Moving forward as clocks go back

Winter Fuel Allowances for Busy Teachers! 
Ensuring we are moving forward while the clocks go back…

It’s so nice to return to my newsletter again after the half term break. I hope that the hibernation pit-stop of half term worked some magic in terms of providing rest, recuperation and some re-charge? I felt glad that we were gifted that time BEFORE the clocks went back – so that there was a little bit more daylight to enjoy life at a slower pace.

For teachers, everywhere, the last 20 months of lockdown, post lockdown, moving through panic pandemic into mid-pandemic…this time has been like none other, it seems. And this term has been one where there has been a more determined move towards returning to a ‘normal’ that involves re-engaging with the risks and rewards of the fullness of school life – but with that extra Covid twist…

Stepping up into the ‘normal’ life of trips, concerts, shows, competitions, fixtures, clubs has not been the easy, small step that one might have expected. After all this whole ‘school plus’ stuff was what we’ve always done.

I want to take a moment to CELEBRATE the way that pandemic conditions have brought out the extraordinary commitment, resilience, creativity, care, compassion of teachers and all those who work with children daily. You have played – and will continue to play – a pivotal role in supporting children and teens to come back from the disruption, isolation, fear that has been a daily presence in the growth and development of this generation.

Teachers, classroom assistants, professional support staff in schools have harnessed their humanity, their creativity, and the power of relationship to deepen engagement and restore belonging. You have allocated time to ‘check-in’ at the start of lessons – opening the doors and windows for children to share what’s on their minds. You have used digital media to create podcasts, songs, games, resources to support and encourage. School based professionals have shared their expertise with parents and caregivers at home when they have struggled. You have given of their time with generosity and abundance, in the name of supporting the most vulnerable.

We know from the work of John Hattie and beyond ( that teachers are a driving force in children’s ability to progress, learn, and grow in school. The quality of that relationship is one of the single most influential factors – even able to mitigate serious social disadvantage. The quality of student-teacher relationships boosts children’s health into adulthood. So there is a long reach to this work.

When we consider the potential for trauma to embed and affect so many in this pandemic generation – we need to remind ourselves that post traumatic growth is actually the norm (in 70% of those affected by traumatic circumstances). And being in relationship and able to access facilitating adults with whom one can co-regulate, is a highly helpful, protective factor.

Our pupils’ sense of belonging shapes their classroom experience – it means they have greater access to integrated thinking, and increased capacity to integrate social and educational learning. It also contributes to their physical health and wellbeing well beyond the school years – because the repetition of that experience of belonging, safety, engagement, growth, and satisfaction ‘wires in’ over time. ‘Even when accounting for relationships with families and peers, research demonstrates that high quality student-teacher relationships can improve physical and psychological health for decades.’ (Tori Cordiano Ph.D Director of Research, Center for Research on Girls – newsletter April 2021).

SO we need to look after ourselves and each other! The soil around the rich nurture of good relationships with your pupils (and in your life more generally!) is your wellbeing – good inner resources – and good social resources: psychological safety in your team / organisation, recognition, strong supportive networks. 

Teacher burnout has been present long before the pandemic. Teachers have always been in the top 4 most stressful professions – to the extent that there are specially crafted professional insurance policies that take into account the higher likelihood of stress-related long term absence from work! A sobering thought! The sudden shift into virtual teaching, and numerous challenges of all the – sometimes far-reaching and last-minute – changes schools have undergone all still take their toll.

During lockdown – and beyond, teachers have been giving extra support to vulnerable students, working around supporting those who have had long-term absences, bereavements etc. meaning that setting and maintaining healthy work boundaries has been chronically compromised. Particularly where those with pastoral responsibilities are concerned.

Hybrid teaching and teaching in-person and to a changing and unpredictable digital audience of those needing to isolate, contributes to emotional exhaustion as in our commitment to the kids, we refuse to leave any ‘behind’.

Burnout is an even more pressing issue as the pressure to ‘catch up’ bears down harder. Carving out time for restorative activities, communicating with teams and line managers to clarify expectations and leaning on social support from fellow practitioners, and not compromising time with friends and family can all support wellbeing as we find our way to the end of this second most challenging year.

We also need to consider how we up our game to work on wellbeing in the winter months. It was a bit of a kicker to end the half term with Halloween, and have the return to school coincide with the darker nights, the trick-or treats, haribo come-down, and hungover teens scraping themselves into school on the 1st November…

Most people notice changes in their mood and energy as the winter draws on. Some people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a diagnosable type of depression that occurs over winter / early Spring. For others the symptoms might be milder – low mood, decreased energy, changes in sleep, appetite, motivation. It may be worth checking in with your GP to look at potential treatment options. Light therapy is a potential treatment option – but even before you might consider that so is the practice of going outdoors and having a walk outside of school during daylight if you can – away from artificial light.

Where these symptoms are in play, it’s important to look again at getting enough sleep and consistency in your sleep patterns, eating a balanced diet and reducing the temptation towards comfort food – especially processed food.

Staying hydrated is always a challenge for teachers – try upping your water intake.

If you get a sore throat and it’s painful to speak GET TO THE DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY. Your voice is not only your passcode (internet banking), it’s a professional necessity. See your doctor, tell them you use your voice professionally, and they will prescribe something more suitable to gargle and soothe than limping by self-medicating with paracetamol and hot toddies. (Though of course, those have their place in the panoply of self care).

If you tend to be more sedentary in class, or you are an office-based senior teacher in back-to-back meetings, set yourself reminders to get up and stand up for a few minutes every hour. It makes a material difference to your energy levels.

I am loving Max Mosley’s broadcasts on BBC Radio 4’s programme ‘Just One Thing’ – and the latest edition focused on standing up and why it is so important that we engage our bodies with gravity!

There’s a danger we look on the past year or so as having been a ‘break’ from all those things – like that ‘break’ was a restful one – and hasten into the altruistic urge for restoration without tuning into the toll it takes…not forgetting, of course, that there’s still the ongoing ins-and-outs of students and teachers due to positive tests, and ongoing hybrid learning.I am often asked to speak about wellbeing, and how to make that a meaningful focus in a busy, high pressure work environment – and it’s the importance of ‘checking in’ that is going to matter more than ever. To be able to pace ourselves and focus our energies with nuance and learn from the challenges of the past 20 months, we need to ask ourselves, each other, try to measure and benchmark wellbeing, morale, engagement within teams and whole staff bodies.Here’s a link to a podcast episode I did for the amazing Susan Pallister in her new podcast series ‘The Independent Teacher: what does wellbeing mean now – in schools – in this time of continuing challenge? This means to actively work at being listening, supportive environments where people’s efforts are truly seen and appreciated. Where colleagues feel their concerns can be heard with interest, compassion and without prejudice – even if those concerns can’t all be removed.Social connection is the most robust defence against stress and the wear-and-tear of modern life – and you know what that really means. Don’t rob yourself of it. Work is hard, it’s long, and it’s ever present. And we are better at it when we’ve topped up the tanks.And stay well…Only 52 sleeps ‘till Christmas…I hope you have enjoyed this newsletter – please feel free to share with colleagues who may be interested using this link – as you know, these articles often centre on:
• Personal and professional wellbeing in a high pressure job
• Relationships at work
• Dealing with conflict with less stress
• Developing your impact pastorally or motivationally
• Understanding aspects of anxiety / child development / issues of current interest commonly present in school life.
• Coaching skills for busy teachers.
As ever – with love and gratitude,Emma.PS Drop me a line! Let me know how this lands – and what you’re interested in next…It’s always great to hear from you.

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