If the idea of returning to school is bringing up a raft of emotions, I promise you, what ever it is you are feeling right now is completely normal. Maybe you are anxious, maybe you are excited, maybe you are scared, or feeling overwhelmed by it all; what ever you feel right now, know that is is completely ok to feel the way that you do.
The first time we pivoted from online learning and back to in person I struggled – BIG TIME!!! It wasn’t so much the act of being back on campus and teaching again, it was more the worry I felt about how all the other teachers were coping. I could see a myriad of approaches towards the wellbeing of teachers, and in many cases, teachers, I felt, were being left out to dry; like washing left on the line in the midst of a wild tornado, I could see nothing was going to dry. Instead, I watched as teachers around me, both in person and online began to crumble. Unfortunately, this appeared to trigger Compassion Fatigue within me as I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders – I desperately wanted to help every single teacher, but it was too much for my shoulders to carry and this, in turn, led me down the path to my own ‘little’ breakdown. You can read about how I felt last time in my blog titled “the abandoned teacher” . Thankfully, its been well over 18 months since we returned after the first big NZ lockdown, we have had time to prepare and we now have a better idea of how we can transition back into the classrooms where the wellbeing of our learners AND the wellbeing of our teachers can be considered.
While I for one am INCREDIBLY excited to see my students again, we are looking at returning to the classrooms where the old way of doing things may be gone (hopefully not forever…) but things will be different for quite some time: masks, bubbles, social distancing, dry hand sanitizer hands, and potential disruptions when Covid cases make their way into our schools and classrooms… and because things will look quite different, your self-care plan might need some adjustment.
But Aimee, I hear you say, I do not have a self-care plan!
Establishing a self-care plan is pretty important, it will help you get through the messy periods of school life (those times when it’s extra busy, like report writing or assessment season), and if you do not have one yet, making a plan right now might just support you through the transition back to the classroom. As I write, we have 4 weeks left of the term, so personally, my plan will focus on these four weeks I can see ahead of me.
Your self-care plan does not need to be scratched into stone; let it be fluid while you work out the tools that will really help you when you feel like the walls are beginning to cave in.
After three months at home, the world outside is going to feel a little different and there are a few things you can do to prepare in a way that brings down your anxieties or worries.
Your self care plan may include things like:
- ensuring you get a good sleep
- gradually exposing yourself to school (make the drive, or imagine the day & your routines)
- accepting that many things are out of our control
- meditation / journaling to ground yourself
- daily exercise & good nutrition
- pre-planning dinner & meals
- keep your boundaries water-tight and have time away from work
- actually taking breaks while at school
It is important for us teachers to understand that if our anxiety is high, it will be hard for us support our students who also have high anxiety. Your stress response to heading back to school will activate anxiety, if you carry it with you as long term stress can become anxiety. Stress is our perception to a threat or danger, and when we are stressed or anxious, adrenaline and cortisol flood our bodies, but there is lots you can do about it…
Let sleep be your best friend!
Sleep will be the most important thing if you find yourself feeling anxious and overwhelmed with the re-introduction to the classroom & alcohol WILL NOT make you sleep any better, so avoid this as much as possible.
Let your body produce the melatonin you need by switching off devices an hour or so before bed. Why not give your eyes a break from all the artificial light and create a romantic & relaxing vibe at home by lighting candles.
When you wake up, open up the blinds and let the natural light support your serotonin build up.
Grounding yourself will help distract your anxiety from the Fight, Flight, Freeze response
To ground yourself means to connect with yourself at the core and there are many ways you can do this:
- find a safe space to pause
- ground yourself by taking 5 belly breaths, slowly
- focus on your 5 senses; what can you see, hear, feel, touch, smell and taste?
- use an app like Calm or Smiling Minds; apps like this have programs for beginners.. now is the perfect time for a meditation challenge!
- before the day begins, or on your breaks, take your shoes off and spend some time with bare feet on the grass
- acknowledge how you are feeling, without judgement
Be at peace with not always being in control
We are a profession that loves to plan ahead; we now need to be adaptable and be ready to flip-flop where necessary.
Take things day by day and focus on the areas of yourself and your work that you do have control over (like your thoughts and feelings…)
Understand that your Leadership Team are human too, and they will be doing the best with the knowledge that they have.
Move your body every day
We all know the benefit exercise has on your overall wellbeing, and time like this, where we are being tested, is the time we really need to draw on this knowledge.
Move your body in a way that gets your heart pumping; whether that is with 50 brisk star jumps in between classes, a 10km run before work or a relaxing yoga session – what ever your vice for exercise, move your body every day.
Eat well & plan your meals in advance
We all know the vital role nutritious food plays in our overall mood and wellbeing; taking the time to plan out your meals will also help you avoid having one more thing to think about (decision fatigue is a real thing)
We just ordered a Hello Fresh Box to help up through the first week back; I now have lunched and dinners ready to roll… email me at email@example.com if you want a code for a cheap box this week!
Ask for help!
At the end of the day, if you are struggling, stop thinking you are alone or you just need to suffer in silence. Ask for help from those around you.
- tell your leadership team you need some support
- ask a friend to have your kids for the afternoon so you can have some alone time
- involve your kids or partner in dinner making
- ask a colleague to cover your duty
- hit me up for a coaching session – sometimes we just need to have a big chat and get it out in the open
If you are anxious about the road ahead, I stand with you in solidarity, as a pole to lean on when you get weary. Being anxious or feeling worried about heading back to school does not make you a bad teacher, remember, deep down inside you are actually a human being who has needs that need to be met. I know there will still be many teachers out there who feel as though their wellbeing has been abandoned, but I want you to know that you matter to me, you matter to your students and you matter to your community, even when you may not feel like you do.
It is ok to prioritise your wellbeing, in fact, it is essential that you do.
If you need help, have any question, or need some to talk to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
All my love,