With the new year, the majority of people set goals to do more, be more energetic and efficient. However, with the pressure of the work environment and workload, teachers can find it hard to live up to their own expectations. A study by Peta Stapleton, associate professor in psychology at Bond University, this year revealed that over half of Australian teachers suffer from anxiety – which is much higher than the national average.
We asked one of our experts in education, Kirsten Hayward, Category Manager for Educational Supplies for some advice on how teachers can come back to a new school year, and in addition to focusing on their own wellbeing, also create a healthy environment in the classroom.
Start the year with reflection
“Sometimes it’s when you come back from a break that reflection makes the most sense. The school year can be intense, and reflection is a good way to start the year,” Kirsten says. Reflection can be a good way for teachers to not only take care of themselves but continuously keep developing new and better ways of teaching.
A study by Harvard Business School Processor Francesca Gino suggests in her research that those who reflect on their problem-solving feel more competent and effective. She suggests in her study that when we stop, reflect and think about learning, we feel a greater confidence in our capability and performance.
Setting teachers up with the right tools and environment to effectively reflect doesn’t have to be a big investment. To enable reflection, all you need is a quiet, comfortable space, a cup of tea or refreshments, and stationery. Something to jot down those thoughts!
Planning is an essential part of teaching and tends to make the overall course of the year a lot smoother. Planning can also help teachers who might experience nervousness when teaching for the first time or meeting a new group of students.
Having a broad plan can also help in emergencies and a teacher needs to go on leave. One key to saving time is to work off lesson plans from the previous year, and instead of starting from scratch, make necessary adjustments.
Teachers should set goals for the year and work through different possible ways in which essential material will be taught and what new approaches might be implemented for the coming year.
Schools can organise for this to be done in small groups or set teachers up with a space where they can think creatively, and mindmap their thoughts and goals. Whiteboards, post-its and flip charts are great to capture this.
Set up a welcoming environment for students
The new year can also be a stressful time for students. Research by Maurice Elias, Michael Gara and Michael Ubriaco from Rutgers University shows children’s transition to secondary school can be considerably stress-inducing. A few sources of stress can be familiarising themselves with new environments, routines and class mates.
“Something I really recommend for teachers and school personnel this year is to read the One Step Ahead toolkit as it focuses on the mental health and wellbeing of students. There’s one for primary and secondary school teachers and one for early childhood educators and children. We developed these in collaboration with Dr Stephen Carbone and Dr Luke Martin from Prevention United and contain great advice and practical tips,” Kirsten says.
“One tip in the One Step Ahead toolkit is to have a ten-minute meeting with every student in your class to make them feel welcome. During this time, try to learn as much as possible and aim to know four or five things about every child. This can work as conversation starters throughout the year,” added Kirsten.
For schools, introducing a buddy system or a buddy roster could also be a good way of ensuring that new students develop relationships and are encouraged to interact with different friendship groups.
“Kitting out the classroom is also a part of making students feel welcome. I love the Elizabeth Richards range. It’s a fun and colourful way of organising the space, and with simple things like labels and stickers, the students can personalise their folders or boxes and make it their own,” explained Kirsten.
Plan to incorporate wellbeing activities
Even though your school might not have a formalised mental health and wellbeing plan in place, there are multiple activities that can be incorporated into the classroom.
One idea is to do a weekly activity in the classroom that focuses on wellbeing – this could be to practice slow breathing, meditation or writing in a gratitude journal.
Kirsten says that art and craft is a powerful way of helping children to recognise their emotions. “What we have seen working is getting students to draw their emotions and using colours to express themselves. What is important to keep in mind when doing this activity is that children need to start from a blank paper, as studies have shown that simply copying, tracing or colouring in, has less effect.”
Another way of focusing on the positives is to provide new and creative challenges for students. “I’m a big fan of our STEAM range, it has so many applications – not just for developing valuable skills but to teach children that problems can be solved in so many different ways and everyone’s ideas matter. This is fantastic for building self-esteem and sense of belonging,” Kirsten says.
Look after each other, in the classroom and in the staff room
“It’s important to look out for the signs of stress. Being an educator is a demanding job and you have a lot of responsibility for the wellbeing and development of the children. Teachers need to stick together and check in with each other,” added Kirsten.
For schools, it’s important to also have the right policies in place to support and promote staff wellbeing. Regularly communicating about the impact of self-care and offering opportunities to take part in healthy initiatives such as morning yoga classes, healthy morning and afternoon teas and wellbeing classes can be inexpensive yet powerful ways to ensure that teachers take care.
Having the right support and services in place for staff who might need additional support from time to time is crucial to having a team of teachers who are healthy and well equipped to support students.
For more information about, and to download our free One Step Ahead toolkits, visit: https://www.winc.com.au/services/healthy-mindful-minds/.