School staff wellbeing and self-care | Information & eLearning | Jigsaw

School staff wellbeing and self-care

School staff wellbeing and self-care

Naoise

Monday, 31 August 2020

There is little doubt that September 2020 will be like no other. The emotional ask of teachers and school staff will be significant as they navigate their changing environment and support young people in their classrooms to do the same.

Pile of rocks stacked on each other by the water

Staff wellbeing and self-care should always be a priority and, even more so, this year.

Challenges to self-care

Relationships and emotional intelligence is the foundation for success in the work you do every day in education. Subject knowledge and teaching methodologies only work if you have the emotional resources to build a relationship with the young people you teach. And that takes work.

Empathy and emotional intelligence provide you with the capacity to identify and understand the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of young people.

However, the continuous demand to care for others, which is a daily part of our jobs as school staff, may cause fatigue, emotional distress or apathy. These demands, without a focus on self-care, might result in compassion fatigue. They could leave you feeling as though you are not connected to your role and are unable to be fully present in the moment.

All of this can have a significant impact on your personal and professional lives. Over time, this can lead to burnout.

Self-care does not exist in a bubble

The idea of self-care can sometimes feel like a luxury. With so much else going on, self-care is pushed aside, put on hold or forgotten about. Worse, in the teaching role, where teachers and school staff so often face a high-stress environment with little control over policies, resourcing and available supports, the notion of self-care can seem frivolous.

Self-care does not exist in a bubble; just as there are things that can affect your self-care, there are many things that can be influenced positively by putting self-care at the centre of your teaching role. It is important to recognise that the little things matter and that by attending to basic self-care needs, the ability to deal with the bigger things can develop.

Elements of self-care for school staff

Self-care requires us to be proactive. We need to build it into our lives so that it becomes routine. Unlike stress management, which is reactive, self-care is about making ‘taking care of ourselves’ a priority, keeping it on our agenda and making it a part of what we do every day, even when things are not feeling too stressful.

Take a minute to think about each of these elements. What areas do you succeed in? Which could you focus on more often?

 

Do you know when you are likely to feel overwhelmed, worried or tired? Taking notice of these things can help you to plan steps to manage them.

Having activities that we enjoy built into our daily routines is a proactive way of taking care of ourselves. Whether that is swimming, cooking or walking the dogs, make the time for things that you enjoy.

Setting boundaries and sometimes saying “no” is the kindest thing that we can do for ourselves. Know when you have reached your limit, pause and take time to reflect.

Who is there to support you? Find time to connect with like-minded colleagues through shared learning, a love of teaching or simply a safe space to talk.

Take time every day to reflect. Consider how you feel throughout the day. What went well? How can you build on that tomorrow?

There will always be times when you need to ask for help, this may be from family, work colleagues, your GP or online supports. Being proactive in seeking support is an important step in minding our mental health and wellbeing.

Self-care goals

Thinking about the above elements, set yourself two self-care goals and identify two actions you can take to achieve each goal:

Goal 1:

Two things you will do to put this into practice in the next two weeks.

Goal 2:

Two things you will do to put this into practice in the next two weeks.

The ripple effect

You might know how it feels to go into school one day having not had a good sleep the night before. You might end up snapping when you don’t mean to, or reaching for the sugar to get you through the afternoon.

Now imagine this starts to happen every day, what impact will this have on you, on your students, work colleagues or family? Self-care causes a ripple effect.

When so much of what you do depends on relationships, the most important relationship is the one that you have with yourself. Which means taking care of yourself. By taking the time to look after yourself, you give others in your life permission to do the same.

Role modelling attitudes and behaviour is an essential part of teaching. For young people to be resilient, to mind their mental health and to look after themselves better, they need to see the adults in their lives do the same.

signpost illustration

Self-care in a changing environment

Embrace change. If the last few months has taught us anything, it is that we are able to adapt. A lot has already been asked of teachers in terms of adapting their ways of working and how they build and maintain relationships with their young people, parents and colleagues. Education in September 2020 is going to be different; there may be changes to the school day and how we teach and connect with young people and colleagues. Celebrate the new skills being acquired, ask for help and welcome mistakes. This is only what you would tell the young people in your school to do, so listen to your own advice.

Maintain connections. Take the time during the school day to check in with yourself, the young people you teach and your colleagues. While a focus on the curriculum is essential, it is important not to focus incessantly on the curriculum with your class. Five minutes at the start of a lesson to talk about something interesting, find out how people are getting on or share funny stories can make all the difference to the day ahead.

Normalise emotions. Notice, name and accept how you are feeling as the first step to managing difficult feelings. Think about what strategies you could use to relax and manage difficult feelings as they come up during the day, whether it is deep breathing, taking a five-minute walk or connecting with a colleague.

Boundaries and routines. Routines help to make the day more manageable; when we know what to expect we can plan ahead, while remaining open to the possibility of change. Boundaries will help you to separate your work and personal life. Know when you have reached your limit for the day and stop, with kindness to yourself and others.

Know where to get help. Knowing where to go for support and using these supports when needed, is important. Find out what is available in your school, your community and online that might work for you. The Employee Assistance Scheme exists to support teachers with a range of supports.

Reflection exercise

Reflection is a big part of self-care. Taking the time to check in with yourself will help you to make sense of how you are feeling, plan for challenges and support you to build strong relationships with the people around you.

As you prepare for the school year, print out the following handout with some questions you may find helpful to think about.

Self-care course for school staff

If you are interested in delving a little deeper into self-care, Jigsaw has an online self-care course for school staff. This will support you to understand the importance of self-care, develop an awareness of your own self-care needs and develop a self-care plan.

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