I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer. I am in no way an expert on staying calm throughout term and sticking to boundaries. I began making changes at the end of last year, and it definitely made a difference to my stress levels, but I’m on this journey with you. I’m just sharing the things that have been successful so far, and the things that make sense from all of my extensive reading over my Summertime rest and recuperation period. We can give it a shot together!
Over the past few weeks as I have gradually begun to get things in order for a new teaching year, I have read many, many posts from teachers, particularly at an executive level, about how they can best support their staff. There is no doubt that stress is a MAJOR issue for teachers, and the repercussions are enormous – bigger than we even realise from the average teacher’s perspective. The NSW Teachers Federation invited members to participate in a survey a couple of years ago to give voice to their feelings of being overwhelmed by the sheer workload of teaching. 18000 people CHOSE to respond (an irony in itself, given the fact that they were already so overworked), and the evidence that action is necessary was cemented. Right now, we can help to force solutions at the top by being active in our unions and speaking up about the challenges, and executive staff can lead from the heart (see my previous post) to help lighten the load, but there are lots of things that YOU can do to help yourself.
The first thing you need to do is work out your boundaries now, and draw a line around yourself. For example, I have set myself a boundary of being in my car and driving out of those gates by 5pm each day, and not bringing work home. I will have at least one full day each weekend where I do no school work whatsoever. I will loosen these rules over the weeks that reports are due, or during things like Starstruck where my choir expects to be performing this year. These work hours are one of the strict boundaries that I am comfortable putting in place. Then, if I break my own rules, I need to accept that I am responsible for my own wellbeing when my stress levels start to rise. You can read advice from the Queen of Boundaries, Brene Brown, here.
Setting those boundaries, though, is one thing. An important next step is writing them down. The neural pathways that are fired up when we write something down with a pen far outweigh those that we use through the processes of thinking, talking or typing. Think of handwriting your boundaries as drawing that line around you. Handwriting helps your brain to recognise what is important and what it needs to focus on. Until you write your boundaries down, they’re just vague ideas that you’re more than likely going to forget about within hours of finishing this article. Once you have boundaries, you’ll feel much better about saying “no” to the things that try to push you past them.
I am constantly surprised at the impact that tiny little routines can have on my day. At the end of last year I began to introduce some of these. It didn’t take much effort, because they were all things that I could do on my way to work, or with the students. I did develop a ritual of doing a short, 3 minute meditation on arrival. I do this in my car before crossing paths with any colleagues or children, and I use this time to set small intentions for the day. It creates a bit of a seal between my home and work time, and helps me get my head in school space and let go of “Mum” thoughts. I also started Mindfulness practices with the students. For the first 10 minutes of class after first break, I either do a guided meditation for the students, some breath work, or even mindfulness colouring. During this time they are not allowed to sit with or speak to anyone else, even to borrow colouring materials. This is time for them to focus only on what is right in front of them and to reflect on how they are feeling in this moment in time. I have also developed a habit of taking 5 minutes after students leave to just sit at my desk and reflect. I hold off writing Sentral entries, rushing to meetings, making phone calls just for 5 minutes of stillness.
Your rituals could be anything. Taking the dog for a walk before work, journal writing, a cuppa on your own during a break. But, like boundaries, you should write your intentions down. Even have them in a place where you can see them to help you establish them as habits. By the end of a fortnight, if you do these things every day, you will have set them up as a normal part of your life.
Live in the moment
Something didn’t go to plan? Ask yourself, “is there something I could have done better?”. If the answer is “yes”, then tuck it in your mind (or write it down) as a lesson for next time. If the answer is “no”, then cut the cord and let it go. We can choose whether to hold onto things that have happened, and replay them in our mind, and worry about the impact it will have, but what will any of those things get us? One of the biggest changes I plan to make this year is to let go of anything that I cannot cannot change in the current moment. I remember a quote by the Dalai Lama, something I read many years ago. This is not verbatim, but you’ll get the gist. He said “if there is something you can do about it, no need to worry. If there is nothing you can do about it, no need to worry”. After recent reading of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, this concept makes even more sense.
Teachers are known for their perfectionism, but is this what we want to model for our students? Or do we want them to accept themselves and their mistakes? Do we want to show them how to worry themselves sick over something that is in the past? Or show them how to learn a lesson and move on? We have more than enough to do without worrying about something that is over and done with already! Reflecting is good. Worrying is pointless.
My biggest barrier, and a thing which has caused me the most stress, is comparing myself to others. I look at all the things someone else does successfully that I struggle with, and think that I should be doing better – I should be more like that person. Well, that’s what I USED to do. These school holidays have involved me having a good hard look at these habits, and concentrating on all of the things that I do well. My Grandad used to say “keep your eye on the doughnut and not on the hole”, and it’s time to heed his advice. I’ll bet plenty of you are in the same habit of noticing who is better than you are at different things. Well, we are all amazing because we have all gone through teacher education. We all care a great deal about others, and we all dedicate our lives to helping children reach their potential. And, we are all doing our best. It’s time to quit the critical judgement of ourselves and others and accept that everyone on this planet is doing their very best with what they have and what they know in this moment. Give yourself a goddamn break!!! What do we want to show our students? Walk THAT walk!
Tell people what you’re doing! As I’ve mentioned in other articles, we have developed a habit as teachers to just complain to one another. Step outside of that box and tell your colleagues about your rituals. The more of us who are taking care of ourselves, the safer others will feel to do the same. If you are an executive reading this, get your staff to set themselves some self-care routines and share them. We need to make this our normal – not an exception. Can you imagine a school where people didn’t feel frantic?
Let’s lead the way. Let’s normalise self-care for the sake of the future adults in our care as well as for our own quality of life. Teachers, you are the key. Little eyes and ears are watching and listening. We love what we do. Let’s do it better, and feel better doing it.
#happyteachers #fixthefuture #walkthewalk #mindfulness #boundaries