Never has it been truer to say that education professionals work in a fast paced, ever changing landscape.
Over the past 12 months we have seen how educators have been forced to navigate untested waters whilst continuing to uphold professional attitudes, values and beliefs.
As always, I have the upmost respect for the dedication and determination of the educational profession, and continue to be in awe of how they have responded to this unprecedented educational challenge with innovation, flexibility, empathy and leadership.
Every teacher I have ever met puts their learners first, and in this vein, their main focus and attention on return to school has been the wellbeing and mental health of their pupils; doing what they can with undeniable kindness to ensure their welfare and safety.
Kindness, compassion and nurture are the values that must underpin our work with young people now more than ever, but I worry about the adults within our profession. Teachers have got to prioritise their own wellbeing.
We need to look inwardly and demonstrate real self-compassion and kindness to ourselves to continue to make a difference with the young people in front of us.
Practising self-compassion isn’t always as easy as it sounds. As teachers, we naturally hold ourselves to impossibly high standards. We compare ourselves to others and often question our efficacy. We find ourselves drifting towards a deficit model where we focus all our attention on what we need to improve, not placing enough attention on what is going really well, what is purposeful and what is wonderful about what we do.
This pressure we put on ourselves can make us feel like we’re on a hamster wheel, striving for continuous improvement, working harder for longer. This mindset and way of working is exhausting and, in some cases, will lead to burn out.
We have a personal responsibility to lead by example here, be a positive role model for each other and our pupils. We know that children learn far more from our unconscious behaviours than any of our conscious manipulations. We can talk about looking after ourselves, moderating social media use, getting a good night's sleep, staying hydrated, all that kind of stuff, but if we’re not walking the walk in this regard, then we are selling our pupils short. I really believe in our personal responsibility to set a good example, setting boundaries and knowing what works for us, taking control of our health and wellbeing.
If we are mindful of what it means to be a teacher. We are patient and caring and most importantly, we help students make sense of the world. We must do the same for ourselves. We need to show empathy to our own personal circumstances and needs.
Many of us come to the teaching profession because of an intrinsic motivation to work with young people and to make a difference in their lives. Lately our job seems to be increasingly driven by external forces with added extrinsic pressures being placed on us from every direction.
The heart of teaching
We can feel increasingly overwhelmed by these pressures and feel that we have little or no control in the direction these pressures are taking us. Now is a good time to remind ourselves of our ‘Why’. Why we came into the profession in the first place. Remind ourselves of our fundamental moral purpose. Remind ourselves of our value and meaning. Getting right back literally to the heart of teaching and the reason we have chosen this vocation. In current times it can be so easy to lose sight of the very people we’re in it for.
These immense external pressures can lead to a feeling of helplessness and we can easily drift down a very different path to the one we want to be on. Even though we work in systems that can seem bureaucratic and hierarchical, we must remember that we still have the power to get back on the right path. We are in charge of our own journey. We still have the autonomy and the agency to take control, reconnect with why we’re in the teaching profession and reignite our passion. Having a strong sense of purpose and control over our journey can support our mental health immensely.
Finally, we must remind ourselves to take a step back enough to see that this too will pass. This is not the new normal. What we’re all going through right now is abnormal. We need to see the bigger picture and play the long game. We are in this to make a difference to young people’s lives. We may need to reduce the tempo in which we are working to avoid burn out. Reflect on the small things we can control like sleep, hygiene, routines, diet and physical activity. Give ourselves permission to be human first and teachers second. Realise that these are incredibly difficult times and continue to do what teachers are incredibly good at, supporting one another.