Oh The Weather Outside Is Frightful

The tabloid press churn out ‘The Beast from the East’ once more, gritting lorries are prepared for the 3am shift and through the length of the nation thousands of Headteachers look anxiously at the forecast and at the leaden skies and pray that the creaking boiler holds out at least until the end of the budget year. Meanwhile children await the ping on their parents’ phones that the school is closed and the mythical ‘Snow Day’ at last becomes a reality.

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However, where does that leave our teachers, teaching assistants and other staff? Whilst the idea of a snow day and an unexpected day out will be celebrated for many, for others it is a time of dread and anxiety.

During the last few mild winters closures have been rare in the South East of England, though earlier this winter closures hit the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland. A glance through teacher social media reveals a range of school responses; some close completely whilst others remain open for staff.

This is where stresses and anxieties can be heightened. Are you in a school where there is an expectation that staff must make every effort to arrive, regardless of weather conditions? Closures are usually there for the safety of the children, but how about the safety of the staff? In one of our former schools we once had two members of staff lose control of their cars on the same day on  same patch of black ice mere yards from the school. Both were written off. Both staff had been asked to come to school because they lived nearby, though not close enough to walk.

Then we have the ‘work from home’ expectation. In another case we have been made aware of, one member of staff had a day’s pay docked being snowed into the village where they lived, yet another on SLT escaped without penalty. In this case the snow was unexpected and the class teacher had not taken work home the previous day. We have seen more arguments over snow closures than many other school issues.

Freezing weather brings other concerns too. Chionophobia is the extreme dislike or fear of snow. The word originates from Greek chion meaning snow and phobos meaning fear, aversion or dread. It is a real fear, often with causes going back to childhood memories of being injured by an icy snowball or a hard fall on a slippery surface. Driving on untreated roads can heighten this anxiety.

Snow is a political ‘hot potato’ in school and something for school leaders to be aware of particularly in regard to the mental wellbeing of our staff. While a time of great joy, exploration and an opportunity to see if the skeleton bob is for you for others it is an occasion of fear, stress and anxiety, particularly with the pressure to come to school or work from home.

Good leadership will already have considered alternatives for this week, rearranging meetings, trips, plays or assemblies, for the safety and mental wellbeing of their staff. An unhindered week is not a realistic expectation.

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Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

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The Secret to a Happy Relationship

Image result for happy relationshipWhat state are your relationships in? The plural is deliberate because our relationships define us. The relationship with our ‘special one’ may well be at the core of our personal happiness, but so too are the relationships we have with our family and children. Is this practice in your relationships mirrored in how you relate to your colleagues and your pupils?  As we wrote here schools thrive on positive relationships.

“We are in a profession that relies almost in its entirety upon personal relationships to drive our ‘end product’ and it is those personal relationships in our schools, between our staff and between teachers and SLT that ultimately determine our wellbeing.”

There is no secret to a happy relationship but there are a values and features of romantic and family relationships that apply equally to the professional relationship we have with our colleagues, students and parents and to promoting a positive school culture.

Do all of these feature in your relationships both in and out of school?

Trust: mutual trust in each other’s underlying beliefs and abilities builds and strengthens any relationship. Without trust, personal and professional relationships have no foundation.

Respect: have mutual respect for the range of each other’s talents and skills. Respect each other’s opinions and share any differences openly, fairly and without being judgemental.

Honesty: like trust, a foundation of any relationship.

Presence: being there and sometimes knowing when not being there can help too.

Compromise: because nobody can be right all of the time.

Teamwork: the longest relationships don’t rely on finishing each others sentences, but they do need us to know what makes each other tick.

Perseverance: a partnership is a marathon, not a sprint, and the good times far outweigh the less good ones.

Celebration: mark the big things (anniversaries and birthdays) but acknowledge the little successes too.

Laughter: lots of it. Usually with each other, sometimes at each other.

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#ForteFebruaryHT: Rebooted and refreshed. Stronger; not louder.

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As we said a year ago putting aside the two syllable ‘forte’ meaning ‘loud’ for the single syllable ‘forte’ meaning ‘strength’ or ‘talent’ is a measure of mindset and attitude over ego and a lack of awareness.

