Wellbeing

Children and teachers must be given the opportunity to tell their stories…

After a second period of Covid lockdown, seeing children being educated at home and online for nearing 3 months, schools began to unlock on Monday 8th March.  Of course, schools have remained open to support the learning of vulnerable children and children of key workers throughout both lockdowns, but it is the return of all children to school that has caused concern amongst the teaching profession and reminders of the previous return to school potentially being the catalyst for a spiralling of Covid cases nationally.

This unlocking of schools has been paralleled with repeated rhetoric from the DfE and the Secretary of State about just how vital it is that children ‘catch up’ on missed learning with the notion that children are falling behind being a key driver for the wider opening of schools and a simultaneous refusal to budge on the idea that teachers should be vaccinated ahead of the unlocking of schools. Such activity and discourse leading to media headlines social media discourse around the safety of children returning en masse to their school settings and no doubt increased anxiety and concern for children, parents and teachers alike for a variety of reasons.

The rush for children to ‘catch up’ has led to schools receiving money from the DfE (note this is not significant and is less than the loss many schools have suffered in the movement of the funding window for Pupil Premium) to pay for additional tutoring for children to make sure they catch up as soon as possible has been mirrored by schools spending time to devise and share a new ‘catch-up curriculum’, assessing newly formed gaps and re-arranging their curricular to plug these gaps.  A new requirement exists to share such approaches on the school website!

Something that has been missing from these messages is who are the children trying to catch up with?  Surely, if everyone is behind then there is no one in front?  This is something that the DfE seems to misunderstand.

The push for a catch up totally misses the point and shows a distinct lack of understanding about how children develop and learn.  It is an indisputable fact that children have been away from school for a long time over the past year, and that this will result in them being unable to be taught the content of the curriculum at the pace at which teachers have to march through it.  But to focus on academic catch up is not an immediate priority, we would argue, and we are sure that many school teachers and leaders would agree, that re-socialisation and re-integration into the school community is the most important focus.

Children have been away from friends and teachers for a significant amount of time, with some not being able to engage face to face with anyone of their age range at all.  They need to get used to doing this once again.  Teachers may find that the children returning to school are not the same children as those who left for their Christmas holidays.  Each child has had a unique experience of lockdown; some more positive than others.  Children will be returning to school with differing needs, be physically different having potentially lacked exercise and movement over the time at home, with some often not getting out of bed or off the sofa for hours on end and may struggle to sit at a desk for long periods of time initially.  Some children will have suffered illness, trauma and bereavement during their time in lockdown in a variety of situations and circumstances with such experiences increasing levels of anxiety and negative mental health.

Wellbeing and mental health are the first priorities upon the children’s return, academic catch up is secondary to this.  Making time and creating space for children to tell their stories is vital. There are many stories and these should be allowed, and encouraged to be told as part of children’s coming to terms with their experiences.

Of course, it is not only the children who will return to school with stories and experiences. The teachers themselves will have had their own lockdown experiences to deal with: challenging working spaces, home schooling, illness, bereavement…. all having an impact on teacher mental health and wellbeing. It is the role of school leaders to make spaces and time available to hear the stories of their staff and support them as they transition back to whole class teaching in the continuing pandemic situation, still many being unvaccinated.

But in the telling of these stories, teachers and school leaders must refrain from seeing just the negative impacts of the lockdown on their children and explore and celebrate the positives, of which there are quite a few.  Many children have had the opportunity of enjoying time with their family and re-connecting with parents and siblings.  There are so many photos and posts around children utilising the allowance to exercise by taking walks and bike rides and spending time in nature, something that they often do not make, or have the time for when in school, especially with the dark winter mornings and evenings.  We have seen multiple posts from children and schools around the amazing work that children have been undertaking at home and in their communities; creative projects, arts and cookery, with children learning and developing new skills that will help them as they move forward into their lives.

It is now over to schools to acknowledge the positives that the children bring as well as ensuring that the children’s wellbeing and mental health is supported through ensuring that mental health is threaded through the curriculum and that there are spaces and opportunities to monitor, talk about and support children’s mental health.

