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.

 

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#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.

Help! I’m being judged by my fitness app.

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Fitness trackers and mobile phone fitness apps have a default daily setting of 10000 steps. When the buzz of the phone or the vibration of the wristband starts there is a feeling of great satisfaction of achieving a daily target, especially with time to spare.

Fitness trackers are big business, and many will no doubt find their way into the Christmas stockings of many a busy teacher. Tracker apps are often fitted as standard on many smart phones. We started using one on a mobile phone out of curiosity for how active we were. Like much of what is on a phone it has become a bit of an obsession tracking daily steps, distance and calories burned.

The notion of 10000 steps a day dates back to the preparations for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. As the event approached, pedometers became all the rage. Even now, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare recommends “a daily walk of 8,000 to 10,000 steps”. The UK National Obesity Forum says that a person who walks between 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day qualifies as “moderately active”. The 10000 figure as a round number appears less vague than 7000.

At a reasonable  walking pace however, 10000 steps can be covered in at 100 steps a minute in 100 minutes. 700 minutes of exercise a week. Now that sounds a lot; 11 hours and 40 minutes to be precise. Which busy teacher can spare that amount of time in a week to exercise?

Of further issue is that not all steps are equal, as those of us with partners with less lengthy strides would attest to. 10000 steps will differ for everyone, by stride length, pace, gait and frequency. It is quite possible to cover 10000 steps in the course of a school day if not based in class; accounted for by several trips up the corridor each day, playground duty where patrolling rather than being at a central point is the norm and a lunchtime duty on the school field. Classroom based days will produce a considerably smaller step count. A recent day on which the target was hit returned a distance of 9.08 km and a 619 calorie burn for 10651 steps, but when class based 6630 steps , 5.66 km and 398 calories was the result. Were we going to attempt the final 3370 steps? There is a limit to the number of times going up and down stairs can occur without causing great annoyance.

Using a phone based app also requires the phone to be on your person. Does anyone honestly take their phone to bed with them and then on each trip to the loo during the night? If your phone is locked away, tucked in a coat or bag, steps taken won’t count. Not a problem those with a wristband device have.

10000 steps could be achieved daily, but at a push. Are we in danger of relying on these devices to judge our fitness? 10000 steps in bursts of 500 isn’t going to impact on fitness. 10000 in one stretch will, but so would swimming, trampolining, any team sport or a fitness DVD, unlikely to be accompanied by one’s phone.

A slightly depressing addition is how some apps would appear to judge us. During one week where an average of 9000 steps was walked but the daily target not breached the message ‘So: last week was a bit rough!‘ appeared. ‘You were active only for 89 minutes yesterday; why not aim for 99 minutes today‘.

In recent months, an app available on an internationally popular brand of phone launched a monthly international challenge. The aim is to reach a monthly target of 200000 steps to achieve a badge. Not unreasonable, and actually much less than 10000 steps a day. Imagine the consternation at Healthy Toolkit HQ when it was discovered that several people had hit that target before lunchtime on day one and by the end of the month were posting totals over 7 million steps. Over 230000 steps a day? That’s 15000 for each walking hour or two marathons in a day. Some cheating no doubt, placing the phone on a vibrating plate. The core lesson here needs to be not to look at the leaderboard; it’s hardly the Olympic Medal table after all.

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The 10000 steps target is a nice round number, but remember it can be achieved without exercise. We did 10000 steps at BETT last year, testament only to the size of EXCEL, not to a fitness regime. In determining our exercise routine as busy teachers, whilst the 10000 steps represents a measurable target, remember that snaffling that last chocolate biscuit could undo the day’s work, and that other more effective ways of maintaining our fitness exist, alongside a healthy diet and crucially a sound work-life balance.

#DetoxDecemberHT: Revisited,Rebooted and Revised

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Last Advent we launched #DetoxDecemberHT and much as we did with November we have revisited our previous blog, selected a few prime cuts and added a few more choices and suggestions for the run to the Festive Season. The original post can be found here https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/11/28/detox-december/

Many of the responses to the hashtag a year ago drew upon our slightly unconventional approach to the definition of ‘detox’

” ‘Detox’ is one of those words which through slang and ‘text speak’ has been abbreviated from its original spelling. As a noun, detoxification is a process or period of time in which one abstains from or rids the body of toxic or unhealthy substances. As a verb, to detoxify means to be actively involved in abstinence or expulsion of toxins. We normally associate detoxification with diet, alcohol or medication, but as we shall explore further, there are other aspects to our professional and personal lives to which the principles of detoxification can apply.”

This was last years eleven point plan to a detoxified December.

  1. Eat healthily.
  2. Drink more water.
  3. Drink fruit and herbal teas.
  4. Cut down or cut out the alcohol.
  5. Make positive connections.
  6. Exercise.
  7. Prioritise
  8. Meditate.
  9. Declutter.
  10. Reconnect with your inner child.
  11. Have a social media detox.

We can all make decisions about detoxing our diet and particularly with what is regarded as ‘stodge season’ on the horizon, healthy choices for lunches and dinners can maintain energy, boost immunity and keep the additional pounds at bay. Likewise the choices with alcohol can also impact upon wellbeing and weight; in the commercial and financial sectors, Christmas social occasions will start on 1st December and run to the new year. Consider the impact upon the vital organs as well as the purse-strings. Is anyone up to the challenge of going alcohol free from 1st December to Christmas Eve.

