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

John Dabell

Wishing you well: 20 ways to keep being well

The intensity of school life can take its toll unless you have a self-care and wellbeing plan in place. John Dabell shares 20 ways to keep being well.

The whacky workloads of a teaching term can really knock your mojo for six if you neglect your wellbeing, which is why it is crucial to keep mind, body and soul ship-shape and sea-worthy. 

Here are 20 tips to adopt and adapt so you can thrive not just survive!  
  1. Pace your self
Every term always seems to go at 100 mph but that doesn’t mean you have to spend your whole time in the fast lane with your pedal to the metal. Take your foot off the gas and pull into the services for a rest. What this means is look after yourself and don’t go hell for leather! Not every lesson has to be supercharged and you shouldn’t be aiming to be outstanding. Rather, focus on your wellbeing, be good to yourself and slow down.  
  1. Think like Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the USA and he had a lot of tough decisions to make. He didn’t find this easy so he invented a system to help him plan and prioritise and whether he needed to decide, delegate or delete.  Why not use the Eisenhower Matrix yourself and take the stress out of your decision making – it will make you far more relaxed. To find out more then go to www.eisenhower.me.
  1. Think like a champion 
If you adopt a positive outlook then you are giving your mindset every opportunity to flourish and grow. 98% of us might get trapped by fatigue, lethargy and feel a bit jaded as heavy workloads kick in but 2%ers employ world-class thinking by being optimistic and refusing to see any obstacles as problems but challenges and learning curves. They deliberately reject negative thinking and avoid mood-hoovers but make a deliberate decision to be positive, smile and have fun.             
  1. Eat like a champion 
For more energy and less stress then you’ve got to feed your immune system with as much goodness as you can. Focus on the healthy foods to keep you going and maintained. Foods for endurance are foods for teaching so go for slow-release goodies like nuts, pumpkin seeds, beans, lentils, brown rice, porridge, non-starchy vegetables sweet potatoes, berries, melons, cherries, apples, plums, pears, eggs and oily fish.
If you are a caffeine-junkie then this might be hard to swallow but green tea might be the better option because it contains a small amount of caffeine but without the 'jittery' side effects. Sips of water to stay hydrated are best.
  1. Fair Workload Charter
If you aren’t already on-board then alert your senior leadership team to the Fair Workload Charter. This comes from Nottingham City Education Improvement Board and sets out a number of pledges that schools agree to in order to protect and nurture teachers so they don’t burnout and leave the profession. Get your school to sign-up, get the Kitemark and get your life back.  This offers suggestions for making your school life more manageable, less onerous and less stressful including using 5 minute lesson plans and adopting a realistic and sensible marking policy. For more information then see www.nottinghamschools.org/fair-workload.
  1. Don’t do all the work
Canny teachers are adept at being economical. This means that they not only squeeze the most out of everything and milk learning moments for all their worth but they get children to do most of the work too. Teaching can be exhausting if you do all the teaching, learning and assessment yourself. If you are a micromanaging helicopter teacher then you are going to run out of fuel pretty fast and come down to earth with a big bang. 
  1. Prepare yourself…just not too much 
The 6Ps tells us that ‘Prior Planning & Preparation Prevents Poor Performance’ and there is a lot to be said for being prepared but it is easy to over-prepare and spend too long planning. Why add to your zany workload by gold-plating everything and polish the polish? Lessons don’t need hours of preparation, 20 bullet-points and differentiating 30 ways.         
  1. Reject perfectionism 
Your wellbeing will soon throw in the towel if you chase perfection and expect everything to be spot on. Very few things work like clockwork and teaching lessons with expectations that are too high puts you and children under enormous pressure. This doesn’t mean you can’t be ambitious but being realistic is important – lessons are messy, unpredictable and don’t follow a script. Accept that you will make mistakes and these will feed your professional growth and development.   
  1. Keep calm and speak softly 
If you want to slash your stress in half then look after your voice, banish barking and avoid shouting. Speaking in a soft voice is actually one of the most effective classroom management strategies you can employ and it will also keep you and children calm. Obviously, you will need to use a range of voices when teaching in order to communicate with passion and energy but for managing behaviour speaking without turning the volume up has more impact. 
  1. Breathe
