relationships

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

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The importance of looking after your wellbeing when you work from home

When the UK went into a national lockdown in March of this year, it’s probably fair to say none of us expected the impact would last as long as it has. Now in our second lockdown, we’ve returned to a familiar routine of staying at home and only leaving for essential reasons. As part of this, many of us have returned to our desks at home – if we even returned to the office in the first place.

Although there are numerous reasons we should be taking additional care of our mental wellbeing during this uncertain time, this article will focus on people working from home and the unique set of challenges that brings.

Of course, working from home has been positive. We’ve had more time to spend with our friends and family where possible, or time to prioritise health and exercise. Many of us have also been able to save the money we’d typically be spending on the daily commute.

Indeed, these are key reasons why 44% of workers plan to ask for permanent flexible working arrangements after coronavirus restrictions are fully lifted. The research, from Direct Line, also confirms that the pandemic is making employers think differently about their response to flexible working requests and their office space needs. That could be great news for any employees wanting to make the switch to home working.

But as you might have experienced during either of the lockdowns, there are some drawbacks too. It can be hard to find a balance between work and your home life, for example. It may be tempting to check your emails outside usual hours, or extend the working day. It’s easy to see how work can creep into the time you’re supposed to be spending relaxing or unwinding from the day. This is when it can affect your wellbeing.

And it is something which happened during the lockdown, with ONS data from April 2020 showing that 30.3% of employees at home worked more hours than usual.

With more people than ever potentially working from home, here are some of the ways you can look after your wellbeing:

Create a clear divide

If possible, have a designated space for working. Ideally this would be a room where you can shut the door – to keep out distractions while you’re working and to shut work away at the end of the day. But not everyone has the space to give up an entire room. Instead, you might have dedicated space in a quieter room of the house – somewhere you can tidy your laptop away at the end of the day.

The important thing is a clear divide between when you start your working day and when you finish it. Of course, some days you might do additional hours and this might have been something you did in the office too. But when it becomes a habit, it can affect your wellbeing. You need to be able to switch off in the evenings and have time to yourself.

Use a schedule 

If you need to be strict with yourself, create a schedule for the day. And be detailed – include times for showering and getting ready, as well as when you have a lunch break (away from your desk). Not only does this allow you to schedule in key tasks and meetings, but it ensures you don’t forget about essential day-to-day things you’d do without thinking if you were commuting to the office.

Bad habits are common for home workers, so you’re not alone if you’ve been staying in your pyjamas all day or skipping lunch. But pay attention to these habits and start to do something about them. A schedule is a great way of making you do things daily, turning those bad habits into good ones.

Take regular breaks 

How often do you take breaks when you work from home? In the office, natural opportunities for a small break from your screen occur quite often. Making hot drinks, someone coming over to your desk, bumping into someone else in the corridor or having a catch up after a meeting. Having your colleagues around might also encourage you to have a proper lunch break.

But at home – especially if you’re working alone – you have to create these opportunities to have a break yourself. It’s important for your productivity and to avoid burnout. You must allow yourself to have a break and you shouldn’t feel guilty for it.

Continue exercising and socialising where possible 

Although it’s tricky to predict what will and won’t be allowed at the moment, it is important to keep up exercise and socialising while you’re working from home. Exercise is as important for the mind as it is the body. Typical working from home positions are desk jobs, meaning you’re sedentary for most of the day. Getting up and moving – whether it’s a walk, run, online workout or yoga – is crucial. Some people even ‘walk’ to work by doing a lap around the block before they sit down at their desk.

As for socialising, people have been very creative in how they keep in touch with friends. If you can’t meet up in person yet, do plan some time to catch up with friends on the phone or online. Depending on who you live with, working from home can be quite isolating. You need to create opportunities to talk and socialise with other people.

How do you look after your wellbeing when working from home? Share your suggestions with us.

 

 

Article written for Shawmind by Mark Gray
Mark Gray is a freelance graphic artist and content writer from Berkshire, UK. He enjoys travelling, attending tech conferences, surfing, and gaming. He is also a newbie in the small business world but has big dreams in store for him.

 

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Relationships and Mindfulness in Quarantine

The current times are often described as unprecedented. Most of us have been presented with new experiences and challenges to overcome. It continues to be a time where our limits are tested. Not only does being in lockdown or quarantine challenge us personally, it can also challenge our relationships.

Mindfulness is something often recommended to help people re-engage with the present moment. While everyone has the potential to practice mindfulness, it is something you need to learn to do and keep doing to improve. It can bring awareness and caring into everything we do – so in these troubling times it can not only help us personally, but also in our relationships with others.

Being in a relationship in quarantine

You could have gone into lockdown with your partner, or ended up spending the time apart. Both situations may have their own challenges. If you’re apart, it’s hard to have the same quality time together. Video calls are a lifeline, but they are no substitute for real human contact. Although you miss your partner, you may find it difficult to fully communicate and connect with them.

But if you’re together, spending more time in the same space than ever before, you may end up arguing over little things. It isn’t surprising that difficulties arise as people figure out how to live and work together, perhaps without having the same hobbies and social interactions they would otherwise have outside the home.

How mindfulness could help your relationship  

Relationship problems are always common, and being in quarantine together makes these problems even more likely to occur. The stress and anxiety of dealing with the COVID-19 situation can take its toll on anyone’s mood, and this can easily create a tense atmosphere.

Mood swings already occur alongside mental health problems, and hormone imbalances such as low testosterone can also contribute to this. The stress of COVID-19 is likely to bring these symptoms to the surface, and make them even more intense.

You need a way to communicate and try to understand each other, including why the same disagreements keep happening. It’s not about “who’s right and who’s wrong”. It’s about understanding behaviour patterns, and influencing them for the better.

Whether these problems are new to your relationship or you feel at your wit’s end, mindfulness could help – especially during these challenging times – for the following reasons:

  • It helps us to be more attentive. With a focus on being in the present, mindfulness helps tackle the problem of being distracted – by phones, emails and so on. You learn to redirect attention to the current moment. That can really help partners listen to one another and feel more connected.
  • It can reduce your negative emotional reactivity. According to Psychology Today, studies have shown that practicing mindfulness for eight to ten weeks can change the brain’s regulation areas. It reduces the part which can send the brain into ‘fight or flight’ mode and inevitably cause problems.
  • It enhances self-awareness. When we spend more time in the present, we can learn about ourselves and observe our thoughts. It can help us identify earlier if we’re tempted to act out in unhealthy ways and then restrain this impulsive behavior.

Tips for mindfulness

The great thing about mindfulness is anyone can do it. It doesn’t require any special skills, or knowledge. Anyone can become a master!

You can do it while you’re eating, when you’re on a walk, or even just sitting still. To start practicing mindful meditation, sit quietly and focus on your breath. Begin to notice your thoughts, any feelings in your body and the things you can hear around you.

The idea is to focus back to the present if you notice your mind starts to wander elsewhere.

However you decide to start being mindful, the following principles apply:

  • Pay attention to how you feel – both physically and mentally
  • Accept those feelings, without judgement
  • Choose to return to the present when your mind wanders

Remember to always be kind to yourself. It’s natural for your mind to wander or distractions to take your attention away. You just have to learn to accept, observe and return. If you and your partner dedicate time each week to practicing mindfulness, you could start to see the rewards in the time you spend together as you become more aware, understanding and empathetic.

Mark Gray is a freelance graphic artist and content writer from Berkshire, UK. He enjoys travelling, attending tech conferences, surfing, and gaming. He is also a newbie in the small business world but has big dreams in store for him.

 

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