Much about the day-to-day role of educators is about managing immediate demands. The emotional element of the work can sometimes be an afterthought. In our work with children, they often identify the need for adults in school to look after own their health and wellbeing too. Children understand that for them to feel supported, loved and cared for by adults, the adults that support them also need to feel supported, loved and cared for too.
An important part of planning for the re-opening of schools at this time will be to ensure that the staff team have the opportunity to come back together and re-establish ourselves as the secure base that the children and young people are going to need us to be.
“Self-care is something that you always want to do but you don’t always have time for.”– Member of Children’s Parliament, age 10
A place to start is to think about self-care. This will look different for everyone, and only you can identify what works best for you. Self-care can mean looking after yourself in basic ways – all of which might have been affected by your own experience of lockdown. Eating well, sleeping, having routines, moving about, taking breaks, playing and having fun, socialising outside school and having spaces to talk and reflect can all be forms of self-care.
A rights-based and trauma-informed approach to education means acknowledging the impact that working with children (and children’s trauma arising from lockdown) can have on the wellbeing of the adults in school that support them. This calls for:
Awareness: The impact of the emotional elements of working with children, particularly traumatised children, can vary widely from person to person, but recognising that this work can affect our wellbeing is very important.
Talk it Out: A trauma-informed approach to education should include professional supervision and dedicated spaces for reflective practice and de-briefing. Where this is not in place staff can seek out colleagues or teams that can provide informal spaces for reflection and support, while respecting children’s confidentiality.
Boundaries: It can be hard to leave work at work, but good wellbeing is difficult to achieve without clear boundaries between school and home. Part of that can be developing a ritual or routine that signifies the end of a work day, either before you head home, on the way home, or at home. Perhaps write down anything you want to leave at school, or share a quick end of day chat with a colleague who is open to listening. The experience for many of us during lockdown was a feeling that one had to be available all the time, and that the boundaries between ‘work-time’ and ‘home-time’ were increasingly blurred; these boundaries need to be re-established.
Self-care Toolkit: Develop a personal toolkit for when your work is having a negative impact on your wellbeing. This will be different for everyone and should be tailored to what you will be able to integrate into your week. Your toolkit should encourage you to engage in activities that are fun, stimulating or relaxing.
Accountability: Often self-care is the first thing to slip off our to-do lists. Buddying up with somebody, setting respective self-care goals, and checking in on (and politely challenging) each other can help with motivation. Communities of practice can also be used as a space to check in, get support and be held accountable.
To summarise, our top tips:
- Pay attention to how you are feeling.
- Recognise the impact of your work on your wellbeing.
- Connect with other people.
- Find an ‘accountability buddy’.
- Share your feelings and experiences, while respecting children’s confidentiality.
- Establish boundaries between work and home.
- Create a personal self-care toolkit.
It’s important to note that self-care is only one piece of the puzzle, and individuals can only go so far in protecting and promoting their own wellbeing.
To support the wellbeing and recovery of children over the coming weeks and months, staff wellbeing must be a priority for schools.
Barnardo’s Scotland have done work on the support needs of education staff. The reports below are part of a call for a national conversation about the support available for the mental health and wellbeing of teaching staff. Barnardo’s want to see consideration given to the introduction of structures similar to those found in other sectors such as clinical practice, social work and the third sector around professional supervision.
- Discussion Paper from Barnardo’s Scotland on Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of education staff through professional supervision structures (Trauma Informed Schools Paper#1).
- Supervision in Education – Healthier Schools For All – Barnardo’s Scotland report on the use of Professional or Reflective Supervision in Education (Trauma Informed Schools Paper#2).