By Sarah Dean on 27 Nov 2020
With nearly a whole term under your belt and the lead up to Christmas underway, teachers often feel a strange combination of feelings around now: exhaustion, excitement and a sense of achievement. Your class have normally settled in, you have had time to build relationships, implemented routines and set expectations. You are on that home stretch to the Christmas break, looking forward to celebrating with family and friends.
However, this year is like no other. Schools have risen to wholly unexpected challenges and a completely new way of working. Teaching looks very different, whether you are teaching at a distance in classrooms, teaching live lessons, or whether you are setting work online and providing feedback over the phone. You will be trying to manage social distancing in your classroom and keep you, your colleagues and your pupils safe. On top of being an NQT, which can be stressful in itself, there are certainly additional difficulties and worries that you might have because of the pandemic. All of this compounded stress might be having an impact on your mental health, leaving you feeling anxious and emotionally drained. Equally, you may feel absolutely fine, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore our mental health and wellbeing.
According to School’s Week, ‘More than half of teachers say their mental health has declined during the Covid-19 pandemic.’ Additionally, the Nuffield Foundation reported that they have seen ‘…quite a sharp uptick in the percentage of highly work-anxious teachers since the start of September.’ Many teachers will be experiencing a huge range of emotions about the coronavirus pandemic. It is important to recognise these emotions, whether positive or negative, take time to reflect on your emotional energy and respond to this accordingly.
Emotional energy is how we feel about what is going on in our lives: our work, our relationships, ourselves, our situation. WorkingWell (2019) explored emotional energy in their report Wellbeing: “Healthy Habits”.
Emotional Energy Quadrant Model taken from Wellbeing: “Healthy Habits”, WorkingWell Ltd, 2019.
The report explores how reflecting on your emotions is essential to success and happiness. Understanding how to regulate your emotions is important because our wellbeing is directly impacted by how we feel and we need to be able to adjust our feelings in order to function in a better emotional state.
Using the emotional energy quadrant model to identify how you are feeling is a good first step to act upon this. The WorkingWell (2019) report suggests that if you are feeling that you are in the ‘Survival’ quadrant, then you need to get down to the ‘Recovery’ quadrant first and foremost before being able to move back into the quadrant of ‘Performance’.
Check in with yourself regularly about how you’re feeling. The WorkingWell report remarks that his is particularly helpful on your way home, to ensure the transition between work and home is a good one, enabling you to walk through the door in a positive emotional state.
What can you do to improve your mental health and wellbeing?
Here are our top ten tips to keeping yourself happy and healthy:
1. Talk about your feelings – Even the most experienced of teachers can feel overwhelmed at times and need support. Don’t be ashamed if you feel this way, it is natural. It is important to talk about the things worrying you or causing you to feel stressed. Find someone in school that you trust and can talk to about these concerns. They may be able to offer you some advice, or even help to make your workload easier.
2. Think about your breathing – Do not worry, you have got this. Take time to breath and relax. Breathing in a calm and controlled way will help you to rationalise your thoughts and support better decision making. This can be a helpful technique for when you’re feeling anxious in the moment, but is also a great way to start your day, or take a break.
3. Take time out for you – A teaching to-do list can feel never ending. Try to prioritise and get the essential jobs done first. Ensure that you make time for yourself to do the things that make you happy. Curl up with a good book, spend time with family or friends (even if this is over Zoom!), bake or take a relaxing bubble bath! Sometimes, you can feel like you have too much to do to make time for yourself, but trust me, taking that time will do you the world of good.
4. Exercise regularly – It is so important to get your blood pumping and lungs working hard to release endorphins in your body. Exercise is renowned for improving mental health. It not only keeps your body fit, but also gives your mind a workout too. Joining a team sport can be a great way to exercise and socialise at the same time. Even going for a quick walk will make a huge difference.
5. Consider what you eat and drink – Having a healthy and balanced diet will help your mental health and restore your energy. It is important to eat well and not skip cooking because ‘you have too much work to do’. Your health is important and should come first.
6. Get enough sleep – Being exhausted during the day won’t allow you be the best teacher you can be. Little sleep or energy can really affect your performance and mental health. Try to stick to a sleep routine to keep yourself energised and productive.
7. Try mindfulness – You may think that mindfulness activities aren’t for you. However, spending just 10 minutes practicing mindfulness can improve your mental health, support your decision making for the better and make you more productive. Mindfulness and wellbeing apps such as Clementine, Headspace and Calm can help.
8. Socialise - Sometimes, all you may feel like doing on a weekend is catch up on sleep and watch the programmes you have been saving up. This is fine, but don’t neglect your social life - make time for friends. Even a quick catch up on the phone with a friend or family member will help you to unwind.
9. Take breaks from social media – Twitter and Facebook are fabulous tools for CPD and networking. Being a part of #Edutwitter is fantastic for providing endless teaching ideas and providing a platform to discuss all things education. However, it can be time consuming and with the best will in the world, you cannot implement every good idea that you see, or use every resource or book promoted. Do not let other people’s fantastic polished writing pieces and displays get you down. There are only so many hours in the day, be proud of what you achieve and carefully select what you want to try one thing at a time.
10. Build up your self-esteem – You are a teacher, not a superhero! Recognise what you are doing well and be proud of what you have achieved so far. Teachers tend to analyse and reflect on their practice and always strive to improve. This is such a fantastic trait, however do remember to give yourself credit for the things you have done well as well – these are equally just as important!
Taking care of yourself is important for not only your mental health and wellbeing, but also for your productivity and teaching practice. When we feel our best, we can give our best. Like us, children have experienced a very unsettled time over the last 8 months and they need our support to thrive. The pandemic has caused upheaval and constant uncertainty for all of us. Now children are back in school, there are still worries and concerns.
The Young Minds Autumn Survey reported that ‘69% of pupils who responded described their mental health as poor now that they are back at school; this has risen from 58% who described their mental health as poor before returning to school.’ Another finding was that ‘Only 27% had had a one-to-one conversation with a teacher or another member of staff in which they were asked about their wellbeing, by the time they completed the survey.’
As part of The Recovery Curriculum, schools are expected to support the recovery of pupil’s academic gaps, but also, and perhaps more importantly, help to repair their mental health and wellbeing. Incorporating many of the steps already mentioned above into your classroom routine will really help children to settle back into school and start to feel safe again. Just like us, children need time to rebuild friendships, talk to teachers about their feelings and worries, physically exert themselves and learn strategies to reduce anxiety and stress. This is crucial to helping your pupils go back to being happy learners.
How can we help here at One Education?
Join us at our next NQT session on Wednesday 9th December 2020 for an opportunity to network and discuss strategies to support positive mental health and how to promote positive behaviour in our classrooms. The New to Teaching Network provides support and training for NQTs and those teachers who are in the early stages of their careers.
It is now more important than ever to check in on our wellbeing and respond to our feelings. In such uncertain times, anxiety levels can be high, especially for new teachers. If you have NQTs within your school, sign them up to the course here.
If you would like to join the session, but cannot attend live, the session will be recorded and sent to you after the event, including a wealth of resources and ideas for use in the classroom.
For more resources and ideas on how to support children’s mental health and wellbeing, read our other previous blog on mental health.
If you would like to find out more about supporting wellbeing in school, then click here for information on our OneWellbeing service.