Why We Are Shouting about Wellbeing

In the lead up to @martynreah’s Slow Ed Chat, wellbeing has been top of my ‘this time around’ for the new academic year. Nearly a year ago, I blogged about how #teacher5aday had prompted me to not only slow myself down, but to develop a sense of awareness both inside and outside the classroom (see https://saysmiss.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/teacher5aday-making-each-day-a-prettier-version-of-itself/ ). So, where am I now?

Wellbeing has become more than simply promoting growth and development to students through self-fulfilment, but #teacher5aday centres me to an entirely new approach to my teaching, the way I deal with situations and breaking habits that I was not even conscious to during my previous career. Instead of reacting, I am proactive. Instead of pushing myself to such a point that it brings negative results for not only my health but also to the detriment of others around me, I listen to my body. We hear the term ‘wellbeing’ tossed around so frequently, but how easy is it to truly embed #teacher5aday into our day to day lives? Here is a little insight into how such a simple little mantra has featured within my Autumn term and the significant impact that it has made.

#connect

Twitter seems to have taken a little bit of a back seat for me this term and yet I feel that I have focussed my need to connect a little closer to home. Turning my attention to my school community has not been something that has come as second nature- in the daily bustle of lunchless, breakless school life, it is easy to feel a sense of isolation within school, but due to my new role as Literacy Coordinator, my role if nothing else has demanded that I form relationships with staff across the school. To ensure that all staff felt a sense of buy-in to my Fifty Book Pledge, I personally delivered staff ‘Now Reading’ cards, stopped to talk books with others after reading their cards in classroom windows- emailed recommendations in response to my findings. I visited the library more often to work my way through student recommendations and prompted reading exchanges over email by including my ‘now reading’ within my signature. Remembering a simple yet effective rule from @beingbrilliant, Mr Andy Cope, I go out of my way to say hello to everyone I pass during my school day. Now, both actions may sound rather small and not quite as grand as they could be, but both have had a significant impact upon me. You see, I’ve never been the person that offers up a conversation- the concept was terrifying. Talking to a stranger at a bus stop would have filled me with fear. I’m a changed woman; the straightforward act of connecting with other people, checking in on how they are, how they may be feeling has warmed my day more than I can describe. In the Winter months, twenty ‘mornings’ can be sometimes the best way to warm up your chilly days!

The other thing? Our TV ariel broke five months ago. We’re not replacing it. I enjoy telling people just for the look of pity that I receive in response. We read and talk. It is absolute bliss.

#relax

For anyone that follows my blog, I have been preaching about my ‘no work at home’ rule since my NQT year. It works for some, it is impossible for many not to I know, but it simply doesn’t work for me. My brain refuses to function after 7pm (spot the grammatical errors for proof) and I am at my least accurate and creative when I am that tired. Awesome, you say! Work life balance you say! Hang on there. The additional problem? Your brain switches off but your thoughts do not. Too tired to work but not too tired to think is an all too familiar state of the Autumn term teacher. Make a list? Nah. Doesn’t empty my brain to the point that I can sleep easy, free of crazy dreams about My Deputy Head and I planning to set up a theme park or an evening of grand plans as we get involved in a whole-staff effort to refurbish a haunted house to sell on to unsuspecting first time buyers. I have instead discovered Calm app, a new way for me to switch my brain off in the evening or to centre myself a little in the morning in an attempt to set myself up with a little resilience for the day ahead. Meditation is not for everyone, my previous self included in the mix, but I feel more able to tackle whatever is thrown at me- beyond that, I look forward to the things thrown at me (furniture being the exception to the rule!).

#volunteer

This is the area of #teacher5aday that I always struggled with the most. However, I have discovered that it was simply my perception of the word itself rather than the act that I was having difficulty with. Again, I started to look closer to home to see if I could help others without the expectation of help in return. I now proof read the school bulletin every month for one of the admin team. In the absence of a 2ic this year, I have taken on tasks to ease the workload of the department. I have shared my resources in a timely fashion to aid others’ planning. I have joined a twenty-strong team to share teaching and learning across the school through week-long incentives of non-judgement based observations (more on this later). I have shared the jobs at home. I have helped in small ways to make other people’s lives a little easier at times. And even in sharing all this, it feels a little self-promotional which is I think where I always found the difficulty. Although, sometimes it is the smallest of things that make a difference and in the same way that I have tried to do this, I have also tried to be more aware and appreciative of the small things that others have done for me.

#learn

Piano is still going strong, girls and boys. It is a year on and I know half of many a song. Some weeks, it seems impossible to fit in half an hour of a time-filler that isn’t sat in front of a computer, but after buying myself an old veteran of a piano for home, I have never looked back. I even take pleasure in the sound of playing scales! Nothing calms me more than going through the motions of what is now an well known tune and nothing develops my empathy with students as trying to learn a new one.

I have learned about myself over the last year, in my own capabilities and achievements. I have learned that I am only terrible at speaking in front of others as a result of my own fears and misconception that I am not entitled to know stuff. One of the aspects of teaching that you must face head-on quite early on if you are to progress as a teacher is that you are never done. I realised this some time ago, but it is only in my third year that I am truly accepting of the fact that I am always exposed to the possibility that things can be smarter, slicker, better. To open yourself up to the concept of being always-learning, without a standing point or moment of true mastery is both terrifying and liberating but I can honestly say, I have never looked back.

#exercise

Now here, we have a stile in our path (I love a metaphor, obviously). After falling on the postman in the Summer, my ankle withdrew my ability to run on a regular basis and I struggled to find an alternative that left me with the same sense of satisfaction. so instead, I looked to improving the quality of my diet and how this could impact upon my sense of wellbeing overall. I bought @madeleine_shaw_‘s book, ‘Get the Glow,’ read the first few pages about quitting sugar, chuckled and then flicked through to a recipe or two that I would like to try. Now whilst I am far from kicking the sugar drug, I have managed to stick to honey in my coffee and my breakfast is now entirely vegetable based from the fruit bars that punched me into life in the morning. Swapping vegetable oil for coconut oil when cooking(also fab for hands, hair, face!) , spending Saturday afternoons whipping up thai soup much to the delight of a previously fussy child, including ‘superfoods’ such as chia seeds and fennel within my meals, or scattering pomegranate seeds on top of stir fries (much to the confusion of my partner) have all made me feel a little healthier. Whether this is simply down to the fact that I get to switch off in the kitchen, or that my body is eternally grateful in Winter for something that isn’t a potato I don’t know, but this is the first Autumn in a long time that I have not been ill. Not even a sniffle. I take that as a win.

This is all well and good……. but what does it have to do with teaching? Pedagogy? Improving wellbeing within our schools? Because, to put it simply-which is the driving force behind improving wellbeing- starting with people is the key. You cannot drive a concept without the small acts. It is the kindness of others, the act of humanity that drives a, ‘ghost of an idea’ as Dickens whispered with his tongue in his cheek. It is simply that I am a better person for reflecting on my own wellness. In turn, this means that I improve the wellness of others. In turn, this improves the wellness of others beyond the others that I connected with. There is such little need to extend our understanding beyond the straightforward. Steve Jobs stated,

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

It really is just that. Wellbeing is the simplicity that is essential to then move mountains within education.

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