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‘Seconds out, Round 2’ A wellbeing update

Sunday before the second half term. If the academic year was a fight round one ended a week ago and we look ahead knowing that rounds two and three will be tough. Hopefully things will ease later in the year.

This blog is largely an attempt to give myself a team talk. Every now and then I need to do this. It is the irony of having written a book on staff wellbeing that often I have to actually do it myself. The principles in the book are good I think but I seem slower than some of my readers to learn them.

As we look to round two here are a few well-being essentials. Remember I am talking to myself but you are welcome to listen in.

Perspective and Gratitude

First there is a lot to be thankful for, and sometimes you just need a new perspective in order to see this. The photo was taken yesterday when after a morning of sitting in our house feeling miserable and listening to the rain, we took ourselves for a walk. In terms of my worklife I remember that I am privileged to be in a job that I enjoy; I get to talk about things that interest me all day and share these interests with young people. It is a secure job and the uncertainty that others have faced during Covid does not generally face us as teachers. And I’m not for one minute diminishing the challenge we have at the moment, goodness no, Just changing my perspective to look at the full part of the glass. I am grateful for good things in both my working and non-working life.

Keeping the main thing as the main thing

In terms of our priorities for the year, our own wellbeing and that of the people around us is perhaps the main thing. As has often been said we cannot help others unless we ‘put our own oxygen mask on first’. I suspect the two main things for all of us are wellbeing and teaching and learning. Inevitably there will be things that we don’t get to do that we would’ve done in a previous year but we need to keep the main thing as the main thing. I look at my own departmental development plan first drafted in July and wonder how much of it myself and the team will get to doing this year; it’s right to be optimistic and aim for such things but we need the realism to accept that sometimes circumstances might get in the way. And wellbeing and teaching and learning are the two main things.

This whole business of some things not being done is a challenge for us as teachers. We are particularly prone to the twin monsters of guilt and fear. We feel bad that some of the balls we are juggling may escape us, and we fear that any minute someone is going to burst into our classroom and reprimand us for our incompetence. Yet wellbeing and teaching and learning are the main things. In some ways it is quite liberating to accept that there are things outside of our control. ‘God grant us the serenity to accept the things we can’t change’ as the famous payer says. We can only do what we can do. I have found myself thinking that my only responsibility is to the person in the mirror, to look him in the eye and know that I have done my best given the circumstances faced. I have found this quite liberating

Fix your boundaries

A key part of wellbeing remains the setting of boundaries. I have not changed my view that 50 is plenty ( In the period of lockdown and reopening the setting of boundaries has become even more important as our job can, like the badly planned meeting, expand to fill all available space. Deciding what is and what isn’t work time is vital. This has meant being in work from 7:30 am and staying until around 5:30 pm most days, but I have rarely taken anything home with me. I may vary this pattern moving forward, and different people manage their workload in different ways but having boundaries and a clear structure for the day and the week matter.

Rest and recharging

As an RS teacher, the practice of Sabbath from Judaism is really appealing. We are not designed to work 24/7. As teachers we need to schedule in rest. I have noticed that I have been sleeping more and this is not a bad thing. On my heaviest teaching day which is a Monday it has not been unusual for me to go to bed at 9 pm. An afternoon nap at the weekend has also been useful! It may be my age, or it may be that Maslow is right about basic needs, but I find that I can cope with most things and even teach reasonably well if I have had enough sleep.

Yet it is not just sleep and the lack of work that brings rest. Someone once said that you can’t pour from an empty cup. That’s very true and it’s important that we do things that bring us energy and that, metaphorically speaking, fill our cup. It has been great to spend more time with my family, to see a few more films, download a couple of interesting podcasts and get stuck into the new Springsteen album. All of these things have helped fill my cup in recent weeks.

We’ve got this... one day at a time Finally I remind myself that we have coped with all the changes thrown away this far: we switched to remote learning at two days notice, we safely reopened in the summer delivering blended learning, we have supported students in quarantine, some of us have even taught from home whilst having to self isolate. In all this we have not let our students down. In each twist and turn we have coped and no doubt we will cope again.

Here’s to the new half term. Remember take it one day at a time.

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