As teachers, we spend a great deal of time thinking about our questioning techniques. Do our questions incite curiosity and interest? Are they coherent and open enough that they elicit a thoughtful response?
And when we ask questions in class, we’re aware that there’s a process of trial and error. We don’t write a child off, simply because they gave a poor answer. We reframe what we initially asked, place it in context, use a different tone in our voice. Essentially, we change the questions to elicit a better answer.
So why don’t we afford ourselves the same privilege?
Before we respond to those silent questions that run unchecked through our minds each day, perhaps we should look at the questions themselves.
We might find that things aren’t as hopeless as they seem, but that we just haven’t been asking ourselves the right questions.
Here are three common wellbeing problems where changing the questions you ask yourself can help.
When you’re facing an overwhelming task list…
Rather than asking emotionally-loaded questions like, “How can I possibly get all of this done?” to which there really is no good answer, focus on what’s urgent and important only.
Starting with: “Which task is most urgent?” will help you apply a strategy of "do the worst first" and avoid procrastination-induced panic later on.
Where nothing jumps out, then ask: “Which task is most important in terms of the impact it will have on my students/the school/my work-life balance?”
Still nothing? Try: “Which job, once done, will offer the most relief?” or even, “What do I honestly want to do least?”
Maybe, you know what needs doing but just can’t face doing it. In this case, challenge yourself with: “How can I break this down into smaller steps? Which one of these steps could I persuade myself to start now? Could I offer myself a reward for each small step achieved? Could I spread this out into little manageable chunks throughout the week?”
When you don’t know when to stop…
So you followed this advice – job well done. Time to relax, right?
Sadly, for many, this isn’t the case. For the overachievers amongst us, this surge of positive momentum has us jumping right over the "basking in glory" stage and straight into the next task. We’ll even skip the family meal, TV, workout or that hour we promised ourselves with a good book, asking: “What else can I tick off?”
Productivity is all well and good in its place, but don’t use it to negotiate yourself out of the limited free time you may have. Instead ask: “Is getting this task done really so important that it should come above my health, my relationship, my peace of mind?” or: “How will I feel tonight, or tomorrow, if I don’t take any time to recharge?”
When you stop, but can’t switch off…
OK. You’ve convinced yourself to enjoy some well-earned "down time", and to the couch you go, ready to soak up something completely unrelated to teaching. And you manage it, at least for a few minutes. Until it begins…
“I’m going out on Wednesday evening. When will I get X done? Is the book scrutiny this week? What if my books aren’t good enough? Did I respond to that email from the head?”
When anxiety, guilt and worries creep in, ask yourself: “If I have forgotten something, or made a mistake, what’s the absolute worst that could happen? How would I handle this?” If you’re losing perspective, get it back with this power-puncher: “Will this problem still matter in five years time?”
And finally, when your brain just won’t pipe down, ask: “Can I focus on something else, like my breath, the sounds around me or the feel of my feet on the floor?”
Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions and wellbeing strategies