When the new normal is change, how can we as teachers sustain ourselves and be there for our students in the best way possible?
In Melbourne, we’ve had to endure a second lockdown, which has meant that teachers are once again engaging in online teaching for students up to senior levels.
This time we have new challenges, such as catering to teaching seniors onsite while delivering online learning to all other students.
The only predictable thing for us all is unpredictability.
The hope is that this will be short-lived, but it could well be the case that teachers around the world experience this switch from being back in school and then being under lockdown again.
It would be understandable if anxiety and stress was heightened in these times. Here are five reflections on how to promote wellbeing as uncertainty becomes the norm, from someone who is going through this.
1. Three deep breaths
Teachers are doing more than ever at the moment: delivering online classes, then helping their own children with their online learning. Cognitively speaking, your brain must continually do complex neurogymnastics with a half-pike round-off twist (and nail the landing).
This is often called code switching, and it’s your brain’s ability to jump between those focal points without carrying over any issues from the previous task.
It takes three slow breaths in between each task (or sometimes one, time allowing) to reset yourself and be present with your next task.
This is advice that all teachers would benefit from.
2. Progress, not perfection
There is no such thing as perfection in teaching so be kind to yourself, reflect on your strengths as an educator and build confidence around that.
No one teacher is nailing every part of their job, so get help where you need it and support your colleagues with the things you are strong at.
Keep the focus on progress, not perfection, and take time to appreciate your own successes from time to time.
3. Accept what you can’t control
This situation is beyond anyone’s direct control. Yes, it’s stressful and strange, but on an individual level there are many issues that can almost certainly be let go, dropped completely or reassessed at a later time.
Inflexible thinking that rigidly adheres to a certain outcome or expectation often leads to frustration, anger and anxiety.
Now more than ever in teaching, we must be mindful of what issues we can control, and what we can let go of.
4. Self-care is not selfish
Teaching is all about relationships, but how can we support our students either online or in person if we are struggling ourselves?
The fact is, you cannot build solid connections with your students if you aren’t coping personally and/or professionally. Self-care is a must:
- List the things that build you up, from playing music, exercise, catch-ups with friends and family – whatever fills your cup mentally and physically.
- Be aware of how much you are prioritising those sustaining things in your life. Often when the pressure is on, those things are the first to go, but they really are needed now more than ever.
- Set aside and stick with self-care time, whatever it happens to be for you as an individual. Do it regularly because you can’t be there for your students if you can’t be there for yourself. As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
5. Embrace your creativity
The core of most things you do as a teacher is all about your secret superpower: creativity.
It enables you to learn how to deliver great online lessons with your students, how to connect with them and maintain their learning support and growth in these challenging times.
Be brave with your creativity and take risks in developing new learning opportunities – especially by working with your pupils and colleagues to do this.
After all, evidence indicates that people with strong social and professional support structures are highly resilient during times of great change and challenge.
If nothing else, all teachers should remember that this too shall pass.
Tony Vallance is a STEAM teacher in a Melbourne government school and was named teacher of the year at the Australian Education Awards in 2019