Depending upon where you are in the country, we have a week or two until the Easter break and one thing is for certain: every teacher will have half of April as a well earned break. With lengthening days, rising temperatures, blooming daffodils and delicate cherry blossoms, the emergence of Spring can be energising but it may also be enlightening and give us the opportunity to reflect.
So to support our theme this April, why not take the chance to be reflective and make yourself more aware of others, their needs and their motivation. Use this opportunity to consider what happens in your classroom, your staffroom and in your life outside school. Take the time also to be more self-aware and to think about what you read, what you say and what you post because this will promote our own and other’s wellbeing.
Mental health is a good starting point, because it one of those great ‘invisible’ issues and one which is often taboo in conversation. As a topic, its extent is often denied and sometimes subject to furious debate. To use the terms ‘mentally ill’, ‘mad’ or ‘insane’ as an insult or criticism actually demonstrates an ignorance of what mental health is. These are also terms which so called informed people should not be making use of.
In labelling someone in this way, just consider this. They may have a diagnosis and they may be living with it and coping with it within their own support network. Inconsiderate words and actions might just trigger a crisis or undo weeks or months of progress. Likewise, the recipient may just have an undiagnosed issue and such criticism may tip the balance of an already fragile state of mind. Lastly, such terminology is very much a ‘playground insult’ and not a sign of an enlightened mind.
Stress is a major factor in our mental health. There is probably no escaping the stress of the role of teaching; data and deadlines won’t go away. What we can do is lead and manage in ways that alleviate stress for our colleagues, think about the workload initiative, be aware of the times of the term where there is more to do (parents’ evenings, Nativity plays) and to help our workmates manage time so they don’t make themselves unwell. Self awareness is crucial here too and is probably something comes with experience. Knowing what to drop, what can wait and what isn’t essential can allow us to manage our own stress and wellbeing.
As a modern digitally aware society with such instant access to media we tend to use ‘labels’ a great deal, particularly in a reactive way. Some responses on social media to the events in Westminster this week are an indicator of such labelling or stereotyping. Being so instant, such responses are not always considered and thought through.
Are we too quick to label children as autistic or demonstrating ASD? Is ADHD too easily applied as a term to explain negative behaviour, or are there deeper underlying factors that we don’t always consider? Diagnoses of these conditions are difficult to make and as autism is on a spectrum it is impossible to stereotype. There will be a lot of adults who have grown up without a diagnosis. Their words, actions and attitudes should not be subject to a judgemental response. Instead we need to be aware of how such minds work. There is a plethora of blogs and academic work on the subject, but there are two wonderful works of fiction which illustrate autism and promote it positively. ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’ and ‘The London Eye Mystery’ are both great reads, the latter especially suitable for Upper Key Stage 2.
Autism, ASD, ADHD are ‘invisible’ disabilities. If anyone is judgemental they tend to be so based upon the outward indicators rather than actually be fully aware of such conditions. Dyslexia is another such ‘invisible’ condition. Who remembers the days of it being described as ‘word blindness’? Dig a little deeper and you will understand that it is more than a visual issue and there are more challenges than finding reading and spelling difficult; personal organisation and task completion may be more difficult, but it doesn’t impact intelligence or innate ability. If we have colleagues who are dyslexic, awareness and understanding are essential for their wellbeing.
As part of #AwarenessAprilHT we would urge you to read and share your findings about such ‘invisible’ disabilities, but also be aware of ‘visible’ matters too. Much of society can be judgemental or ignorant of physical disabilities and of the abilities and intelligence of those being judged.
Also this month we would urge our readers to be self aware and to consider their own words, actions and opinions. Sometimes you might just be wrong! It is so easy and instant to be critical, to hide behind a keyboard or tap into your phone and be immediately dismissive, negative and cynical, or to simply react by blocking which is effectively a form of censorship. As teachers we promote tolerance and respect of the opinions of others so be aware of what others may think.
Be aware of others but also be aware of your own wellbeing, because ultimately this will impact on the wellbeing of our colleagues and of the children in your school.
Be mindful of your words and actions. Be in control of your life rather than controlled by the events that happen. Be aware of your attitude, your motivation, your ability to bounce back and to persevere. Be aware of your personal values. Do you act in line with them? Or is your response always reactive?
Lots to think about this coming month, but we have a good two weeks to reflect,rebuild and re-energise. Please join us in #AwarenessAprilHT and add the hashtag to blogs, articles and quotes that promote our theme.