How to keep your head above water as summer approaches

The last part of the summer term is stressful because everyone's getting tired – here's Susan Ward's survival guide

Teachers must try to slow down as the summer holiday approaches, writes Susan Ward

My youngest daughter is making good progress in her weekly swimming lessons. So much so that she often attempts to pass on her new skills and knowledge to me, a resolute and lifelong doggy-paddler. Last week’s lesson was on the breaststroke and she told me that, as I do the movements with my body, I should say to myself, “Pull, breathe, kick, glide.”

And that’s where I got the mantra that’s going to get me to the end of term in one piece. Here’s it is:

Pull together in your head all the amazing things that have happened this session. Turn your work notebook back to the beginning and leaf through, looking at how far you have come. Some pages will be covered in furious scribbled notes as you planned something exciting. Others will be covered in doodles from when you sat through a tedious meeting. There will be abandoned ideas and mistakes and to-do lists galore. At least one page will be dog-eared and coffee-stained as you worried about a problem, eventually finding a solution that works for you. The point is to notice what you have achieved and how you have learned and improved – just like you do with the children in your care.


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Gliding gracefully towards the end of term

Breathe because you’d be surprised how many teachers and school leaders forget. Especially during the last six weeks of term. Remember that this job is vast and ferocious and it will eat you up if you let it. You are bone-tired yet full of nervous energy. You are not sleeping properly, can’t relax or switch off, and you almost definitely have the most irritating assembly song in the world stuck on constant repeat in your head. In school, children are tired, too, and the merry-go-round of school fairs, report cards, shows, sports days and gala days do nothing to quell their growing excitement and jitteriness that school is nearly over. Tired teachers plus overwhelmed children is not a good combination and tempers can fray. Situations you had the strength and courage to de-escalate in September can quickly explode in June, so give yourself and your children a break. Breathe deep and long, keep yourself steady and calm, and remember that everyone around you is tired, too – so get through it together with as much grace and kindness as you can muster.

Kick hard for the finish line. This is when you must get your ducks in a row and get through what’s important before term runs out. But choose carefully – laminating is rarely an important enough duck to be using up your time and energy. When resources (including your time and sanity) are getting scarce, you need to conserve as much as possible and focus on what matters. Do a great handover to the next teacher, and give them the inside track so that your children have a flying start next session. Sort out your paperwork. I know, I know, but seriously, just do it. Deal with the drawer where you have been shoving stuff to look at "later". Later is now, so get it done and go into the holidays with a clear mind (and a clear desk).

Glide to a gentle stop. If you bullet along like a freight train, it is going to hurt when you run out of track. Slow down a little. Yes, you need to work hard to tie up all those loose ends, but remember, it is you that decided which ducks were going in your row. You decide what’s important and you control what is achieved and at what pace. None of it should be at the expense of you feeling OK. Ever. So make the decision – will you blast across the finish line in a DeLorean, or bop along on a go-kart, deciding when to speed up and slow down to keep your pace steady? You will get to the end of term either way, but only one option will mean you spend the summer pole-axed.

Above all, focus on what matters. Be kind to yourself and those around you, and end the session waving – not drowning.

Susan Ward is depute headteacher at Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. She tweets @susanward30

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