'To whoever needs to hear it – yes, you're good enough'

Teachers need to be kinder to themselves - and recognise that we're all remote-learning NQTs, says Paul Gardner

Paul Gardner

Teacher wellbeing: Don't doubt that your delivery of online learning is good enough, says Paul Gardner

The pandemic has been pretty brutal on teachers.

We've had to get used to an entirely new way of working while trying to maintain the old way of life for our students.

It has felt at times like an almost impossible task and yet teachers have continually risen to the occasion, exceeding even the highest standards to which we hold ourselves to account.

Bearing this in mind, it's heartbreaking when you hear teachers reflecting on their own teaching during the pandemic.

A sense that "it isn't good enough" and they "could do more" and "I could do better" seems pervasive – which is upsetting.

Online learning: We're all digital NQTs

In my school, we've been really clear with teachers from day one that while we, of course, want the best for our students, we are all "digital NQTs" and need to be treated with the same levels of kindness that comes with being an NQT.

This is in no way meant to be patronising or dismissive of what staff are capable of, as some of the things staff are able to do in digital teaching are truly transformational.

Instead, this is meant to help teachers think about the way they think of themselves and treat themselves with kindness.

A while ago, when I was chatting with a colleague and being particularly critical of myself when reflecting on a situation that had occurred, I said to myself in my head: "That simply isn't good enough", "you aren't capable of doing this properly", "get a grip of yourself" and "you aren’t as good as others".

They asked me if I would allow anybody else to talk to me in the manner that I talked to myself in my head.

I can't think of a single situation in which I would think that this would be acceptable to talk to a colleague in that manner about their practice.

So why on earth would we allow the voices in our heads to be so critical?

Teachers wellbeing: Being kinder to ourselves

The reality is that it is because we haven't trained our brains to be kind to ourselves; we have trained our brains to help us survive in a difficult environment.

We are an incredibly reflective profession, one that puts up with a lot of external criticism and is subjected to a high degree of accountability on an annual basis.

One of the consequences of this is that we are naturally inclined to look at where we aren't performing well, not where we are. By doing this, we can understand where we might fall down and mitigate the risks of this happening.

It really makes sense that we do this given the usual circumstances, but the past year has been nothing close to normal and we can't for one minute expect the same things from ourselves that we used to.

It's simply not possible to perform to the levels that we do on a day-to-day basis in normal pre-Covid life.

We are learning again

In the physical classroom, we are experienced experts looking to simply refine our already excellent practice. This isn’t the case in the digital classroom.

I know of many teachers who are working all hours to try and provide the same level of experience for students in the digital classroom and they're doing an incredible job.

Yet their reflection is that "they can do more", "it isn't good enough" and "they have to improve" for the sake of the students.

I want to tell you that what you're doing is good enough. I want you to know that you can only do what you are capable of doing in this environment, and that's good enough.

I want you to know that the lengths to which you have gone during this cruel and historic crisis have been exceptional and you have done enough.

Advice for everyone

The main thing I want to tell you is to be kinder to yourself.

I know there will be many people who will be reading these words right now and because of the type of people they are, they will be thinking that this does not apply to me – "I can do more" and "I can do better".

I want you to know that you are exactly the person that I am speaking to. As a senior leader, I have seen in schools the lengths to which teachers have gone to for their pupils and the levels of burnout from staff and personal sacrifice, the likes of which I have not seen before.

You are the reason that this has worked and in years to come students will look back at this horrible time and will think back with positivity on the role you played.

You might well be the only positive thing when they look back on from this time.

If that isn’t good enough, then I don’t know what is.

Paul Gardner is secondary school deputy headteacher at Deira International School, Dubai. He tweets at @DubaiDeputy

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