Being someone who is relatively new to the world of blogging and Twitter, I’m still trying to understand the nuances and etiquette of social media. This summer, my timeline has been filled with tweets from eager educationalists containing #Teachers5aday, the sight of this prompted me to investigate a little further. Using my limited research methods (scrolling through timelines), I found that the are a lot of teachers who make a desperate effort over summer to make up for lost time and catch up on the life they have missed out on. Is this really what #Teachers5aday set out to achieve? Does all the rushing around during the six week break in an effort to relax actually do what it says on the tin? Do we manage to recharge our batteries or just serve to exhaust ourselves further? Is there a better way that we can look after our physical and mental health as well as spending time with the people we love without causing ourselves further unnecessary stress in the holidays by putting yet more items on our to-do list? I hope to offer an alternative approach to maintaining teacher well-being than the feast or famine attitude that most of us adopt.
After reading my blog 30 snippets of advice I’d give my NQT self , my best friend (who is also a teacher) told me that I’d missed something; the need to set goals in your personal life as well as your working one. Since teaching is currently so target driven, our energy tends to be on meeting the demands of those targets hence narrowing the focus to one area of our life. This can be detrimental to our emotional well-being as well as our own self worth, particularly if things are not going as well as we would like them to, which, in turn has a negative effect on everything else, including work. I’m incredibly fortunate, a headteacher who encourages a work/life balance is something that not everyone is blessed with. The leadership of your school is beyond your control, so it is important that you take steps to manage the factors which are down to you. My friend is right. Having goals outside of teaching help you to stay balanced and maintain perspective. Personal development in other interests can also give you a get out plan if you decide education is not for you!
I have listened to the advice of my friend and this time around I am going to do things differently. September is a teacher’s New Year so I have decided to give myself some small, achievable resolutions at the start of the new term. During the holidays I spent time with family and friends discussing our plans for the next twelve months. Together we have pledged that more effort will be afforded to fulfilling resolutions and happy habits throughout the year, rather than making a desperate scramble during holidays to complete our #Teachers5aday, which in itself becomes a source of anxiety. We have all agreed to take a self-first (not to be confused with selfish) approach. We asked ourselves what is it that we, as people need to continually keep in mind in order to be the best version of us that we can be? When I asked this question of myself in an effort to make sensible and maintainable resolutions, I thought what are the most influential factors in my life that will have bearing on my personal motivation, happiness, well-being and self worth?
In true Blue Peter style, I came up with the following doodle:
When I considered my colour-coding, the correlation between how much work contributes to my happiness and the time spent focusing on it is very much a negative one. I’m not saying that teaching doesn’t make me happy because it does, I have the best job in the world and I’m committed to working long hours in order to complete my role and support the school to the best of my abilities. Yet at times in my career (particularly when I was a head of department), school has consumed me at a cost to everything else, especially my family relationships. Ultimately, this has had an impact on my own personal happiness.
The beautiful John Tomsett article found here about putting family first sums this up perfectly. I must admit to feeling pangs of guilt as I navigated the words of his blog, sadly, identifying with so many of his mistakes. His quiet aphorisms have been the driving force in my shift over the last few years to a family first approach.
I am hoping that happy habits in my work life are also going to make a big difference this year. I already feel that I use my time effectively but know that there is always room for improvement! As mentioned in previous blogs, a happy habit is a routine that you adopt professionally to help you use your time better leading to more worthwhile outcomes and increased well-being.
Key happy habits for me this year include:
- Starting the day mindfully;
- Sticking to planned time as much as possible;
- No work emails an hour before bed;
- Continue to put people first;
- Spend some time everyday around school;
- Read more, listen more, watch more – that way I’ll never stop learning;
- Use the internet to network more – like minded people can be my salvation in what can be a lonely job at times, those with opposing views/settings can help me grow!
Over summer I had the first break away with my mum in nearly twenty years, she’s a wonderful woman and we laughed from start to finish. I was surprised at how much fun we both had and how good it was for me as a person to spend time with her (my parents have always kept me grounded). She is one of the most influential people in my life and yet often gets neglected the most, I realised that this must change for both our sakes. Time with my parents, who are getting older now, as well as the rest of my family is definitely top of the resolution list!
As I’ve matured, I’ve realised that I need to take time to recharge my own emotional batteries in order to give the other aspects of my life 100%. This year I’ve continued to develop this further by enlisting the services of a coach and have found that it’s the best money I have ever spent! Time with her helps me to maintain perspective, consider what really makes me happy and continually work on being a better me. Working with someone who has no links to my personal or professional life ensures that I get two hours a week which is devoted solely to my personal development and needs. As a result of this the time that I spend in other areas of my life is not bogged down with irrelevant minutiae that can sometimes divert my attentions away from the moment. Investing in ourselves is something that we as teachers don’t do enough of. Whether it be a massage, facial, personal training session, haircut, retreat, etc. spending relatively small amounts of money regularly that contribute to your well-being is a much wiser approach than going deep into overdraft during the summer break!
Creativity is not one of my strong points, well that’s a lie, it’s not something I have devoted a great deal of my time to so is an aspect of self-development which I approach with a little trepidation. It is certainly a resolution I’m adopting a growth mindset with! I will try to spend ten minutes every day doing something with the right side of my brain. Whether that be doodling in one of the many colouring books or learning to play an instrument, there are lots of options out there; just letting go and being in the moment will be good for my soul.
Having holidays, seeing live music or performances are also great ways of keeping happy. Even the timing of when you go through the physicality of booking them can make a huge difference to your state of mind. Setting time aside to book treats during the toughest school months is a way of reminding you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Mid-November, my partner and I will book a trip to somewhere hot and sunny for Easter or summer, weekend breaks will be planned and theatre brochures will be thumbed to make sure we get through the winter months intact! Not only do I get something to look forward to but it forces me to maintain that work-life balance during the months when it’s the easy to let this aspect of our lives slide.
Reading is good for you! If I’ve heard this once, I heard it a hundred times. It’s taken me thirty-something years to learn to agree. Making more time for professional and personal reading has unlocked interests that I didn’t know I had. In whatever form I can get them, words are rapidly becoming my nectar so every day, even if it’s for a couple of minutes,I will endeavour to read something new!
My final resolution is to be more tolerant of myself. I am my harshest critic and one which will never be satisfied. This year I’m going to go a little easy on myself in every aspect of my life. There are certain expectations I have to meet, however, it is ok to set a challenge which I occasionally fail to meet as it’s more about the experience along the way than the end result. Last Christmas (I feel there’s a song in there somewhere), I gave myself the target of twelve competitive runs (of varying length and format) in twelve months. In reality I will probably only complete eight before Christmas 2015. Previously, I’d have been disappointed for not hitting the target but, if I reflect on the experience of my runs so far I can see that Ive achieved an awful lot. I’ve run as part of a team in a triathlon, I’ve jumped off a galleon into the Tees and I even managed to compete together with one of my crazy dogs. Taking a more relaxed approach means that I can enjoy being in the moment rather than forging ahead forgetting the reason for setting the goals in the first place.
#Teachers5aday has been a great starting point for me and can be an useful reminder to colleagues to maintain balance. However, the little and often approach of resolutions and happy habits is going to be my chosen pathway this year rather than an all you can eat buffet of cramming “fun” into my holidays in an effort to make up for lost time. I’m vowing to be in the moment more rather than uploading it real-time for the world to see, it’ll just have to be patient or perhaps the internet really isn’t interested in my fairly ordinary life? Maybe this opinion comes with age or perhaps the rumours are true, pottering and spending time with the people you love really is back in fashion.