#ForteFebruaryHT recognises talents and strengths, rather than volume and intensity, and is our opportunity to celebrate our own abilities and gifts as well as those of others. Here we revisit our key aspects from a year ago and bring some new suggestions to support self-care and promote wellbeing through a principled approach.

“Good job applications balance the ‘I’ with the ‘we’ particularly where a team environment is required, as we are in teaching. It is a skill to draw upon one’s own strengths without sounding self-centred. If we consider self-confidence though, and the positive approach we encouraged through #JoyfulJanuaryHT , then we are able to recognise the strengths we have by picking the positives from each day.”

Let us consider resilience. For those of you lucky enough to be able to deal with any challenge, difficulty or unexpected drama without betraying a hint of distress, there will be colleagues who will find each of these a stressful or worrying experience. How might we boost their resilience or self-confidence this month?

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As detailed here a key point of entry to unlocking resilience is to enable your staff to recognise their emotions, talk about their triggers and make it not just acceptable but good practice to seek advice and support. We have all been in the situation where we ‘didn’t know’ and, truth be told, we are probably in such a position more often than we might admit. Similarly, connecting with our core values, being authentic and relating these to our goals and ambitions can give a channel to our resilience and a measurable target.

“Sometimes however our colleagues and friends will need a confidence boost, not because they are down but because their natural demeanour isn’t one that exudes or promotes what they are good at. They may be the strong but silent type. The power of a ‘thank you’ or a smile can transform a day. Little asides recognise gifts and can give a timely boost to resilience: ‘What a great display!’; ‘I really admired the way you dealt with that situation!’; ‘Thank you for standing up for me!’. Don’t forget there are many qualities that go unrecognised or unacknowledged; when was the last time you told a colleague what a great parent they were, how grateful their partner must be to have them or what an example they set through their conduct.”

In short, do you know your colleagues? Really know them? If you aren’t doing so already we really recommend our ‘Tea and Talk’ initiative as a means of starting conversations that are meaningful, productive and supportive. A professional conversation that isn’t about data or pedagogy; try it, you may just learn something.

Valentine’s Day is on the 14th and whilst an ideal opportunity to show the special person in your life just how much they mean to you, it also gives us the opportunity to consider ‘love’ in its broadest context. As a value, love is more than attraction and fondness: it embraces respect, kindness, friendship, understanding, tolerance and sincerity. The spirit of love means that others aren’t belittled or excluded, but are given a boost to their confidence and truly valued.

“This month we ask you to recognise and acknowledge strength and talent and to share it using our #ForteFebruaryHT hashtag. Recognise others for their talents and tell them. Remember that talent might be on the sporting field or the stage, but equally that talent might be through a kind word, a welcome hug or simply through the confidence that this person is there for you.”

To promote your own talent without showing off is a challenge. We all, however, have inner strength to celebrate. Self-esteem, resilience, strength of character and a positive sense of self is something to promote and be proud of.

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On the 28th February let us all tweet just one great thing about ourselves, but use the first 27 days to build our resilience and recognise the talents of others.

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There is much more content to come this month and as in our previous themed months we are looking for you to share how you have been promoting strength and talent in your setting. Don’t forget the hashtag #ForteFebruaryHT.

 

Culture is Everything: Where do we turn for Wellbeing solutions?

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In the week that saw the announcement of another new Secretary of State for Education, there has been the expected raft of articles with top priorities that Mr Hinds faces in the departmental in-tray. Whilst some pieces that we have encountered have made mention of recruitment and retention, we have yet to see the term ‘wellbeing’ appear to date.

When we read articles such as this revealing the numbers of teachers on long-term leave from stress we question why journalists haven’t given higher profile to the issue of teacher health.

  • One in every 83 teachers being absent for a month or more compared to one in 95 three years earlier.
  • 1.3 million days of absence over four years for stress related conditions.
  • 312,000 days of absence in 2016/17 alone.

With limited budgets for supply cover, costs of staff insurance and limited numbers of options for covering classes, there is a level of stress for members of SLT juggling a whole range of other matters in addition to staff illness.

Where is the stress emanating from? Whilst it would be easy to lay responsibility at the feet of those in authority,  this article outlines the stress that micromanagement and a perceived lack of trust has. Though the work of one teacher, we suspect this is replicated on a much wider basis. Add to this the responses we often hear of schools to local sourced ‘OFSTED Myths’ and new initiatives introduced sometimes with little strategic thinking.

