Kathryn Lovewell’s ten top tips for teachers
Teaching can be an exhausting job but there are moments of pure joy. How can teachers make the most of those? Wellbeing specialist Kathryn Lovewell gives us her tips for staying happy while working as a school teacher.
1 Experience something wonderful every day… and share it
Schools ought to be places of wonder and magic, not drudgery. After all, as a teacher you are facilitating learning and growth. So you need to remember what you find wonderful and magical, whether it is something miraculous from the natural world, some technological marvel, some amazing human feat. Aim to inspire learners with what inspires you.
2 Remember which parts of the job you enjoy
Some of the tasks you undertake in school will bring you pleasure and satisfaction, some will not. Identify which aspects of teaching you love. Look forward to them. Relish them! Notice what you learn from the less inspiring tasks: perseverance; determination; self discipline – all qualities you hope to inspire in your students!
3 Be realistic in your expectations of yourself
Your expectations of yourself determine your view of your professional role. The pressure on you to achieve results is high, regardless of the starting point of your students. Potentially, that can affect your attitude. Make your own expectations realistic; praise yourself where progress or achievement has occurred and give yourself a break when things don’t quite work out the way you’d hoped. Keep your attitude and expectations healthy and balanced.
4 Support your colleagues
Resilient teachers work in supportive and collaborative organisations. A simple yet powerful way you can support your colleagues is by offering authentic praise and constructive feedback. Notice the things a colleague does particularly well. Tell them and replicate their good practice.
5 Treasure the praise you receive
People admire teachers, despite the unsympathetic view taken by the media. It is a complex job. Not only do you teach your subject matter, you also inspire young people, even when they’re disengaged, while managing the emotional wellbeing of your class and yourself! When a parent, colleague or student comments positively on your work, this is high praise. Acknowledge it, receive it and enjoy it!
6 Notice when your colleagues are stressed and take gentle action
When human beings are not coping, there are a few basic behaviours that mean they could need your support.
They hide. When you haven’t seen a colleague in the staffroom for a week, that’s when it’s time to seek them out!
They retreat. One of the biggest signals is rushing. When your colleagues just haven’t got a second to talk, help them slow down.
They put on a mask. In my first school, we used to joke that if a colleague had lots of make-up on, it meant that they were struggling. It was almost like a mask that projected the facade of ‘yes, I’m really together today’. That was a really interesting learning curve for me. I’d say, “Oh, you look wonderful today” and they’d say “Yes, that’s because I’m on my knees!”
7 Communicate compassionately about change
The keys to improving an institution are (i) healthy, supportive communication and (ii) appreciation. Organisational changes are rarely welcomed; they are inconvenient in the short term. If managers consult teachers, explaining why a change will be valuable long-term, the change will be received with less resistance. Understanding leads to appreciation of a different point of view. This develops consideration and compassion for the other party.
8 Keep momentos of professional triumphs
The first form that I ever had was a mixed ability year nine group and almost all of them had quite low self-esteem. The most magical moment was when they presented me with a letter they had written at the end of the year, saying I had inspired them to believe in themselves. I will hold that dear to my heart always.
Later, as an art teacher, I taught a really unhappy year ten boy with a very challenging home life. The breakthrough came when he made a beautiful clay piece and allowed me to photograph him with. He was beaming because he had discovered something he was good at and he recognised his piece was one of the best in the class. He destroyed his work soon after, but I still have the picture.
9 Actively change your state of mind when you go home
Take responsibility for your own needs when you go home. This may mean working concertedly at changing your state of mind after a hard day. Take fresh air, exercise or enjoy a nice, hot bath. By doing something that feeds your heart, you equip yourself to let go of all of your anxiety, so you can start the next day fresh.
10 Act early to seek professional support if something worries you
Teachers must be socially and emotionally competent; emotionally and mentally resilient. To achieve and maintain this, they must get support as soon as they become aware of any problem that may become out of control.
Teaching is an emotional rollercoaster and they don’t teach newly trained teachers how to manage their wellbeing. So, many teachers don’t know how to deal with the personal consequences of encountering a student who is suicidal, for instance, nor how to cope with a student who hates themselves so much, they stop eating. These things bring feelings of powerlessness and the school structure doesn’t provide space to address this. Some teachers know that many of their students go home to violence. That is a huge thing for a teacher to cope with, never mind the pressures of exams, league tables and the criticism about teachers in the media.
That is why Teacher Support Network is so important. It is an independent agency that knows what you’re talking about and has the resources to help you.
I wish I had known about Teacher Support Network when I started teaching! It is vital.
Kathryn Lovewell’s book Every Teacher Matters is on sale now at Amazon