Last year’s piece included our thoughts on alternative drinks. This year we have discovered some interesting infusions; turmeric tea, liquorice and peppermint, a range of incarnations and flavourings of green tea.

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“The spirit of #DetoxDecemberHT lies in more than simply a change in dietary habits for teachers. If we examine our lifestyles as a whole we can identify other means to bring a more positive tone to our lives at a challenging time of the school year.”

Have you tried a Digital Detox? One day a week. No tweeting, no checking Twitter. No checking your phone ‘for the football results’. Just yesterday as we were picking a parcel from the sorting office, the polite notice not to use phones in the queue was ignored by 75% of those waiting. Can we avoid Facebook, YouTube, emails and texts and maybe just talk?

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“Making positive connections with people is a way to engage the grey matter, broaden our social circle and find new interests. This may be through social media which can enable like-minded individuals to connect in a positive manner.”

How do we really connect? Do you actually connect with your colleagues? Are your conversations about them, or are they about you? Why not file your ego and take up the Reverse Advent Calendar challenge?

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We ran Reverse Advent Calendars in our schools last Advent, with the local Food Bank benefiting from the generosity of our children and parents, and all of us at Healthy Toolkit HQ are creating our own this year.

For the #DetoxDecemberHT #ReverseAdventCalendar we suggest that each day has a random act of positivity, some of which may be actions in school and others in your community. We will post a suggestion each day but these could include: taking a playground duty for a colleague and not expecting cover in return; making lunch for one or all of your team- unannounced; leaving a note of appreciation on the desk, computer or in the pigeonhole of someone you haven’t really communicated with this term; buying a few extra Christmas items at the supermarket and dropping them in the Food Bank collection point.

Positivity is infectious; spread it and the school is a happier place. Detox your December with positive vibes!

 

School Wellbeing: a multi-sided dice, not a loaded one

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In ‘Guys and Dolls‘ Sky Masterson wins a dice game having trumped an attempt to play with fixed dice. Loaded dice will be familiar from many films with a scene set in a casino and in literature, Luke Rhinehart’s ‘The Dice Man‘,has the key protagonist, bored and unfulfilled, making life decisions on the roll of a dice.

Wellbeing on the other hand isn’t a gamble, shouldn’t be down to luck and must not be loaded in the favour of any interested party. As we have written before, putting wellbeing into practice requires dedication  and a commitment, personally and professionally, to strong core values.

Working in a team has its challenges, with a diversity of skills, ages, experiences, opinions and attitudes. Interpersonal skills used effectively can enable the staff to forge effective relationships and work together as a team. The loaded dice, the ‘spanner in the works’, arises when the authentic  dedication to values is undermined by the actions and attitudes of those putting self before team. This may come about as an antagonistic act, but equally likely may arise through force of personality or simply by thoughtlessness.

Wellbeing is for every day and for everyone, but SLT need to set the example, model the good practice and make clear their expectations. In being proactive you need to know your staff: recognise who may be vulnerable to pressures; who doesn’t enjoy the staffroom banter; who has things going on in their lives that add other burdens to their load. SLT need to listen and to talk. Perhaps you may even take up the #TeaAndTalk challenge and differentiate between personal dialogue and staffroom chatter.

Please remember that SLT are human too and have been in class until recently. They often bookend the day at school, handle a lot of flack that never reaches the classroom and also have the often emotionally draining responsibilities related to safeguarding. SLT are equally as entitled to their wellbeing as everyone else in the school.

We need our staff to be well and both physically and mentally able to teach their classes to the best standards possible. Good leadership will guarantee PPA; though it should be set in stone, we know of cases where it has been lost and not returned. Equally those leaders may give additional time for test marking, data entry, report writing and monitoring. Many of the recommendations in the workload review into planning, marking and data management are principled and practical.  It is workload that is likely to take teachers out of the profession, but factors such as support around behaviour also come into play.

In considering their wellbeing all staff also need to consider their colleagues. Nobody can help being ill but the impact of even a day of absence has knock-on implications for those who have to pick up teaching responsibility in addition to other duties. Though you should have your release times guaranteed some loss of it will naturally occur. Time will be paid back by good leaders without the need to ask for it.

 

The only stakeholders entitled to have a slightly more loaded dice for their wellbeing are the children. They are entitled to the best, to be listened to as much as talked to, to have their needs met and to build the social, learning and life skills that make them the values centred young people that contribute to our society. Teach them well, train them well, treat them well; they will repay the care for their wellbeing by the shedload.

In rolling the wellbeing dice, we need to ensure that it can fall equally on each side. Each of us needs to play fair and add equal weight to the care of each other and ourselves. The biggest impact on wellbeing is when individuality comes first; if we complain loudly and inappropriately, if we drain the energy of our colleagues through negative attitude or workload contribution. Part of #NurtureNovemberHT is #NoNegativityNovember HT https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/10/29/nurturenovemberht-revisited-rebooted-and-refreshed/

So let’s keep positive and play fair!