Where does the answer rest? Though responsible ultimately from 450,000 or more teachers, the new Secretary of State, with all the best will in the world is not going to know what makes our teachers tick. We are in a profession that relies almost in its entirety upon personal relationships to drive our ‘end product’ and it is those personal relationships in our schools, between our staff and between teachers and SLT that ultimately determine our wellbeing.

If there is going to be an approach that supports the mental and physical wellbeing of all our staff, it is individual schools and MATs that need to drive this. It is a matter of school culture.

It is all down to culture.

Culture is everything.

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As we have written before wellbeing is a ‘multi-sided dice’ but neither is it a tickbox exercise.

Self-care is an core part of  wellbeing. However self-care is going to look different for everyone. For each person that takes a digital detox there will be someone who may ‘live’ on social media yet see it as part of their self-care. Meditation and Mindfulness exercises are felt by many to be highly beneficial while others might feel more uncomfortable. For every person who may spend Saturday lunchtime at a local hostelry, there will be another hiking over moors and mountains. Every teacher with their nose buried in a book will be matched by others digging an allotment or chasing a ball of a variety of shapes and sizes around a field. Many readers may be pursuing #SelfCareSunday but other days are available. Remember also to ensure your self-care during the working day too.

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Self-care is an entitlement, an equal entitlement for all members of the school. Do we however provide the means for our teachers, our teaching assistants and our other staff, including SLT, to exercise self-care. This is where school culture is vital. Is your school values driven, principled, and strategic? Or is wellbeing undermined by short deadlines, ad hoc solutions, inconsistencies or rreactive decisions. Do the actions or words of some individuals impact upon the wellbeing of other staff.

It is all down to culture.

Culture is everything.

This has been the core message of Healthy Toolkit since our inception. Solutions to wellbeing matters from a whole school, strategic perspective should enable our staff to have time for their self-care. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, no ideal solution; nor will there be a solution that is 100% perfect but we can aspire to this. Ultimately having staff who are as physically fit and mentally well as possible benefits our children and the quality of the education they receive.

We would like to hear more from our readers and from schools as to  their experience of supporting staff wellbeing. We would to hear both positive and negative experiences: for every school that might expect planning emailed to SLT over the weekend there will be a school with exceptional support for staff experiencing bereavement or family illness; for each establishment where PPA is uncertain, others will guarantee it regardless of circumstance. Do you know what makes each other tick, or do you only ever ‘talk shop’? Maybe you work in a school which is using a version of our #TeaAndTalk initiative.

Please use our contact form or DM @HealthyToolkit on Twitter. Confidentiality is assured.

Ultimately it is down to culture.

Culture is everything.

 

#JoyfulJanuaryHT: Rebooted for 2018

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The tree is looking limp, the thought of a turkey sandwich turns our stomachs and for some of us the new term is less than a handful of days away. Time to reboot and refresh  our January theme. #JoyfulJanuaryHT was chosen deliberately to put a positive spin on what can still be a negative month. Here is last year’s piece as a reference point. https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/12/30/joyful-january/

“The New Year will inevitably bring resolutions: cutting down, cutting out, and changing of ways. With equal inevitability these may last a few days before the cold, dark and damp sends even the most zealous promises back from whence they came.”

The first week back: dark and cold evenings, a backlog from last term, the temptations of that last box of biscuits left over from Christmas. That promise of the gym, of hearty vegetable soups, of leaving early….

“Resolutions are all well and good but here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we believe that if a change is going to be made it need not be hostage to the calendar but made when the need to do so is recognised.”

Spring and the season of renewal is actually a better time for change, but with a further three months to the Spring Equinox, what could we be doing for ourselves and for our staff to ensure that the mists of gloom don’t envelop our psyche in coming weeks.

Self-care

Try this: Starting Sunday December 31st,2017, write a letter to yourself about the year of 2017 and set a twelve month challenge to reflect, release, uplift, self-love ,self-care and grow. Time spent in self-reflection is never wasted. The more reflective you are, the more effective you are at noticing and breaking recycled cycles. Why not share them under the hashtag 

Have a digital detox day, and make it regular. Ignore Twitter and the incessant negativity from some quarters. Turn off the email, Facebook and digital interaction. If you are serious about this, try ignoring the television for a whole day too. And if you can’t avoid the smartphone for a day, try using it positively by capturing positive images from your experiences.”