It is over to school leaders to ensure that the pressures of academic catch up and reporting does not significantly add to the stresses and workload of a profession already at breaking point.  School leaders must take this opportunity to pause and reflect upon the practices introduced and undertaken during this pandemic and the lockdown periods assessing the elements that were most challenging and need to return to ‘normal’ but also embracing and continuing with the elements and practices that had to be introduced but have seen improvement and benefits to the working lives of teachers and the experiences of the school community.  PPA at home, a significant reduction in the number of meetings, a change in the approach and regularity of lesson observation and monitoring and the possibility of more flexible working.

The teaching profession must seize this moment.  This moment to reflect on the positive changes that they wish to make, the practices that they want to keep and the practice and processes that can improve teacher workload, wellbeing and mental health.

Teachers and leaders must also seize this moment where children have through not being able to attend school, seen the true value of that place called school; not simply as a place to earn ‘stuff’ but the holistic value that school brings to their lives.

Alongside this, we must seize this moment when parents have had first-hand experience of just how challenging teaching children is and parents who have seen how hard teachers work, the knowledge and skills they possess in order to educate our children.

But most of all we must seize this moment to re-align the priorities of our schools to take an honest look at the impact that the dominant education culture and system has had upon the mental health and wellbeing of its children and its teachers.  We have the moment now. We must act on this positively and bravely to keep the momentum going in the right direction.

Catherine Carden is Faculty Director of Learning & Teaching, Canterbury Christchurch University. She writes in her personal capacity.

 

Read more

Let’s improve your mental health awareness…

Mental health awareness is crucial to being able to support your friends, colleagues and relatives during difficult times. Having an awareness of some common mental health challenges and their symptoms enables you to reach out to people in need and reduce the stigma around mental health conversations.

On top of helping others, boosting your mental health awareness can actually help you to look after your own mental health and identify challenges sooner.

Mental Health Literacy

The first step to boosting your mental health awareness is to access all the literacy you can. At Shawmind, we’ve created many mental health guides for different groups of people and mental health challenges, including:

You can search for more mental health guides on our website, and also read individual mental health stories and get quick mental health tips in our blog.

Publishing company Trigger has a wide selection of mental health books that can help you improve your mental health awareness and support you with the challenges you’re facing.

Tip: Follow mental health organisations and ambassadors on social media to get advice and support straight in your feed without having to go looking for it.

Early Mental Health Support

When you first become aware of mental health challenges in your life, there are a range of low-commitment support options that you can explore – knowing what these are and how they can help makes tackling your mental health much less daunting.

Talking about your mental health challenge with someone is one of the simplest ways to start. We offer different ways that people can talk with trained volunteers who can provide advice, lend a kind ear and even signpost professional services if needed. These include:

Helplines are offered by many mental health organisations that you can text or call 24/7 to discuss any problem you’re facing without judgement. Find a mental health helpline.

Mental health first aiders are individuals in the workplace who have been trained to support you with mental health challenges you may be facing before a professional mental health specialist is contacted. You can go to a mental health first aider to discuss how you’re feeling during work hours and with someone who can provide recommendations based on an understanding of how the company works.

Accessing mental health support without a diagnosis

If you require professional mental health support, you can access a lot of it without needing an official diagnosis of a mental health disorder. Many organisations offer support services that only require a self-referral e.g. NHS talking therapies. Reach out to your preferred mental health service to find out if they accept self-referrals.

How to get a mental health diagnosis

You can struggle with mental health and access support without an official diagnosis – your challenges and feelings are just as valid as anyone else’s. Acknowledging this is a huge part of improving mental health awareness in yourself and others.

However, in some instances, a mental health diagnosis will help you to identify the best treatment options, triggers and potential risks in the future.

You can receive a mental health diagnosis from your GP for more common mental health problems like anxiety and depression after a couple of visits – however, in more complex cases they may refer you to a mental health specialist to receive a diagnosis.

 

It is more than likely that everyone will struggle with mental health at some point in their life. For some, this may be more severe than others – however, by increasing your own awareness you’ll be in a better position to get the support you or those you know need.

Follow us on social media or sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date with our mental health advice, events and campaigns.

Read more

Why mental health first aid is important

Why do businesses need mental health first aid?

It is estimated that about 1 in 4 people experience poor mental health during their working life. Everything from stress to clinical depression impacts how employees perform at work with poor mental health costing the UK economy up to £70bn each year.

In 2019/2020 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health, according to the HSE’s Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain report 2020.

Even with a designated mental health representative in a business, it can be hard for employees to feel comfortable discussing their problems – with 89% of people not telling their employees about mental health struggles and half still going to work while feeling suicidal. (Source)

What does a mental health first aider do?