Most teachers forget to breathe - this sounds silly of course but it’s true. Teachers who take a few deep breaths over the day find they are more composed. Deep breathing can lower your blood pressure and help you keep your composure. Deep breaths fire more oxygen to the brain and this gives us more energy, reduces tension, sharpens our minds and brightens us up. You don’t have to do this in secret either - get your class to do it and practise deep breathing together and everyone will benefit. 
  1. Leave yourself outside
Teaching is acting which explains why it can be so tiring – imagine acting for hours on end 5 days a week? Sometimes one or two of our less flattering personality traits might just creep into the classroom bubble but we have to leave these outside in the rain: irritability, impatience, frustration, overly-sensitive. If these normal and quite natural reactions are allowed to get their foot in the door then they can pop and cause harm. Acting like a teacher means putting on a professional mask and adopting the teacher persona, keeping a handle on emotions and not getting drawn into toxic conversations with staff who might be highly stressed.      
  1. Sleep 
The enemy of teaching is fatigue and the teacher’s key skill therefore is sleep. Easy said than done when you wake up at 3am thinking about the assembly you have to do but plenty of quality sleep will help combat stress and fight off illness. Pay close attention to your sleep hygiene habits and focus on a proper rest.
  1. Draw the line
One sure-fire way of maintaining a more relaxed way of being through the term is to say “No” and draw lines. This involves having clearly defined cut-off points in the day when school work becomes a no-no. Make sure that you leave school at a sensible hour and you don’t check work emails after 6pm. Marking and preparation are going to be impossible to side-step but there comes a point when enough is enough and you have to say it and stick by it. 
  1. Use the 3As model
The 3A’s model is a really useful tool to have in mind to help you get through the fog and treacle of life. Stress management is a decision making process where we can ask three questions: Can I alter this situation? Can I avoid it? Must I accept it? This helps us with our emotional intelligence and can keep the plates spinning. Some situations we can alter and change, some are unavoidable and others we just have to accept.   
  1. STOP
Another useful mental health model to have in mind is called STOP. This comes from W. Timothy Gallwey and in his book The Inner Game of Work, Gallwey explains that by thinking of ‘STOP’ we can take control of our thinking:
S – Step back
T – Think
O – Organise your thoughts
P – Proceed
  1. Talk
If you want to de-stress and relax then talk to your colleagues. As connected and collaborative professionals, teachers thrive on sharing and discussing - they don’t work in silos as private practitioners keeping everything bottled up. If you have something to get off your chest then do it by having a good old natter with a few trusted colleagues and feel better for it. Decompression in the staffroom is important but choose who you let it all out to. 
  1. Exercise 
The teaching day is an active one although not recreationally and there are few opportunities to feed mind, body and soul through some proper exercise. If you are lucky you might be able to squeeze in a short walk but if you can’t then ensure you build into your day even just 15-20 mins of activity and preferably fresh air activity outside. This gives you a chance to reflect but also a chance to forget and distract your mind by focusing on other things. Exercise keeps you fighting fit - if you are on your knees then how can you keep children on their toes?                       
  1. Be kind
It helps if the people we work with can focus on their health and wellbeing and being part of a healthy school really makes the difference. Why not agree to adopt a random act of kindness strategy across the school and engage in executing Tiny Noticeable Things (TNTS)? This could involve surprising a colleague with a present or kind word, creating a Kindness Activity Wall where you record examples of when children and adults were caught being kind. 
  1. Steal time 
Teachers who appear to be more relaxed often are because they are proficient and efficient time-stealers who know how to snatch time. They don’t wait for things to get on top of them, they stop things in their tracks and say “Hold your horses, I’m not doing that!” or they shave minutes and hours off their day by boxing clever. If they don’t need to be in a meeting they won’t be there. 
  1. Steal ideas
In order to make life less stressful and more enjoyable, effective teachers adopt a CASE mentality whereby they Copy and Steal Everything. There are so many great ideas and strategies already used by teachers why reinvent the wheel? Take a look at what your colleagues are doing, share ideas and take them away to try yourself. Teaching is all about give and take so if we can take a little here and there from the people we work with then life becomes a whole lot easier.          
 

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