Care for others

“January can be a challenging month. Though ‘Blue Monday’ is largely dismissed as pseudoscience, the third Monday into a long month can feel dark with a long break between paydays with the December salary often paid in well before Christmas and probably largely spent by this point. Add in dark mornings and evenings, often bitterly cold, seasonal sniffles and bugs and the feeling that everything is bare after the decorations are removed.”

School leaders: please be aware that many of your staff will be returning to teach still suffering the after effects of flu or other winter viruses. Why not try these?

  • ‘Tea and Talk’ where you need to create time to actually talk to your staff, not idle chatter but real conversation. What makes them tick, function and perform? What worries them?https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/10/27/tea-and-talk-best-drink-of-the-day-best-time-of-the-day-teaandtalk/
  • Try a box or bowl of fruit on the staffroom table. Not as much of a winner as cake, but a hearty message that you are considering the functional and practical impact of healthy eating upon your staff.
  • Offset negativity: “The ability to stifle a mood doesn’t always result from a sore head, but often from a particular mindset. This can be witnessed across a range of workplaces including our staffrooms. The most effective staffrooms are ones where a positive mindset builds an ethos of teamwork and consistency.”
  • Promote positivity. Motivational quotes sometimes receive a less than enthusiastic press, but carefully chosen, so not patronising,  and with good intent, they reflect the mindset and consistency that effective leaders would want to convey.
  • From last year, taken on by many of our readers: “Try setting up a ‘Joy Jar’ in your staffroom to which you add one positive and happy thing that has happened that day. Open them up and read them at the end of the month, or the end of the year, to reveal just how much positivity there is in our schools. This is a great idea for classrooms too, to share the positivity with our young learners.”
  • Words are our most potent weapon. Make them count. Don’t begin a conversation with ‘Can you…’, ‘Will you…’ or ‘I want…’ How about ‘Good Morning’ or ‘How are you?’ Choose your words carefully. Don’t complain! It wears others down!

There is much more content to come this month and as in our previous themed months we are looking for you to share how you have been promoting positive attitudes into the New Year.

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Don’t forget the hashtag #JoyfulJanuaryHT

Happy New Year from all of us at Healthy Toolkit HQ!

2017: The Year in Wellbeing Posts

2017 represents the first full calendar year of blog posts for Healthy Toolkit, and a dip into our archive as well as our statistics has proven to us just how diverse and complex the whole issue of wellbeing in schools, colleges and beyond actually is. Since we launched in August 2016 we have published 57 posts before this one and 38 in 2017 alone. Our Top Ten most viewed posts illustrate the range of issues we have generated discussion upon this year. Some are topical, some are themed. Please enjoy dipping back into them.

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#10 Man Up?

Here we took the theme of inappropriate sexual attitudes and challenged male staff to challenge behaviours, language and images within the context of staff and student wellbeing. https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/man-up-men-need-to-stand-up-and-challenge-sexism/

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#9 End of Year Teacher Gifts

Some teachers may have parents who will organise a class collection while others may not. It isn’t a competition; we consider the importance of thanks and genuine gratitude.  https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/end-of-year-teacher-gifts-it-isnt-a-competition/

#8 The Best Week of the Year?

As part of #DetoxDecemberHT we put our minds to getting over the line without allowing the tetchiness to impact our mindset too greatly.  https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/the-best-week-of-the-year/ 

#7 #MagnifyMarchHT

One of our themed blogs that reached the Top Ten. We know this had a big impact on a few folks. Top quote “Negativity is lazy, instant and gratifying only to the perpetrator. It’s like a sugar rush leading to craving for more. Positive thinking is the complex carbohydrate of wellbeing; slow burning and ultimately more satisfying. Negativity is a drain on wellbeing but positivity promotes it.”  https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/magnifymarchht/

#6 #MindfulMayHT

This also saw the birth of #SayYes2Wellbeing which has become our mantra. Mindfulness needs to be for everyone rather than simply for self-care. https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/04/30/mindfulmayht/

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#5 Wellbeing is for Life: not just for INSET

This had a lot of response from SLT, the intended audience, and from staff who conveyed the messages to their school leaders. https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/09/03/wellbeing-is-for-life-not-just-for-inset-an-essential-read-for-slt/

 

#4 Wellbeing is a Multi-sided Dice: Not a loaded one. 