A mental health first aider acts as the first point of contact for any employees who want to discuss their mental health. The mental health first aider can provide advice and support in a confidential, non-judgemental way before a professional mental health specialist is contacted (always with the person’s permission).

Not everyone wants to talk to a therapist if they’re feeling temporarily overwhelmed at work – a mental health first aider is an accessible low-commitment route for employees to get some guidance and prevent a build-up of emotions and stress that can lead to a larger mental health problem.

While some employees may have a colleague they feel comfortable confiding in, for more severe mental health concerns these untrained colleagues can struggle to provide advice and signpost appropriate support. Mental health first aiders are trained to know which organisations and services will be most suitable for each condition.

As well as being trained to talk to employees who reach out, mental health first aiders are also provided with the training to spot when someone in the business may be struggling with their mental health but not voicing it. This enables the first aider to make the first move and provide support to those employees who are struggling.
A mental health first aider can also help business leaders make their organisations more mental health-friendly e.g. identifying when working arrangements may need to change.

How a mental health first aider helps businesses

Employees who feel better will perform better. But alongside the improvements to business productivity, having a mental health first aider within your company can improve your brand image, improve staff retention, attract better talent and lead to better investment opportunities.

Businesses who actively look after their employee’s mental health could retain 78% of 18-24-year-olds who leave, 42% of their overall workforce and 25% of their critical staff. (Source)

Mental health awareness has significantly increased over the last few years meaning that the way a company handles employee mental health has a huge impact on the way a business is perceived from the outside. 88% of people take into account business’ mental health and wellbeing strategies when job hunting and 73% of investors analyse a company’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance.

Become a Mental Health First Aider

Sign up to our Mental Health First Aider training, accredited by MHFA England where you will be provided with

  • An extensive understanding of mental health and things that can affect someone’s mental wellbeing
  • Techniques and skills that enable you to identify the signs of various of mental health issues
  • Confidence to reassure and support someone who is in distress
  • Skills to help improve your own listening abilities – e.g. non-judgemental listening
  • Knowledge to signpost individuals to support and resources, e.g. helplines, GP, written information
  • The knowledge and understanding of how to keep yourself safe in your role as MHFA
  • A certificate of completion and MHFA Qualified status
Read more

The Story Behind the Story: Understanding how employees really feel

 

We’ve acknowledged the problem but organisations have not yet had their epiphany. Understanding how to systematically measure and manage intangibles like mental health and social capital will have a dramatic effect on organisational performance.

There has been tremendous progress over the past few years as organisations have become increasingly alive to the importance and impact of wellbeing, culture and internal relationships. However, an article published this week in ‘People Management’ highlighted the disconnect that exists between how HR view their employees state of wellbeing, productivity and morale and how employees really feel about the pandemic.

Read more

We Are In A Mental Health Pandemic Too And We Need To Realise It

The true impact of COVID-19 goes far deeper than the physical effects of the virus. Each day, we see the new horrifying death rate and the many thousands of new cases that have been detected.

But what we don’t see is the number of people who are suffering immensely mentally as a result of the pandemic.

Sure, we have heard the news stories stating that the situation is ‘affecting people’s mental health.’ But like most phrases that are said repeatedly over time, the term ‘mental health issues’ becomes a throwaway statement, background noise. After a while, it stops having meaning when we hear it.

Read more

Teachers’ journey throughout the pandemic

What was going through your head when the first lockdown was announced? I know my first questions were ‘How long will we be in this lockdown for?’ and ‘When will I be able to see my friends again?’ But then I realized there would be some people out there that had a lot worse things to worry about, ‘Will I lose my job?’, ‘Will I be able to pay my rent this month?’, so really, I didn’t have it bad at all. But after hearing about all the children being taken out of the classroom and thrown into online learning, my thinking changed: 

‘What did our teachers have to go through?’ ‘What was is like to be a teacher during the pandemic?’ ‘How did teachers manage their wellbeing during all of this?’

 

When the first lockdown was announced

I personally heard people say negative things about teachers when the first lockdown was announced, but I think those people may have been too quick to judge. We forget sometimes that teachers are human beings just like you and me. Teachers have fears, stresses, anxiety; and they have other family members to take care of too, just like everyone else. They also don’t work the standard 9-5 that people assume they do. They start early in the morning, finish sometimes late into the evening, and even then, they take their worries and stresses about their pupils home with them. For many, teaching is a calling and not just a job.

