In education, there is always more to do, so if you don’t stop, you won’t stop.
You are more than an educator, give time to all the things that make you, you.
Remember teacher wellbeing? That was everywhere during the days of lockdowns and online teaching. As time has passed, the buzz has faded and it seems like it is no longer a priority, or even on the to-do list, in many schools. Which is kind of ironic, considering what 2023 has given us so far. I was going to write a list of all the additional challenges this year has brought and will continue to bring, but I would like to keep the tone positive. And with a pick and mix of shared and area-specific experiences, teachers already know what is adding to their mental and emotional loads.
Lots of lists exist out there already around ways to support your own wellbeing - set boundaries, eat healthy food, embrace ‘me’ time, take up yoga, say no! All very lofty ambitions, but also not always achievable - I mean, if sorting out wellbeing was that easy, we would all be doing it!
So, with non-contact time/school holidays coming right up and being the perfect time for some personal reflection, I am going to share a couple of things that helped me, in the hope that something might sound right for you.
Embrace your own timing: Use your non-contact time to your advantage.
I was always the ‘odd’ one who would return to school around the 3rd of January. I would have already spent some time on computer-related tasks for my new class. While I couldn’t set the physical space up at that time, due to carpet cleaning, I could tackle all that start of year admin work - name labels, reading and curriculum materials, wall displays to support the first units etc. Then, when everyone else was trickling in to set up for the school year, I was able to step away and take a break from thinking about school, ensuring that when I started the year, I started it as fresh as possible. The idea of returning so early might shock some, but if it works for you, don’t let the opinions of others deter you!
Set Realistic Expectations: In order to be aspirational for student achievement, you need to be realistic for your own. Remember that you are making a difference (check out the last blog post below on celebrating learner progress, not just the big stuff), even if you cannot solve every problem or meet every need. Part of this is boundary setting; making sure that others’ expectations of you are also realistic. For me, that meant not having my work emails on my phone. You do not need to be contactable every second of every day. If that is a step too far, do things to ensure that you don’t set yourself up for continued demands on your time outside the work day.
Disconnect from Work: It's crucial to establish boundaries and disconnect from work during the holidays. Public sector work can be relentless; parents and learners are everywhere, and of course everyone has been in education at some point in their life. In addition to taking a break from thinking about school (as much as that is possible), give yourself permission to fully disconnect and recharge. You will already know that this means avoiding checking emails, marking work or planning lessons. But it also needs to include stepping away from the online education communities you might be involved in, and making sure you aren’t spending your down time researching teaching methods and activities! During my non-contact/holiday breaks, I would make a conscious effort to distance myself from the constant influx of information and opinions. Utilising the snooze or mute functions on various groups and pages changed the focus of my feed to other interests and relationships. I also unfollowed (but still like) the groups that updated daily. While they were at times a valuable resource, I realised that I didn’t need a constant reminder of being a teacher. If I needed inspiration, I could make the choice to check in with those groups or pages. I didn’t need to constantly assess every post, image or reel for how it could work with my learners, team, or colleagues’ classes.
Mute, unfollow, or snooze education-related social media for at least some of your holiday time. Extend this to national news pages if education reporting in the media is making you feel angry or upset. It is important to stay informed, but set aside time to engage with it that won’t impact your mental health, like the constant barrage and comment threads under articles might.
School holidays are an opportunity to take a break and prioritise yourself. Use the time to intentionally put ‘YOU’ at the centre and think about a couple of changes you could make to the way you do things that will enable you to return to the classroom ready to take on a new term.