We can’t take chances with wellbeing. “Putting wellbeing into practice requires dedication  and a commitment, personally and professionally, to strong core values.” https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/11/19/school-wellbeing-a-multi-sided-dice-not-a-loaded-one/

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#3 I’m Sorry to Have to Tell You

In which we reflect on how the sudden death of a colleague impacts upon the whole community and how we looked after each other.  This was an emotional post to compose. https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/im-sorry-to-have-to-tell-you/

#2 Professionalism

Though the opening regarded events at the Chartered College of Teaching conference, the gist of this post was how behaviour and conduct impacts on the mindset and wellbeing of others. https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/professionalism-its-knowing-how-to-do-it-when-to-do-it-then-doing-it/

#1 In the Bleak Midwinter

The most read blog of the year caught us by surprise at the reaction to it. Written as part of a trilogy of posts relating to #DetoxDecemberHT, we reflected upon how the end of the longest term impacts on everyone but not to forget core values such as teamwork, valuing everyone, considering everyone and the importance of good humour! https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/12/10/in-the-bleak-midwinter-surviving-the-last-days-to-christmas-at-school/

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Thank you to everyone for reading our posts, joining our hashtag campaigns, championing wellbeing and mental health in your schools. Healthy Toolkit is a family, dedicated to sound, authentic and values driven wellbeing principles. Thank you for being here on our journey.

Have an amazing 2018!

Christmas Shopping Crisis!

Jocasta has sent Horatio to get the Christmas food shopping from the classy supermarket across the river. However not all goes to plan!

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‘Jocasta! Darling it’s me! I can’t get through the tunnel. There’s been an accident. I could go the long way!’

‘Horatio, don’t do that it will take an age. Jonquil and Dido will be here in two hours, and they’ve got Uncle Rupert with them. He’s 96 and not written his will yet. Worth a squillion, so we have to impress him! Where are you?’

‘On the road through that dreadful industrial estate!’

‘You are going to have to go into that big supermarket on the left.’

‘You mean the one the teachers three doors down go to!’

‘Well they seem to find everything they need.’

‘Those teachers! Always got to be down with the people!’

‘Well it’s that or nothing Horatio, and if Christmas doesn’t happen just as I want I will be making sure there is one little extra chipolata on my plate!’

‘OK darling, whatever you say, but keep in the phone. You are going to have to guide me through this one.’

‘Go to the parent and child spaces. You have got Spartacus with you haven’t you?’

‘Oh yes he is in the back! Hang on though. There are some real ruffians there with buckets and sponges. What are they up to?’

‘They want to clean your windscreen for a ridiculous amount of money with dirty water that has been hanging around all day. Just walk past them!’

‘Doing that darling. Oh they have the most ghastly accents! I don’t suppose they’ve seen a 4×4 where they come from unless it says ‘Police’ on the roof!’

‘Keep your voice down Horatio! Unless you want your wheels stolen or something dreadful left on the back seat.’

‘I’m going in now. It looks like the fruit and vegetables are straight ahead. They have no kumquats! Can you believe no kumquats!’

‘Well look for mandarins, or clementines! Something vaguely orange coloured!’

‘Like this woman in the shell suit in front of me! I think I can see most of the vegetables. What is that Spartacus? You need a pooh? Not now please! Oh too late, but at least it might mask the smell of this place!’ 

‘Head for the butchery aisle next. We need veal cutlets! And lamb shanks.’

‘Excuse me my good man! Can you tell me where I might find the veal? Young cow! Never mind! Lamb shanks? No. I am unfamiliar with 90s gangsta rappers myself. More of a Mozart man if you see how I’m hanging!’ 

‘Try the frozen section if you get desperate!’

‘I’m heading to the drinks now. Oh Spartacus don’t squirm! You are quite pungent aren’t you. Have you been at mummy’s lentil rissoles again? Is it unoaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc that Dido prefers?’

‘Either! And some Chablis for Jonquil.’

‘That dreadful teacher chap. He’s here and he’s hiding the Chablis behind the Blue Nun? Someone has just offered me an orange WKD! I’m heading to the Cranberry Sauce aisle to regroup. Everyone forgets that so nobody will see me there!’

