The start of a new school year can be a hairy one for new teachers, new pupils and existing teachers in any school around the world. As the long summer days turn in to cooler autumn evenings we normally look for cosy jumpers and ways to unwind with regular bouts of relaxation. Of course, the start of this school term has been unprecedented for causing even the most laid back of souls to turn to their subconscious mind, eagerly searching for an escape from the hectic routines now facing our every day tasks.
Relaxation for lots of people during 2020 is a vision that cannot be found in our minds eye. From spending too much time at home during the height of lockdown, to being needed every day at school, even during 'holidays'; it is no wonder that this year has been linked to increased anxiety and stress levels. My article today is looking at ways that you can help your staff to overcome some of the stressfull issues that they currently face, with the outcome being to re-evaluate the home life/work life balance.
Is there evidence of Mental Health being a problem in schools?
A study was carried out recently by Schoolsweek.co.uk, which found that people working in Education are third on the list of industries within the UK suffering from stress, depression and anxiety. This data was gathered between 2016 - 2019.
These are big figures and the numbers are going to multiple as we move through 2020 to 2021 no doubt. The term 'stress', first coined by Hans Selye (1974), has long been associated with medical, psychosomatic, emotional and interpersonal difficulties. What makes stress so harmful? Considerable evidence regarding the effects of stress can contribute to a lowering of energy levels, ineffective mental functioning, performance failures, difficulty in interpersonal relationships, emotional disturbances, and illnesses of various kinds (Witmer, 2013, p.29).
Assessing the needs of the School and the Staff
Wellness programmes are only successful when employees deliberately engage and participate. The process of gathering information of factors and conditions that support and hinder the wellness and health of employees, along with indentifying the potential opportunities to improve or address them at a particular workplace, is called a workplace wellness assessment. This has the purpsose of identifying the current health state of the employees at a particular workplace.
Workplace wellness initiatives look at the culture of a school in order to understand and identify the true reasons behind corporate wellness deficiencies. By gathering information through surveys and focus groups it is easier for each school to build up initiatives for long-term planning development leading to a wellness programme. But for individuals, there may be different levels of need that are strategically laid out for employees to clearly identify and manage their own expectations as well as those established by the school.
In a recent publication at Forbes (2019), 'mindfulness' is indicated to become a hip term in the workplace. The publication claims that mindfulness tools are 'one of the easiest - and cheapest- ways to help your employees become healthier and happier'. It is clear though that a great number of employees haven't the tools and resources to effectively cope with stress, which is one of the reasons that I have looked into this, searching for those tools for your staff.
Mindfulness Tools at Work
Mindfulness is a way of directing attention into the outer and inner worlds. It allows the mind to focus to become more aware of our emotions, beliefs and actions in the present. The following tools are mindfulness actions to integrate into wellness programmes based on:
Presence - Using your 5 senses to become aware of your environment
Live the present moment - Bringing openness, acceptence and no judgement to your feelings and emotions.
Acceptance of self - Gain a sense of high self-esteem and appreciation for you.
Focus on breathing - incredible health benefits to focus the mind and release the stress.
Mindful emotions - Place attention on inner feelings, learn to accept them.
Walking meditation - keep the body in balance by maintaining awareness of inner and external sensations.
Below are 5 tips to help your staff to take control of their wellbeing - every little step will lead to bigger improvements for everyone.
1. The Education Support service have produced a lovely tool for you to share with your staff - The Wheel of Life. This has been designed to allow individuals to get a snapshot of how satisfied they are with life at the current time. The best way to fill this in is to do it quickly, without thinking too long about what the wheel means. The 2nd guidance note attached, will also give your staff some options on what to do if they find that something is causing a little stress in their life, both at work and at home.
2. The second tool has been provided by Teacher Toolkit and is a great little 5-minute Well-Being planner, again designed for individuals to evaluate how they can improve their own wellbeing. This is an easy one to complete and can be looked at over and over again, giving people new targets to reach both professionally and socially (even when social is an odd word to use these days).
3. Mind for Better Mental Health have produced a lovely 'My Wellbeing Challenge' booklet. This can be completed by both staff and young people. For many people writing things down is a good way to reflect on both good things and bad things that have happened, whether that is in the current moment or from a past time. Some people find that writing eleviates pressure if a future task is causing stress; as a therapy tool writing can be extremely therapeutic.
This Wellbeing booklet is a great tool for reflection and gratitude. It is a better focus than looking for something new to watch on netflix or from getting brain-ache through too much social media scrolling.
4. Another lovely idea that I found from Mind.org during my research was the Mindful Moments in Difficult Times leaflet. This give some lovely tips and guidance notes for people to follow from breathing techniques to other relaxation tools i.e. walking, writing and meditation. The power of breathing can never be underestimated. Simply changing the rhythm of your breathing for 10 minutes a day can make awesome improvements to your wellbeing including:
Tapping into GREATER HAPPINESS and enhanced moods
Release tension and become more chilled out
Instantly IMPROVE FOCUS and mental clarity
Enjoy SLEEPING BETTER every night
ROCKET body oxygen levels and circulation
Vastily improve you MEMORY
RESOLVE emotional conflicts
5. Here is a nifty poster by @BelievePHQ titled '10 ways teachers can look after their mental health throughout the school day'. No more explanation needed there - it is free to download and display in your staff room
Finally, my last tip is a personal wish. Share the above ideas with your staff and keep talking about feelings and emotions. Mental health is a hidden illness and it is often not discussed as people feel that they will be judged, if they allow feelings to be observed and they let their shields down. Just finding small things to make each day better can be the difference between retaining your staff or loosing them.
Use relevant wellnessquestionnaires (here is mine for you to check out https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1GM9oRh2syTLYy0eJ0S9a6D6NXJ01CUlQTiRGSsYvpjs/edit) to find out how your team are feeling as a whole, rather than focusing on individuals. If you want to utilise my google questionnaire let me know so that I can make you the administrator.
And don't make wellbeing an action that is completed just one week of the school year.
What else can you do?
My time was spent through the spring and summer of 2020 gathering all the skills I could so that I can support school staff through the coming months. I am now a qualified Life Coach, specialising in:
School Wellness Programmes
Body Harmony coach
Mindful Mental health coach
With all these tools I am now offering group wellness programmes as a service and one-to-one coaching for people who are finding it hard to deal with stress in their life. Whether it is through lack of sleep, a busy mind, over or under eating, I can be there to offer support and coaching to bring tranquility back. Happy staff mean happy students and the techniques that can be used to lower stress levels, raising happy hormones can also be used in the classroom. As pupils head towards uncertainty through the next school year, these tools can be used to promote clarity to learners and self-confidence to others.
If you like this topic, send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send more information, including how to join my webinar on 'Breath and Relax' which will address ways in promoting self-wellbeing at work and at home. I can also send information about my Wellness Programmes for schools, both on corporate and individual levels.
Keep you eyes peeled for the next blog - which will be 'School Staff and Burnout'.
Leave me a comment below and tell me what you think about this post. Adele