Let this Mental health awareness week be a reminder to appreciate and support yourself and your colleagues
Teachers have been the unsung heroes of the pandemic. You have adapted to constantly shifting goalposts and unfailingly prioritised the children you’re responsible for guiding and inspiring. This has come at great personal cost to many teachers. At Education Support we know from our research that stress rates are consistently high, symptoms of poor mental health are on the rise and many report wanting to leave the profession.
The cost of an unwell education workforce is too high, especially as we strive to recover from the impact of the pandemic. Therefore, this Mental health awareness week, I want to provide some advice to help you to stay well.
Firstly though, I’d like to reflect on what’s been good about the past year and consider what has helped teachers get through the difficult days.
In 2020, Education Support asked teachers if they felt that their work has been valued during the pandemic. We were heartened to hear that the sense of appreciation from colleagues, senior leaders and parents was high. This is reassuring news in such a difficult year. A culture of appreciation in schools builds a sense of community and can offset some of the pressures felt in a demanding profession.
This week, ask yourself if you feel appreciated at school and if you’ve recently shown appreciation for the colleagues who make a difference to your working day.
Appreciation is strongly linked to a sense of collegiality, which is also vitally important for good staff well-being in schools. I know this has been in no short supply among chemistry teachers. You have shown limitless creativity and generosity while problem-solving and sharing solutions with colleagues. This has helped you to do amazing things, like using microscale activities to still allow pupils to experience practical work.
Research shows that this type of collaboration improves professional performance and supports personal well-being. It will keep you going and keep you mentally healthy throughout your career – well beyond the pandemic.
Working at maximum capacity and constantly stretching to manage workload, however, is not sustainable in the long run. Stress, anxiety and fatigue can lead to burnout. Burnout is a collection of symptoms of poor mental health, built up over time. It can rob talented teachers of their energy and sense of purpose in the classroom.
While the mental health and well-being of the profession must be meaningfully tended to by schools and the government, you have a role to play too. Be sure to watch out for the following signs in yourself and colleagues:
- Persistent fatigue
- Developing apathy, numbness or a cynical attitude
- Emotional outbursts from bottled-up emotions
- Unusual performance issues, including a lack of focus or struggling with work relationships
If you are headed towards – or are already – feeling burned-out, consider the following three points.
Know your priorities – it’s ok to say no
Be clear about your own priorities at work. Practise holding healthy boundaries that stop you from taking on too much or committing yourself to work that doesn’t align with these priorities. It can make a real difference to your levels of stress and exhaustion.
Nourish yourself – it’s not selfish
It’s essential to find time to do the things that feed your sense of self. Teaching is demanding and has a significant caring dimension. Don’t forget that you’re a person beyond the job, with passions and interests. Invest time in what makes you, you. It might feel impossible but making time for our passions gives our lives meaning, energises us and prevents burnout.
Get support – it’s a sign of strength
Asking for support at the right time is vital. Don’t suffer alone if you feel like you’re heading for burnout. In an ideal world, you’d raise issues with your line manager and co-create a plan for tackling what’s affecting you. But life isn’t always ideal. Talking to a trusted friend or colleague can be a really important first step.
Don’t forget that Education Support is always here for you. Our helpline is free, confidential and available 24/7 on 08000 562 561. It’s open to anyone working in education, including teachers, lecturers, support staff, administrators and teaching assistants.
Call us, we’ll listen.