‘For heaven’s sake Horatio! At least get some bread!’

‘Is this square shaped stuff bread! I’ve never seen this before! Hot dog buns! Finger rolls! Nothing rustic or artisan here. Darling I am at a loss! Oh thank heavens there is that awful teacher couple! I will just have to act nice for a change! Speak to you from the car park!’ 

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‘Hello Darling! Me again. John and Lesley were most helpful!’

‘Who?’

‘John and Lesley! The teachers from three doors down! He is making a trifle with Limoncello. Apparently that beastly Liverpudlian baker has a recipe to die for.’

‘James and Liz! I know we don’t mix in their circle but at least try to get their names right!’

‘That’s why they gave me funny looks. Thought it was Spartacus’s deposits! They kept giggling as we were going around. He told me he knew that proletarians were those choux pastry balls with cream and chocolate. We neatly avoided the parsnip punch up and the sprout riot. ‘I predict a spriot’ they both sang. Obviously an in joke. He kept tapping on his phone and smirking. Can’t think why. Anyway, we don’t give them enough credit! They really do have some class, despite what they do for a living! I had to substitute a few things off the list!’

‘Do tell Horatio! This had better be good!’

‘There was no Bleu d’Auvergne, not even Camembert, but I’ve got these delightful soft cheeses in little triangles and something interesting in a tube!’

‘Grissini?’

‘No! But apparently pickled onion Monster Munch is just as good!’

‘Coffee? I must have my macchiato?’

‘Own brand instant is all the rage it seems!’

‘Pecan and Maple liqueur? Surely a Bailey’s? At least I can disguise that with some cocoa and a dash of the Irish!’

‘Apparently they do some great ones inside miniature chocolates!’

‘Langoustines?’

‘Breaded scampi!’

‘Pistachios?’

‘Dry roasted peanuts!’

‘Scallops nestled in Prosecco-infused couscous?’

Fingres de poisson en pain blanc avec coulis des tomates is something we must try!’

‘Fishfinger sandwich in white bread with tomato ketchup is a dirty meal for dirty people! Now Horatio! I am going to read you five items from the list! You are going to tell me what you have instead! I may not be happy!’

‘Go ahead!’

‘Prosciutto, bruschetta, tapenade, prosecco, smoked eel!’

‘Ah!’

‘I don’t like the sound of that!’

‘Ham in a tin! With a magic key! Mighty White! Cheese and Ham Toast Toppers! Babycham! Tin of pilchards! Happy!’ 

‘Horatio! Put it this way! Did you pick up a DIY divorce kit?’

 

 

The Shortest Day

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The shortest day, with no sense of irony, ends the longest term, and is an appropriate point for us to round of our loose trilogy of wellbeing blogs under our #DetoxDecemberHT hashtag. The first two parts can be found here https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/12/10/in-the-bleak-midwinter-surviving-the-last-days-to-christmas-at-school/ and here https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/the-best-week-of-the-year/

Some of you are well into your first week off and others still have tomorrow to negotiate too. We have raised the issue of where school holidays fall in the past and one of our team discussions in recent days raised the question of whether a three week shutdown over the festive period might be appropriate. The traditional shutdown period undertaken by many in commerce actually overlaps the break for many teachers. Whilst we don’t want to be thinking about the return to work, the children in many of our schools will be resuming their studies whilst the decorations are still up.

Wellbeing during the holiday is as key as wellbeing during the term, and whilst many of us may have limped over the line having started in August in some cases, teachers and school leaders need to recognise that this holiday is only a staging post in the academic year. Here we will consider a few simple but practical strategies to keep wellbeing focussed and to cut stress to a minimum.

School Leaders

Look after your staff and they will look after you! We do hear of schools where there is a stack of emails for staff to address and from the days where inspections had a longer notice period, an expectation to come to school between Christmas and New Year to prepare the classrooms and planning. A few simple guidelines will help to cement goodwill.

  • Communication; keep it to a minimum. Diaries and dates, data analyses, reminders; yes they are important but keep it all in one email.
  • Avoid the most pervasive feature of email: the read receipt! It is intrusive and adds unnecessary pressure.
  • That amazing new initiative or the essential change you want to see from January; it can wait until January or should have been rolled out before term ended.
  • Respect the fact that your staff have families and loved ones, or may have lost loved ones.
  • Respect the fact that some don’t or may face as challenging a time as some of our families.
  • Any communication with staff you do have needs to feature the simplest and most uplifting words in the wellbeing lexicon….

