I have no doubt that the mood and atmosphere around schools this week has lifted in anticipation of a break from routine and what has been a very challenging Term Two in schools-actually a very challenging two and a half years! Staff, students and parents will undoubtedly have more of a skip in their steps as they head out of the gates for the July holidays.
Time to focus on a different set of 3 Rs: Rest, Reflection and Reset
Going into resting mode is absolutely critical to the well-being of teachers. The pace of teaching is relentless and when you add illness into the mix as inevitably happens in Term 2, together with exams, assessments and reporting, you have the classic recipe for fatigue. So, resting the mind and body is essential to manage both the physical and mental load of a demanding profession.
Reflection is also a very important part of downtime and will most effectively happen when the mind and body are rested. A mind that is totally focused on the next task doesn’t have the headspace to reflect-it is just too crowded with the present to reflect. That may mean that unresolved matters just keep accumulating in the back of your mind and not dealt with. Not healthy for your mind or body! It is not surprising that teachers often start their holiday break with illness.
Clarity of thinking to problem solve or to be creative happens best when we have the time to reflect and just get lost in our thoughts, without the distractions of daily routine. A really effective, reflective tool is to ask yourself a series of questions, starting with the positives:
- What went well?
- What am I really proud of?
- When was I at my happiest?
- Have I taken the time to celebrate success with my students and colleagues?
- When did I last share a positive work story with family and friends?
And the list goes on.
Equally important, is to reflect on the things that perhaps did not go so well:
- What would I do differently if I had my time again?
- Why do I find this situation or this person so challenging?
- Could/should I have foreseen that this may not go well?
- How do others actually see me?
- Does my vision of myself match what others think and feel about me?
- Do I have a “blind spot” that I am simply not aware of?
- How receptive am I to feedback from others?
- Did I really listen to what was being said?
- Did I allow my emotions to get the better of me in that instance?
- What was the real issue at play there?
- Why did I react the way that I did?
You will see that the list of potential questions is much longer for the “not so well” category; the reality is that we learn far more from the things that don’t go so well than when things go well. The practice of reflection is an important way to both reward and challenge yourself. It is important to acknowledge that things don’t always (often) go according to plan, especially in the people business of education when relationships with students, colleagues and parents can become strained. If not dealt with, the situation will only descend further to the point where it will impact on your workplace happiness and well-being and this inevitably encroaches on your personal life, too. Reflective questioning helps you to deeply question and challenge yourself as to why you feel a certain way-be that positive or negative, so don’t hold back. This will help you distil to the core of the issue and develop an even deeper awareness of self and your impact on others. Invaluable traits in the people business!
So, time to reset. Feeling rested and having the headspace to reflect, the opportunity to reset and determine the pathway forward is both positive and empowering. You will be coming from a position of strength, not vulnerability and this is a powerful place to launch from. There will be factors to consider:
- Can I do this on my own?
- Do I need to tap into some expertise to help me?
- What realistically can I control?
- What is beyond my control?
- What responsibility can I take to resolve this?
- What can I let go in order to move forward?
- Is there something positive that I could do?
This is possibly making it sound straightforward-it’s not. One thing is certain though: if you have that sinking feeling about a work related issue and you choose to ignore it, you do so at the cost of your mental and physical well-being. It won’t go away. By reflecting and resetting, you are taking responsibility to work towards a better outcome for yourself and others involved.
Educators as in teachers and principals bear a huge mental load in relation to their profession and inevitably just keep on giving. Unlike many professions, teaching is not a profession in which corporate bonuses and gifts reward the work that they do. Professional respect and appreciation is really all it takes to make a teacher feel valued. Integral to this will be a support network. Based on experience, independent schools do this very well. School staff will generally include school psychologists, chaplains in faith-based schools, health centre staff and a People and Culture team along with employee assistance programs. These professionals are well-placed to have confidential conversations with teachers and staff, as a strategy for the reset.
So back to the 3Rs. Rest-up by doing the things that you love and being with people who make you happy. Reflect on a job well done and identify and acknowledge those things that just wont go away. Re-set by being proactive; have a plan of what you need to do to address those difficult or challenging aspects of your work. This will go a long way to ensuring that you return to Term 3 energised and positive.