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Over the last few months teachers have been pulled from pillar to post trying to ensure that their pupils continue to get the high-quality education they deserve.
The changes for schools haven’t just been big; they’ve been continuous. The uncertainty of the situation – coupled with the pressure you might feel to provide leadership for your pupils – could be why half of education professionals recently reported a decline in their mental, according to Education Support’s ‘Covid-19 and the classroom’ report.
Teachers often tell me that when they’re preparing for wellbeing lessons using the free mental health and wellbeing curriculum that my organisation created, they also learn a lot about their own mental health. From my experience of working and teaching in schools, it’s clear to me that we all have more to learn about resilience.
Use the following tips to help you to manage your mental health and wellbeing through the challenging circumstances that we now find ourselves in.
Reflective practice is the ability to reflect on your actions on a day-to-day basis as part of a process of continuous learning – and it’s key to self-awareness. If we’re doing something we’ve done a million times before we can easily drift onto autopilot.
If we’re busy, we can sometimes miss the opportunity to reflect because our mind is going on to the next thing. Making a conscious effort to reflect can really help you to identify ‘what went well’ in your teaching, which can boost your confidence.
Considering the ‘even better ifs’ can enable you to better anticipate challenging situations and strengthen in those areas too.
Reflective practice can also help guard against negativity bias, which can cause us to register negative experiences more readily than positive ones. The reality is that most of us have more good experiences than bad. Through reflective practice and gratitude, we learn to feel better about our lives.
When we’re in a negative state of mind it’s common to shut down. Through positive thinking, we can tackle challenges head-on and move forward with optimism.
Psychologists believe that by actively choosing to engage in certain activities – smiling at someone and them smiling back, for example – we can experience micro-moments of joy. Being in school gives us a chance to build emotional connections with colleagues and pupils in a way that just isn’t possible through a screen.
In these challenging times we need to find positivity in the little things. Hobbies can be a great way to unwind and can increase feelings of happiness.
Practising mindfulness can make us feel more present in the moment, enabling us to truly enjoy everyday things such as the taste of our morning coffee, the beauty of a snowflake, the sound of laughter.
When we build our inner resources like this, we selflessly allow ourselves time to recharge, and we are then capable of giving more back to the children we teach.
Our wellbeing curriculum teaches children that whatever they put after the words ‘I am’, ‘I can’ and ‘I will’ is self-fulfilling. In other words, anything is possible as long as you believe it. What you and your fellow teachers have achieved over the last few months shows that this is absolutely true.
Before the first lockdown, few of you would have felt confident about the idea of delivering lessons online, with all of the IT skills and communication challenges it entails – yet you did!
Then, a couple of months later, when we reopened schools, you implemented new safety procedures to minimise infections and to allow schools to stay open, almost overnight.
Most people underestimate themselves, but teachers should be really proud of what they’ve achieved throughout the challenge of Covid-19. I hope it has shown you what you’re capable of. As frontline staff, the nation applauds you.
Self-regulation is about picking up on our emotions, asking ourselves what those feelings are telling us and knowing the right tools to apply to settle and understand them.
With schools staying open it’s easy to feel anxious and to worry that we’re at increased risk. When anxiety strikes we should be self-compassionate, talking to ourselves in the way a best friend would by offering reassurance that is free from criticism.
Breathing exercises can help us to tame our emotions and thinking about practical steps we can take, such as following safety procedures, can help too. A good routine provides a solid foundation for self-regulation and can help us to feel grounded and reduce anxiety.
Eating well, being active, getting outdoors in nature, getting plenty of sleep and taking time out for hobbies and relaxation can have a big impact on our wellbeing.
When thinking about the pandemic, it’s useful to remember that we may be all in the same storm, but we’re in different boats. It’s so important to stay connected to those around us right now, both for our own benefit and theirs.
When we connect with others through conversation, eye contact and laughter it makes us feel safe and actually has physical benefits too – our bodies release the hormone oxytocin, which makes us feel loved. If you see a colleague struggling, reach out to them. I’ve no doubt they will do the same for you.
When we’re feeling connected we gain the confidence to step out of our comfort zone and into the growth zone, where we can take on challenges that allow us to improve ourselves and keep us feeling excited about our lives and what’s to come.
Last month I was very proud when two children from a primary school that uses my organisation’s mental health and wellbeing curriculum spoke to BBC Newsround about how the lessons are helping them to manage their mental health at this challenging time.
Seeing the impact on just those two children made me excited about our recent decision to offer the curriculum to all schools for free. This reflects a change to our business model that has been made possible by philanthropic investors who wish to support us to grow.
We can’t wait to start making even more of a difference to both pupils and teachers.
It appears that the impact of Covid-19 will be with us for some time yet. Building our resilience, finding new ways to grow and increasing our feelings of positivity will help us to continue to do a brilliant job while leading content and fulfilling lives.
The iSpace Wellbeing Curriculum is evidence-based and underpinned by mindfulness, positive psychology and neuroscience frameworks. It’s designed to make learning about mental health and wellbeing fun.
The curriculum provides a quality ready-to-go whole-school approach that brings mental health conversations to life with creative characters and more than 100 lesson plans covering KS1-KS3. Register here.
Paula Talman is the founder of iSpace Wellbeing. Find the company on Twitter at @ispacewellbeing and visit the website at ispacewellbeing.com.
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