. A recent Guardian article cited, '1 in 5 (teachers) felt tense about their job most or all of the time.'www.theguardian.com/education/2019/feb/25/teachers-experience-more-stress-than-other-workers-study-shows
Now, this is not new news. I do feel since I began teaching a dizzy 19 years ago that teaching has become for more stressful. Why? Well, for one, the constant surveillance and level of scrutiny is far beyond anything I used to encounter in 2002. I used to have one full observation in term two and then another half an hour observation later in the year. And are my results any different now due to countless learning walks, drop ins, book trawls, mocksteds, deep dives or any other form of the word observation that we can conjure? No. And this isn't a reflection on my place of work. From what I can see, this happens in many schools.
For two, the lack of trust in teachers to do their professional duty is staggering. Check the checkers doing the checking doing the checking is bureaucracy gone mad. Add the horrendous lack of funding in education, no wonder google searches do not dig up diamonds.
What are we going to do about it?
For me, teacher wellbeing is paramount. If we do not have healthy, happy, energised teachers, we have a system being driven on empty. Yesterday, I asked WHY do we teach. Today I ask, if we DO want to teach, how can we reignite the spark that has been dampened or is dwindling out?
It starts with YOU: Track Your Time
How can we improve our wellbeing when there is always so much to do, to say, to write, to read, to track and to change? To begin with we NEED to know how we use our time or how we feel obligated or expected to use our time by others. It is easy to do. On a spreadsheet or in your diary or notebook, write the times of the day down the left hand side and make brief notes on what you are doing in 30 minute chunks. You can always do it retrospectively if you forget or scribble it down on a post-it and add it later. The aim isn't to be perfect but just to see what is.
I would love to see how you track our time and what you find. Please respond to this blog or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: I will not track your tracking :) I trust you
This term, I am a 'caretaker' Head of English until our new boss takes the reins in September. In this role I'm asked to, and enjoy, reviewing the curriculum and evaluating and amending it for the new school year. Many questions are posed to the English team. What is working? Should we start GCSE a little earlier in year 9? Where's the interleaving and spiralling (buzz words 2018/19) Are we finally done with studying 'Holes' with year 7 and 8?
However, the one question that I feel needs to posed more than any other is, WHY are we doing this in the first place?
The Big Why
Now, I'm the first to put my hands up and say that I rarely ponder this question - I mean REALLY ponder it. So, let's have a go. There are the obvious and, let's face it, incredibly important practical reasons. It pays reasonably well, we get good holidays, you can finish at a reasonable time and, maybe, fetch children from school, nursery or nan and grandad so that we can spend some time with them before bed.
There are, of course, more individually and socially fulfilling reasons to teach. We can make a difference to kids. Guiding, nurturing and possibly inspiring them to read that book that hooks them, or see a scientific truth that changes the way they see the world. We might be that role model who listens to them, has time for them and encourages them and helps gets them back on the right path after a wayward turn.
Or, for you, it might be your subject that drives you on: your passion for Picasso or Dickens or Darwin. Your niche may serve as a creative outlet that let's you indulge in your penchant for YA literature or solve those mind-blowing equations.
Let's ask it
My question to you today is, why do you teach? The answer may be as clear as crystal to you - you love the kids, your subject, your school. Or, you may be someone who has some reasons to teach that are strong enough to keep your head above water and afloat. Alternatively, you may find that the answers do not come that easy. All are fine - honesty is the best policy. Just see what is.