The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Joanna Feast

Where do you stand on the back-to-school spectrum? 

Going back to school evokes a spectrum of emotions. Joanna Feast offers some essential tips for a successful academic year ahead.

Perhaps you're excited about the prospect of shiny new stationery, a new class or timetable, getting to know different people, new routines and settings. Maybe you're approaching it with some apprehension or trepidation, unsure how things will go and how you might feel, but knowing that most things are fine most of the time. Or you might be someone who dreads the start of a new school year and is already counting the days until the end of term. 

Wherever you stand on the sliding scale, here are some tips about how to get the best out of this unique time of year. 

Set your expectations

There is usually a lot of 'newness' at this time of year, so be prepared for it by thinking in advance about what to expect. Unless you are entirely new to the education system, many elements will already have a regularity or familiarity. With this in mind, notice how you manage new experiences and recognise what has worked well for you in the past. 

  • Did it help to write everything down? 
  • Was it better when you kept to a specific routine? 
  • Does more rest and sleep help to keep you feeling settled?  

Play around with the idea that your body already knows what to do and sometimes ruminating too much can get in the way. 

Be honest about what works

Focus on how you can do more of what works well for you and less of what doesn't work. Keep returning to this mantra throughout the year and recognise its usefulness as a grounding and guiding practice. We often do the same things and expect different results; changing this can help get us out of being stuck and into positive and sustainable new practices and habits.

Be prepared

Plan for what you would like to happen. Would you like to feel less overwrought and more in control of your time this year? Maybe you'd like to say yes to more. Perhaps you would like to feel more alert or calmer. Take note of what you want and how you'd like to feel and focus on how to do that. If you're unsure, ask around, which brings us to… 

You don’t have to fly solo

Gather around you a group – large or small, depending on your preferences – of people who can support you. This doesn't necessarily mean that you will need all of them all of the time, but a few choice people can make a difference between feeling alone and feeling like things are manageable. Remember to call on the support of others before you think you need it. So often, we leave things too late, so think about putting some 'prevention' rather than 'crisis' support in place.  

Trust your methods or develop them

Be as organised as is appropriate for you. Some people are very system- or process-orientated, while others are more free-flowing. Understanding your rhythms and preferences is vital. You don't need to copy what others do just because it looks impressive. Go with what is better for your sensibilities, knowing that this might fluctuate during the day, the week, the month or even the year. And if you would genuinely like to do something differently this year, research the best ways to do this. Chances are, someone has done this before and can share it with you – in a book, a blog, a social media post or in conversation.

Try something new

Consider a framework on which to build your intentions for the year. Your school might like to use one of the Optimus awards as a basis for systematic and sustainable change. The Wellbeing Award for Schools is a comprehensive tool to effect real and positive change in your school, and the benefits are far-reaching for the whole school community. As with any school-related work, know that this is a team effort and should not be left to a sole individual to manage.  

Decide what change may be good

A new school year can attract a mindset of change, with thoughts turning to what can be different this year. This can be helpful for some people: it ignites new energy and verve and offers a groundswell of enthusiasm. For others, change can feel overwhelming, particularly at a time of year when there is so much going on already. Perhaps it is better to notice all that went well last year and consider how to replicate it this year. A new school year doesn't necessarily mean everything new; often, consistency is more meaningful and it's worth recognising what is already good and doing more of that. Piling on different activities or methods because of the seductiveness of 'new' is usually short-lived and can be counterproductive. 

Plan ahead

Think about the practicalities of a new school year. Will it involve familiarising yourself with a different journey or mode of transport? Do you know where you can put your stuff when you arrive? Perhaps most crucially for some, when are break times and refuelling opportunities? Ask yourself how much of this practical preparation you can do ahead of time and how much extra time or thinking space you might need to allow before things become routine and commonplace.

Be forgiving

Finally, give yourself and others some grace. Understand that humans are fallible and make mistakes, that perfection is unattainable and that, in many people's experiences, completing a school-based to-do list is a rare feat! It might be useful to ask yourself a couple of questions at this point. 

  • Will it matter this much in a year's time? 
  • Will the world still turn if things aren't exactly 'right'? 

Good enough means exactly that: good enough. 

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