There’s something that happens at this time of year. Whether it’s a reaction to dark days and December socialising or the optimism that the new year brings, we all seem to want to start the calendar year afresh. However, for many the Christmas break does not the recharge that we hope it might be and despite the best intentions, new year’s resolutions quickly fade away.
A sustainable approach to teacher wellbeing is not about one off yoga sessions or juice plans (though of course exercise and nutrition matter), it must come hand in hand with discussions about school culture, priorities and workload. Whilst these are matters of school leadership, there is also an element of self-leadership that is worth talking about. Taking responsibility for our own health, wellbeing and workload and knowing when to stop and prioritise ourselves is something that teachers find incredibly hard. The consequence of not doing this, however, is not only that we might burn out (as attrition rates attest) but when we are exhausted we are not at our most strategic or empathic.
How then might we ride with new energy but talk realistically about teacher self-care in order to build sustainable habits that are really going to make a difference long after the resolutions have warn off.
Riffing on the familiar image of the food plate, Professor of Psychiatry Dan Siegal introduces the notion of a healthy mind platter, suggesting that the way to wellbeing is through balancing seven elements.
- Focus time; Closely paying attention
- Play time: activities that are spontaneous, playful and creative
- Connecting time: joining with other people and with nature
- Physical time: Moving the body, aerobically if possible
- Time in: reflecting inwardly on sensations, images, feeling and thoughts
- Down time: The non- goal directed focus of open attention
- Sleep time
(Siegal, 2012, pp. 293-4)
Whilst none of this is rocket science, the reminder that play and non-goal oriented time have a role to play in wellbeing is welcome. They are the anti-thesis to how wellbeing is so often presented to us, that is as something to achieve. As teachers I think we are particularly susceptible to this way of thinking. When our to do lists are so long at school it is easy for this to become a default way of being all the time. However, there is a wealth of research that indicates that we don’t do anything very well if we are stretched too thinly.
So instead of trying to stick to your resolutions this year, how’s about we resolve to make more time for ourselves? That might mean leaving work a little earlier or staying up a little later with friends. These little frivolities can lead to big changes in our wellbeing.
I’m starting with going out dancing..