Maintaining teacher wellness

By John Dabell

With the summer holidays now over you should be feeling refreshed and revitalised ready for the new term ahead.

Apart from having the ‘Back To Schools’ blues, most of your feelings will be nervous excitement and you’ll be itching to get back to your class bright eyed and bushy tailed.

After you’ve had a real chance to rest and relax the trick is to keep on top of your wellness, maintain and nurture it, so you don’t fizzle out by the October half-term. Intense workloads and the pressure of school life can take their toll unless you have a ‘look after number one’ wellbeing plan.

Take a look at the following tips for helping you be the best you can be and for keeping your mind, body and soul in tip-top condition.

Remember, well teachers teach well.

     1. Pace yourself

The new term always starts at 100mph but that doesn’t mean you have to spend your whole time in the fast lane with your pedal to the metal. Be good to yourself and slow down. Not every lesson has to be supercharged and you should focus on your wellbeing. Slow your movements down and your mind will stop rushing around – you will find yourself more centred, observant and less distracted.

     2. Think like a champion

If you adopt a positive outlook then you are giving your mind-set every opportunity to flourish and advance. The majority of us might get trapped by fatigue, lethargy and feel a bit jaded as heavy workloads kick in, but by being optimistic and refusing to see obstacles not as problems, but as challenges and learning curves you’ll  deliberately reject negative thinking and make a deliberate decision to be positive, smile and have fun.             

     3. Don’t do all the work

Adroit teachers are adept at being efficient; they not only squeeze the most out of everything and benefit from 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. School isn’t a place where children go to watch teachers work. If you are juggling too many responsibilities then you are going to run out of fuel pretty fast and come down to earth with a bang.

     4. Prepare yourself, just not too much

It goes without saying that preparation is key. The 6Ps tell us that ‘Prior Planning & Preparation Prevents Poor Performance’. There is a lot to be said for being prepared and it makes sense to get things in place to make life easier, but it is easy to over-prepare and spend too long planning. Lessons don’t need hours of preparation-20 bullet-points and differentiating in 30 ways is all you need.

     5. Leave yourself outside

Teaching is like 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 but we have to leave these outside in the rain: irritability, impatience, frustration, and over sensitivity. If these normal and quite natural reactions are allowed to get their foot in the door then they can expand 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.     

     6. Reject perfectionism

Your wellbeing will soon start to suffer 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 very rarely go to plan. Accept that you will make mistakes and these will feed your professional growth and development.   

     7. Sleep

 The enemy of teaching is fatigue, therefore one of the most valuable things teachers can do is get enough rest. Easier 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.

     8. Draw the line

One sure-fire way of maintaining a more relaxed way of working 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 a certain time. Marking and preparation are going to be impossible to side-step, but there comes a point when enough is enough. When you switch off, it gives your brain a chance to debug and recharge. Make time for what really matters and spend time with your family and friends and pursue an outside interest.        

     9. Become stress hardy

Stress is inevitable and we all have the capacity to cope with it healthily by developing stress hardiness. People who manage their stress and ‘cope’ shared two specific characteristics:

  • Commitment – people who are highly committed find real meaning in their work, they are fully involved in what they are doing and always give it their best effort. They see complications and stresses as setbacks rather than major hurdles. A setback is a challenge and an opportunity to grow and develop.
  • Control – if we see ourselves as victims then we will become victims. Whilst we can’t change everything that happens around us and what others say, we can learn to control how we react and respond.

     10. 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 chat with a few trusted colleagues and you’ll feel better for it. However try and avoid slipping into a moaning mind-set, and remember to focus on positive and non-work issues. All work and no play makes teaching a lonely and exasperating experience. Decompression in the staffroom is important, but choose who you let it all out to.

     11. Have fun

Teaching children is all about engagement and motivation, so huge dollops of fun and laughter are needed to oil the machine and keep everyone happy, including you. Do something different, throw off your fear of looking foolish, step out of your comfort zone, tell jokes, play with words and inject humour into your class life and reap the benefits. 

Read more blogs from SIMS here


About John Dabell

John Dabell is an experienced teacher having taught across all key stages over 20 years. A trained Ofsted inspector, John also provides teacher training and writes regularly for a range of magazines and websites. He is the author of 10 books and over 1000 articles.   



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