With Term 3 underway, teacher wellbeing will once again be strained, but an expert says educators shouldn't wait until the holidays to focus on their mental health.
Life and leadership coach and staff wellbeing teacher, Katrina Bourke, spoke with Education Review about practical tips to maintain teachers' welfare throughout the term.
For decades, teacher’s wellbeing has been put to the test during the school year. In 2018, a survey revealed that about three quarters of educators in Australia believed their work had a negative impact on their mental health.
It’s a situation teachers have reported as worsening due to two years of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, an increasing workload and the difficulties linked to teacher shortages.
“Teachers are spent, they are exhausted,” Bourke said.
“At the best of times, teaching is a mentally, physically and emotionally demanding profession.
“But coming off the back of two years of remote learning and that constant change and uncertainty; that takes a toll on all humans, teachers included.”
According to the wellbeing coach, Terms 1 and 2 have already taken a major toll on teachers' mental health as educators had to readapt to a sense of normality with face to face teaching and picking up extra tasks that had been modified during the pandemic.
If teachers are pretty much ‘okay’ at the beginning of the term, Bourke believes educators shouldn’t wait for the holidays to look after themselves.
“As the term goes on, teachers go over and above constantly because they have great meaning in their work, but it is not sustainable; by the end of the term they are wrecked.
“They just want to collapse and recover.”
She spoke with Education Review about simple actions that can help maintain teachers' wellbeing throughout the remainder of the school.
Throughout the day, teachers often find themselves with a never-ending to-do list and often work extra hours trying to get to the bottom of a list which is unlikely to end.
“It is important teachers set boundaries, giving themselves time to recover.”
Boundaries can be set by turning notifications off, or setting a specific time to stop answering and checking emails which will help educators to stop, rest and recover.
Moving to reduce stress
Stress is a constant in the education sector, with more than 50 per cent of teachers saying that they experience it in their job.
Resting, lying on the couch and doing nothing may feel like the answer, but it is not enough as it does not get rid of all the stress that has built up during the term, Bourke said.
To eliminate the residual stress present in the body, it is important to get moving. It can be as simple as a walk or a swim and does not have to be adrenaline inducing.
“The most important thing is to make the time and the space to enjoy it.”
Increasing workload has left educators tired and pushed for time, which impacts their eating habits and nutrition.
Whether it is during the between-term break or on the weekends, teachers could envisage batch cooking and freezing their future meal for the days where time is missing.
“Some people I know freeze smoothie packs over the weekend, which they use during the week as a nourishing breakfast that will help sustain them throughout the day," Bourke said.
Adjusting your mindset
If teachers cannot control everything, one thing they can have power over is their own mindset which can influence, to a certain extent, how the day will play out.
“This is something I often talk to people about: claiming the day first thing in the morning.
“How do I want to be today? I can't control how the people around me show up, how the students show up, how the boss shows up, but I can control how I show up.”
Most of the time, it is easier to focus on the negatives, Bourke said, claiming that it is time to reclaim the positives and celebrate achievements.
“Teachers need to see the positives in what they’ve achieved throughout the day, week or term, and put a spotlight on that.
“As educators, what we tend to do is think about what we haven't done or what we've got to do next.
“The key piece is to stop long enough to look at what teachers have achieved and to be intentional about that; ‘Look what I did today’, ‘That’s the difference I made’ which gives meaning and can buffer against some of the negativity,” Bourke said.
Taking time to build connection
Relationships are an important factor in teachers’ wellbeing at work, taking the time to connect with colleagues by having a coffee, lunch or a quick conversation can make a difference to their emotional load.
“These little micro-moments build connection, and they are really protective for our wellbeing throughout the workplace; they're also sustainable.
“These don't have to be long: stopping and having a chat about anything not just about teaching helps build relationships.
“As humans, these interactions boost us up, they are simple and helpful and can easily be part of our every day.”
In the classroom teachers are used to multitasking while having to deal with 25-plus students at once, working conditions that takes their toll.
One way that allows body and mind to slow down is to practice mindfulness such as meditation and yoga.
Mindfulness can be useful to relax and switch the brain off the wellbeing coach said, but these are not practices meant for everyone.
“Each teacher knows what will help them to ensure their wellbeing, it's about allowing themselves the time to do it to reduce the pressure of the workload.”
A shared responsibility
While teachers can implement strategies to sustain their own wellbeing during the term, Bourke believes that they are not the only ones responsible for their mental health.
Wellbeing is not solely the responsibility of teachers, she said, it's a shared responsibility to which the government and the sector should just listen and acknowledge teachers' experience.
“I think we have to be very careful about not weaponising self-care against teachers and acknowledge that wellbeing is complex and there are many players in that game.”
“Teachers are hardworking and don’t complain, they also know what simple little changes and sometimes bigger, more complex changes could help to make a real difference to the learning of their students, as well as their wellbeing.”Do you have an idea for a story?
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