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Teachers

  • You are going to have things to do. Don’t fret through the holiday over your work. Choose a day and time to get it done. If returning in the first week of January get it done now and free up the festive days. This is a staging post in the year and no headteacher want to see a teacher exhausted by the end of the first week.
  • See email advice for leaders above: why not do the same?
  • If your school email comes to your phone, delete or disable the app until January.

For everyone

  • Though you may be tempted by the wine and chocolate gifts from parents and children, don’t lose yourself in an alcohol haze. Christmas can be a time of excess but do look after yourself. A pre-Christmas detox or a break between Christmas and New Year are too simple diet and exercise strategies to consider.
  • Catch up! Old friends; neighbours; that book you started in October; those withered plants in the garden; the Scandinavian crime drama on BBC4. Why not give these your attention.
  • Have a digital switch off or at least save Twitter for pictures of your Christmas dinner or new socks. A Christmas row on Twitter is almost as traditional now as a repeat of Morecambe and Wise. Is it really necessary?

How about this one, found by a dear friend.

Jólabókaflóð: the Christmas Book Flood

The Icelandic Tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve includes the whole family reading their new books together, tucked in bed with a warming hot chocolate or a suitable tipple. How beautiful is that!

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Think Positive

You have made it to the end of another year. You are in the most rewarding and uplifting profession that there is and every single one of us makes an impact on the lives of young people and their families.

It may be dark, it may be cold, Australia might have regained the Ashes (temporarily on loan) but from today, the nights lengthen, the light improves and summer is coming!

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The Best Week of the Year!

Last week we published our simple guidance to surviving the last days to Christmas https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/12/10/in-the-bleak-midwinter-surviving-the-last-days-to-christmas-at-school/ and a big thank you goes to all our readers who have made it our most read post of 2017.

During the week there have been a few grumpy messages on different social media outlets. Tetchiness in school or tetchiness at other tweeters; either way, a step back, some deep breathing and some mindful thinking might just help ease us through to the end of this long term.

From @HealthyToolkit Twitter timeline, we took the quotation below from last week’s blog post and shared it on Friday evening. Over 14000 impressions, 150 likes and 95 retweets from one simple quote, one sharing a positive and inclusive message. Thank you to everyone for sharing and responding so positively to the tweet.

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Yet this message had two negative responses, both from tweeters who don’t follow Toolkit. The intention of the tweet was purely to celebrate what teachers do whilst acknowledging our utter exhaustion at this time of year. What this demonstrates is how easy it is to read a single message out of context and to draw conclusions based purely on one sentence. Our values at Healthy Toolkit HQ are not to respond to negativity and certainly to always read in context. Some tweeters are of course talented in the act of the provocative post and a button-pushing blog. It is a well known strategy of social media entrepreneurs, media savvy politicians and a few journalists and not an invention of EduTwitter.

Best advice for avoiding Twitter tetchiness: ignore. Don’t read, respond, like or retweet; just leave it. Don’t block, as that is a form of censorship denying access to your thoughts, but mute. Remember the strategy we give to children about bullies: ignore them, they are looking for a response.

Some tetchiness arises from when the break begins. Our recent Twitter poll suggests some 20% of respondents finished last Friday, with a roughly even split between those finishing in the middle or the end of the coming week. If you are off already, think of those with a week to go. In contrast, you may be back very early in the New Year, while others have 8th January pencilled in!

Long terms, deadlines, sickness, covering classes, in addition to the change of routine and the excitability of the children, can raise tensions. Nobody wants to see torment over the glitter, tinsel tantrums or competition over Christmas party games.Tensions don’t arise from these alone. If we are mindful of our colleagues and of ourselves, a few simple thoughts might just help  us all.

