I am a teacher and a parent. My working day involves tidying toys, wiping bottoms, caring for sick children, encouraging them to eat, share and show kindness. I then get home and do it all again. Patience and understanding are required in all parts of my life. In my many years of teaching and working as a mental health and wellbeing specialist I have collected (and still collecting) 'tools' to help me manage my work and home life.
I am about to share my discoveries and although I hope you find a little gold in there to help you through, it is also important to mention that these tools are helpful but not all of them will be needed. Be kind and listen to yourself deeply - only reach for the tools that serve you in that particular moment and do not be scared to let go of the ones that no longer work.
Try to be flexible
Routines can be comforting but avoid expecting every day to be made up of the same set of hours, events, mistakes and successes. You are only setting yourself up to fail if this is the case. I invite you to ask yourself what you need each day - is it that bit longer in bed? More time in school to finish up a task? Leaving work early to collect your children? All are reasonable and if available then respond to your needs. Do not let others decide what is good for you but listen to what you need to make yourself comfortable.
Avoid aiming to finish tick lists
The work of a teacher or parent is never done so try to let certain things go, there will always be time to continue tomorrow - both parenting and teaching are rolling jobs. Prioritise your work so that the most pressing jobs get done first, the rest can wait, nothing bad will happen as a result. Try not to think about too many jobs in one go, small bites and one job at a time. Overwhelm can cause inefficiency - sometimes it can be best to call it a day and come back to your list with fresh eyes. In some countries such as Germany they deem it inefficient working if you are constantly working later than your hours dictate!
I couldn't get through this article without mentioning mindfulness of course! Developing a mindfulness practice can help us to respond rather than react, maintain perspective and prioritise our own wellbeing. You can hear me chat about how mindfulness helped me and my life as a teacher/parent on the Teach Strong Podcast where I speak to Founder of Teach Strong, Samuel Hart about my own personal experiences. You can learn how to practise mindfulness with us at Mindfulness for learning (drop us an email and we can advise further) or explore the courses at the Oxford Mindfulness Foundation. I also recommend the following mindfulness and meditation apps - Headspace and Waking Up.
Eat well and take your lunch break!
Spend a bit of time to create a wholesome and enjoyable lunch and ensure you take a break! Your to do list will build throughout your day and it is only with a step back from it will you be able to tackle the workload with energy, efficiency and clarity. Take time the night before to put a decent, healthy lunch together so that you are looking after your body - the body and mind are of course intrinsically linked. Listen to Chris Fordham-Smith chat family cooking on the Mindfulness for learning podcast.
Make weekends count
Time with your own family and friends is important for our wellbeing but sometimes we can feel completely broken come Friday evening. Be realistic about what you are able to do over the weekend ensuring you don't try to fill your time with seeing lots of people and completing a stack of activities. I always like to keep my Saturday mornings the same (kids club drop offs, a walk and a coffee) and leave Sunday mornings free so that we can all stay in our pyjamas until lunchtime! This is where we really connect and relax as a family. Also allow for the fact that some weekends this isn't possible, again this comes down to flexibility and self-compassion. Everyone's needs and desires will differ so create your own family routines and boundaries.
Be sure to communicate what's working for you and what needs work and remind yourself that this will change all the time . This could be with your manager, friend, family or partner. I recently felt disappointed to be missing out on school pick ups and so made the decision to allow myself an early finish on a Wednesday to pick the children up - this means I am forced to leave school at a more reasonable time and I get the joy of spending additional time with my own children. These changes will be different for everyone and don't forget to change it when it stops working for you - life is forever evolving, nothing stays the same.
Talk to your manager/head teacher
If you are finding the juggle of work and family life difficult try to be open with your employer. Most employers should now be working towards improved staff wellbeing. This may seem like a positive and hopeful stance to take but if your line manager is still not quite there yet explore other options and think about who else in your school may be open to talking things through with you. A chat can always make things clearer. Listen to author Lisa Baylis chat Self-Compassion for Educators on the Mindfulness for learning podcast.
Show kindness and understanding to those working with you
Be mindful that the staff working in your classroom will also be managing home and work. Model the kindness and understanding you would like to see from others in your setting. Ask how your staff are, what is going on for them, are they needing support or a chat? If it's comfortable for you to do so share some of your difficulties - this will foster an open and warm environment where people feel able to be vulnerable.
Be vulnerable with your children
Sometimes when I get home I have run out of steam and I just can’t pull it out of the bag for my own children. This hurts. The guilt is immense. However this is just the reality of the situation. The most important part is being honest with your children as to why you might lack patience. This could be in the form of an apology or asking for a few minutes to do some breathing and calm down. This teaches children how to manage their own levels of frustration when they arise. Book our Positive Parenting to explore being vulnerable as a parent.
Manage your boundaries effectively
When you know you will not have them time, then say no. Being open as to what you can achieve in the time you are given gives your manager a good idea as to what you can realistically achieve without having a nervous breakdown. If they think you are managing because you haven't been honest then you are only creating a false picture. I recommend reading Adrian Bethune and Dr Emma Kell's book Teacher Wellbeing and Self-Care for really practical tips on how to create and maintain boundaries.
Make connections with your colleagues
This doesn't mean spending lots of evenings out with them or all heading to a yoga class but it does mean trying to be light and laugh together. Laughing is really good for our wellbeing. According to Jenna Pascual (Certified Laughter Yoga Instructor) "Laughter helps to provide human connection and emotional bonding and is one of the most powerful tools against depression and loneliness." Try not to take it all too seriously, our job is important but it is just a job at the end of the day.
Keep in touch with your vitamin levels
Equip yourself with a strong body and mind by ensuring it has all it needs to function efficiently. Wild Nutrition offer FREE 15 minute consultations and their supplements are free of fillers, binders, artificial preservatives or colourings. We also recommend The Herbtender, listen to their COO Catalina Borquez chat Adaptogens on the Mindfulness for learning podcast.
Avoid putting pressure on yourself to exercise strenuously but do encourage movement. Whether it be a walk in the rain, a run in the sunshine, a cold water swim or yoga, moving our body is vital in developing and balancing those happy hormones! Listen to Pamila Shanti and Neelam River chat Movement Medicine on the Mindfulness for learning podcast.
Surround yourself with nature/outdoors
We all know that wonderful feeling of taking a deep breath in when surrounded by trees and the natural world. Find your nearest green space and take a walk with your family or alone and enjoy the small detail around you. Take in every sound, smell and sight - it can do wonders for your wellbeing. If you are working in a school take a walk around the playground, around the block, to the local coffee shop - any way to just get outside. Being outdoors really enables us to remember that teaching is a job and can help us to reframe the rest of the day. Listen to Mary Bell, Founder of Nature Know chat Nature for Wellbeing on the Mindfulness for learning podcast.
Manage your tech use
Having boundaries in place will ensure you are not stuck to your computer or phone in your own free time. Try to avoid blue light an hour (or two) before bed, set rules that work for your family such as no phones at the dinner table and use your phone settings to monitor the time you are spending on your devices. Not only is it good for your wellbeing but it is a great model for your children who will have their own tech use to manage. Book a place on the Family Online Safety webinar to explore ways to keep your family safe online.
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