This week I have been listening to a teacher wellbeing podcaster from Australia, Ellen Ronalds Keene. She has been discussing teacher resilience in a five-day workshop on Facebook. (You can access this here)
I have listened intently to what she has had to say. Ellen speaks about the education system in Australia and her work is aimed at primary and secondary school teachers. However, there is a lot that we can take away for early childhood education teachers in Aotearoa. I would like to share some of my key take-home points with you today, intermingled with my own thoughts and reflections.
Are you a depleted teacher or leader?
In her workshops, Ellen speaks about depleted teachers and the culture that perpetuates the depletedness.
The signs that you are a depleted teacher
Perhaps you might notice some of these signs in yourself or teachers around you (I know that I did).
- Are you exhausted – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually?
- Do you feel that you have to, “soldier on” no matter what and you rarely take time off even if you are sick?
- Are you have trouble switching off at the end of the day?
- Do you have trouble sleeping?
- Do you skip meals, especially breakfast or lunch or both?
- Are you habitually ignore your basic needs?
- Do you find that you don’t go out or do anything fun because you don’t have any energy?
- Are all of your friends other teachers with whom you constantly talk about work to?
- Do you give everything to your work and your own children and family get what is left?
- Are you finding yourself becoming irritable, short-tempered and impatient with the children or other teachers in your centre?
- Do you know that you should exercise or look after yourself better but can’t find the time, the motivation or the energy to do it?
- Are you are constantly wishing it was the weekend so that you can rest?
- Are you consistently putting off your own personal or health or wellbeing goals because of other people or work?
- Do you find that you have lost who you are outside of being a teacher or centre leader?
- Do you find that you can’t remember why you became a teacher in the first place?
Once upon a time, I was a depleted teacher and centre manager too and so I know many of these symptoms really well.
I see depleted teachers and managers all the time in my work.
In fact, with the demands of settling children back into centre life after the holidays or settling new children or families, I am already witnessing depleted teachers. And some teachers have only been back at work for two weeks!
Let’s stop waiting
Teacher wellbeing is a complicated problem and there is not going to be a simple solution. But, I do feel strongly that we need to stop waiting.
The problem of depleted teachers and leaders is not going to go away any time soon.
We cannot afford to wait around for the day that the early education system will change. Or early childhood teachers will get pay parity and things will miraculously be okay.
We can’t afford to wait for the difficult parent or colleague to leave and then things will be better.
Collectively we can’t afford to wait for the teacher shortage to disappear and this will fix all of our problems.
We can’t afford to spend all of our time waiting for the weekend or the holidays to look after ourselves then and expect to thrive.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree that some of these things that should change. However, they are not going to change overnight and we can’t afford to wait. You deserve better and the children in our centres deserve better.
Up until recently, I had been using the following definition for what it means to be resilient:
Resilience does not mean that you won’t feel devastated, hurt or pain or be affected deeply…It is rather your ability to experience the loss or disappointment and then to recover and thrive again.
I do feel that this is still true, however, I have been challenged to think about resilience more like a structural engineer.
To respond to, absorb and adapt to, as well as recover from a difficult event with minimal damages and few disruptions to their effectiveness during the event, as well as be able to rapidly recover to similar or even better than pre-event level.Wikipedia
In other words, when engineers build a bridge or a building they design and build it with disruption, like a flood or an earthquake in mind.
They plan for and design the piece of infrastructure to absorb the disturbing event and to maintain integrity. They also plan for and implement regular maintenance as well as undertaking repairs and strengthening after the event.
Now, doesn’t sound like a skill needed by early childhood teachers in 2020?
Events that can wear down your bridge
We live in the real world. Disruptive things are going to happen.
Professionally, this year you might have ERO visiting your centre. Or you might have a difficult parent. You might not always agree with all of your teammates or your manager. You might have children whose behaviour challenges you or have additional needs.
Personally, this year you might move house, suffer an injury, get sick (or have a family member get sick). Someone close to you might die or you might have a relationship break-up.
All these things can wear down your bridge, so to speak. This is on top of all the daily wear and tear of living life.
So what can we do?
First of all, I want to say if you are being bullied in your workplace. Or if the centre that you are working at is not a good fit for you, then you should leave.
If you feel that you have lost the love for teaching. If you feel that teaching isn’t the place for you anymore, then you should leave.
But, if you do have a passion for teaching and you do want to stay in teaching then there are things that you can do.
A series of realisations
It starts with you and your relationship with yourself.
It starts with the realisation that you are a depleted teacher and challenging how you are treating yourself and allowing others to treat you.
To move yourself off of the “when I get to it” list and back onto the priority list
It starts with a courageous conversation with yourself, forgiving yourself and a commitment to make changes.
It starts with placing equal value on your personal self-maintenance and development as you would for your professional self.
Strengthening and maintaining your structural integrity
I feel that now is the time to change your attitude to self-care from a form of indulgence or “nice to haves”. To start seeing it as vital for strengthening and maintaining your “bridge” so that you have plenty of resources for when it floods. So that one damaging event doesn’t leave you entirely devastated.
It is time to start seeing ourselves as people first and teachers, centre leaders, parents etc second.
If we look after the person the teacher will thrive and the children in our settings and our personal families with flourish because of it.
After all, we teach who we are. The culture around working ourselves into the ground needs to change if we are to prosper as a profession if we want to make a difference for ourselves and our children.
This starts with one person and lots of one person’s creating change together.
You have influence and power to change yourself and to inspire others to do the same.
As a profession, we have influence and power. Just think about what a group of like-minded, passionate individuals can achieve together.
A rising tide lifts all boatsJohn F Kennedy
Tools and resources
In the next few months, I will be blogging about ways that you can do to build your resilience as well as the resilience of our profession.
I will be putting myself and my own bridge-strengthening journey in my private Facebook community – Making Yourself a Priority and giving you resources that you can use to build your structural integrity. Please feel free to join here.
I will also be facilitating workshops throughout the year and in different places around Aotearoa, so keep an eye out on my website or Facebook page for details.
If you would like me to work with your team or you would like some coaching to get yourself on track please feel free to contact me.