Not everyone will want to come on the staff social. They aren’t being anti-social. There may be reasons for this, something we explored in this post from last year https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/the-big-night-out-not-everyones-cup-of-tea/

Just as many of our children might be going home to an uncertain Christmas, some of our colleagues might be too. Your NQT colleagues might have relocated far from home and maybe have a long haul back to family and possibly put little thought to their Christmas preparations so far. Someone might be going through a tricky time in their relationship or may be recently separated or divorced. Others will have worries about their own children. Recent house moves, bereavements, financial concerns and worries about loved ones all impact on every one of us.  Whilst some people will discuss their life in minutiae, there are many who won’t betray any emotion. Depression and Mental Health is not something most of us would drop into a conversation about festive preparations, but we would urge you all to be aware of your colleagues. Do you know your colleagues? Really know them? Ask yourself this.

Christmas is not a time to fall out over a misplaced tweet or the Nativity, nor is it a time to be judgemental. It is a time of reconciliation, peace and forgiveness.

This is the best week of the school year. And so it should be too! Enjoy it and have the best Christmas you possibly could.

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‘In the Bleak Midwinter’: surviving the last days to Christmas at school.

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The longest term; it always was, is and forever will be thus.

Workload, deadlines, tracking; all juggled with Nativities, Carol Services, Christmas lunches, parties. Add to the mix the traditional festive coughs and sniffles and, if you are really unlucky as one of us can attest to at Healthy Toolkit HQ, a spectacular outbreak of norovirus during a Christmas performance.

We have carried out a Twitter poll but could probably have written the results before publishing this piece. Over three quarters of respondents are drained or dead on their feet already, and some have a full two weeks to go.

Whilst our children are full of Christmas spirit anxious teachers may not be. Cultures and leadership at school may dictate the course of celebrations. We heard this week of schools who have nothing to mark the season until this coming week. One of us worked under a school leader who ensured all Christmas celebrations, bar the Carol Service, were done and dusted by the penultimate week; parties, plays, Christmas lunch. The justification? So the children didn’t get overexcited. Children, excited at Christmas; who knew?

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Snow

Snow can be a hot potato! School leaders can be criticised if they do open and equally under the cosh if they don’t. To clear the snow or not: leave and you risk slippages; clear it then you have piles of snow ideal for snowballs but possibly becoming lumps of ice.

Snow causes staff anxieties and sometimes argument, particularly if some staff can make it in and others can’t. Claiming ‘I worked from home’ whilst Facebook posts show snowball fights in the garden can also be thrown back by some colleagues.

Safeguard the Safeguarders

Any DSL will tell you the worst day is Friday, the worst week is the week before the holidays and the worst holiday is Christmas. Usually in the last hour or so of the day. Our most vulnerable and anxious children recognise that being away from the safe space that school represents may be a threatening place to be and disclosures may be made very close to the end of term. To deal with any disclosure and subsequent steps is emotionally draining. Awaiting social workers or the police into the evening tests the resilience and if we are on the last day of term when the rest of the staff are safely at home or maybe in a local hostelry, anxiety levels rise with our concern for the child.

So please be aware of your DSL and look out for them.

Self Care and Team Care

So what we do for ourselves and our colleagues to prevent feeling anxious at this time of year?

Plan ahead

Individually, you need to know your deadlines and key dates. Know how and when you are going to get things done. Last minute work will put you under pressure and add to anxieties. Think also about simplifying and streamlining your planning. It doesn’t require the DVD and making Christmas cards route, but activities allowing for self marking and peer assessment will save some workload.

Give Notice

SLT: Involve staff with plenty of warning of any changes to school plans. Ideally this is all in place at start of term. Anything you drop in now that wasn’t in the diary earlier will rightly draw a few grumbles.

Teamwork makes the dreamwork

We would emphasise team work, listening and talking. Communication is so important. It’s as important as ever to make time to talk to your staff about how they are feeling in the lead up to Christmas. Some will be full of the joys of the season, whilst others will grimace at the forced festivity. Know your colleagues!

Pace yourself.

Routines are helpful. We all led different lives. What works for you might not for someone else.

Take care of yourself.

Get enough sleep, eat and drink sensibly, exercise when you can. Spend time with friends and family.

If you would like to talk to somebody about mental health or wellbeing please contact a healthcare professional such as your GP. You can also access information or support about mental health from: Samaritans on 116 123 and Mind on 0300 123 3393

Don’t forget: you’re awesome

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Don’t forget to laugh

Think positive. Everyone has a funny tale or three of Christmas in school. Why not share them under the hashtag #SayYes2Christmas. There’s even a funny side to the volcanic vomiting story!

Stay positive, look after yourself and enjoy the season.