I spoke with head teacher Kelly MacKay who, in January, was dealing with flooding in her local area, on top of her duties as head teacher of a primary school. Then, shortly after the flooding chaos, she was hit with the lockdown announcement. As head teacher, the first thing Kelly had to do was prepare the staff and parents for the pandemic. Remote learning had to be put in place, parents had to be notified of the changes that would be taking place, at the same time Kelly still had to conduct her normal head teacher duties. 60% of primary school parents across the UK later reported that they were struggling with the remote learning, so getting this system working as smoothly as possible added to the stress and pressure that Kelly, like so many other head teachers, was placed under. Not only that, but also wellbeing training had to be put in place so that the teachers could still do their job effectively and stay well mentally and emotionally. Kelly’s school managed to provide their students with remote learning within one week of the announcement. Amazing!

Switching to remote learning

After speaking with author, part-time lecturer and former head teacher David Gumbrell, I have realized that one positive thing that came from the pandemic for teachers is that the relationships between themselves and other teachers became so much stronger. There was the realization that the connectedness between staff members was what made remote learning work. They had to be resilient and work together as a team to be able to do their jobs successfully.

I think I can speak for most people when I say we all have some sort of routine we each follow day in day out. Having a routine gives us feelings of safety and security. When teachers had to go from face-to-face learning to remote learning, a whole new routine had to be created for themselves and for their students. David came up with a strategy to break up his lectures while still providing work for his students. This was so important because the students were getting the education they needed as well as having breaks in between to support their wellbeing and carry on interactively with their class. Throughout the pandemic it is so important to create strategies and routines. One strategy David kindly shared with me was simple: self-compassion. He informed other teachers that they had to take care of themselves first to be able to help and teach their students successfully. Self-compassion is composed of three parts: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. These three parts mean that you are understanding and kind to yourself, you realize you aren’t the only one that feels pain and then overcoming your pain and suffering through mindfulness. Self-compassion is all about loving yourself through the pain and suffering you are feeling.

Preparation strategy

Many people have some sort of mental health related issue at some point in their lives, and teachers are no exception. So imagine how the pandemic has affected the number of those teachers who might have already been suffering with anxiety and stress for example, before the pandemic. The government provided funding for teachers to help their student’s mental health but, how are teachers supposed to provide their students with help when they themselves are struggling? We need to help our teachers with their wellbeing so that they can help their students – our next generation! It has been proven that children mirror the behaviours of their role models and those they spend a vast majority of their time with; we need our teachers to be happy and mentally & emotionally healthy so that children can mirror their positivity.

Adam Parkes, who specializes in teacher wellbeing kindly shared with me one of his strategies for helping teachers during the pandemic. He told the teachers that he works with to ‘visualize the worst-case scenario’. This may sound counter-intuitive, but everything else that then happens instead will seem like a bonus! And ‘Prepare to test positive for COVID-19.’ By following this advice, teachers could then plan and prepare to work remotely and would already have everything in place to carry on, should COVID strike.

 

Support our teachers

Steve Waters, a former teacher who is now working with schools to create strategies for teacher wellbeing, says that in a recent poll of head teachers in the UK, a staggering 47% said that they were planning to leave their jobs after the pandemic. We were already in need of teachers and the pandemic has now compounded the problem. It has really caused teachers to view their jobs in a completely different light. According to Steve, the way that schools and their results are being inspected during the pandemic really needs to be re-considered as it is driving our teachers to leave their jobs which will then have a massive negative impact on the education of our next generation.

As Adam Parkes said, ‘Don’t let our teachers feel like they are pawns in a game.’ Don’t forget that teachers are just human beings like you and me, they are going through the exact same stresses caused by the pandemic, that you and I may share, on top of giving your children and everyone else’s children the education they need and deserve.

Resilience, self-compassion, connectedness, kindness, flexibility, active listening and expecting the unexpected. These are all things teachers have had to learn and apply to their everyday life whilst still coping with the already-present stresses of the teaching. We need to support our teachers now more than ever!

Shawmind aims to train 151,000 teachers in the basics of mental health support over the next 5 years – you can help us achieve this goal!

 

 

Article written for Shawmind by Angelica Shaw

Read more