Posted on: August 18, 2020
Wellbeing for All Educators
Educator Wellbeing, written in response to the 2020 Global Pandemic, speaks to the long-ignored expectations that Educators live with and the impact on their wellbeing that going above and beyond to serve their students has.
The author of the book, Madhavi Nawana Parker, was kind enough to spend time answering some of the most pressing questions on the wellbeing of educators in our current world. You can find her video response and a transcript of her answer below.
Question 1: Why do you think Educator Wellbeing is so important?
Educators work incredibly hard, don’t they? When you’re engaged in any kind of work but particularly what we see in a day of education, it’s emotionally, physically, and mentally demanding – spending the day with young developing minds who still have their learner’s plates on. Educators really work hard, and so it’s crucial that their wellbeing is a part of their training and also a part of the culture of their workplaces. Our wellbeing lies at the foundation of all our emotional states so when we have healthy wellbeing, we manage our stress better, we enjoy our days better, we get along with others more, and our emotions are much calmer - so wellbeing is essential, not only for educators, but for all people.
Question 2: How can educators ‘check in on their own wellbeing? What are the triggers and worrying signs?
At the end of the day, we have to all be responsible for our wellbeing. We can’t rely on anyone but ourselves to take care of ourselves. Part of getting really good at managing our own wellbeing and maintaining it is learning to check in on a regular basis with how we’re going with things. One tool I really like to share with educators is the ‘mood check in’. What you do is get into the habit each day, as often as you remember to just ask yourself this simple question: “what am I feeling right now?” Once you know what you’re feeling, perhaps ask yourself the next question, which is: “what was I thinking just before there?” Just to give you a little bit more information about the connection between your emotions and the thoughts that occurred before them. That’s a really great way to start checking in with yourself more often, and there are many more tools like that throughout the book.
When looking at triggers – you know, what are the triggers for reduced wellbeing – it’s stress. It’s engaging in highly stressful activities or even in a general level of stress in our day. But also, not knowing what to do with that. So anything that’s difficult that you can’t then process and articulate and move through your mind and body constructively will really reduce your state of wellbeing. Some of the worrying signs that educators need to look out for, that might indication that their wellbeing is at a low are among other things: sleeplessness - so difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep - are often warning signs of high levels of stress and not managing our wellbeing. Other things you might notice are your emotions are a little bit more uncomfortable than usual, so you might be experiencing more sadness or changes in mood or anxiety. The other things you might want to look out for are changes in your lifestyle, so perhaps you aren’t eating well as you usually would or exercising as much as much or socialising as much as you need to. Or you might find yourself eating more than you need to or engaging in unhelpful habits that you do hoping that they’ll manage your stress and help you feel better but in the long-term aren’t so good for you.
Question 3: What simple tools can educators use to build up their resilience and confidence?
There are so many tools for managing our well-being. The first thing that's really important for educators is not to take each day personally. Working with young people is unpredictable, as you all know, and so it doesn't matter how much planning you do, or how experienced you are in your field, or how many strategies you've put together; children vary from one day to the next, the group dynamics change from one day to the next, and their receptiveness to your support varies as well. The first tool is just to be kind to yourself and show yourself self-compassion and understanding that you can't possibly get it right or have the outcomes that you hope for every single time. The next tool is to make sure you focus on what is going well in your work. By nature of being an educator there will be lots of hiccups in your day and because you care so deeply about your students and your work, you might find yourself mulling over those difficulties and keeping your mind really absorbed in all the things that have gone wrong and the things you want to improve or change. While that's important to go over those things, it's important that the majority of what you focus your attention on, particularly as you walk out that door each day, is what has gone well. Even if you can pick three things that went well each day, that's a wonderful gratitude practice that can keep you reminding yourself of all the great work you're doing. An extension of that is to take some time each week to look back over the week and to really celebrate the wins, and to acknowledge just how far you've come.
I always like educators to think to try and do this at the end of each school year to really reflect back on how far you've come with your students and with your own growth and to celebrate that, to give some focus time to really acknowledge it. Some other tools that you can do to support your well-being include having fun for the sake of fun again, so making sure you look at what your hobbies are - what are the things you just love doing that you can really get into flow and enjoy yourself so that all of your energy isn't focused on that role of educator. Let's also focus on your unique character and who you are as a human being, and make sure you're engaging enough things in your life that bring out those strengths and those interests as well. Wellbeing loves music, laughter, movement, gratitude practice, acts of kindness, journaling - all of these things support the growth of your well-being and do remember to find time to connect with people that you love so that you're spending time socializing as well. I know it's exhausting and I know it's hard, but it really is very important.
Question 4: Educators are often also mentors, counsellors, confidants, emotional coaches and yet often neglectful of their own emotional needs – why do you think this is?
Educators do so much, don't they, in one day - it's not just about teaching the academic curriculum there's the social emotional learning aspect, supporting students through conflict and friendship difficulties, being a mentor, a counselor, or a psychologist, a social worker, being there for parents as they carry the weight of some of the challenges their children might be going through - the teachers really are amazing beings. I think the reason why sometimes their well-being is often the last thing on their mind is they're attracted to this profession because they genuinely care, and they want to make a difference and they're the kind of people that quite naturally think of others first. Unfortunately that can sometimes come at a cost and the cost is the educators wellbeing, so the other part of that is also it's just a busy day - so all day an educator is switched on, they rarely have a break, classrooms are busy places, there's lots of people in the room at one time, and so by the end of the day most educators will feel so exhausted that even if they know it's good for their well-being to take a walk or to do something that balances and supports their well-being they might just feel too exhausted and this is exactly why i've written this book and made everything so digestible, so easy and so practical that that growth can come in very little time in ways that are both enjoyable and really supportive of the growth of their well-being and resilience.
Question 5: Looking ahead to an uncertain future, what impact do you think COVID-19 will have on education in the long term?
So we know the impact of COVID-19 was big across the globe and educators had to adapt and change and be flexible, while worrying about their own health and managing all of the things that came up for their own families as well as the day-to-day of supporting their student well-being. I worked in schools and worked with educators all the time, and it was just incredible how they carried that for young people so that they were unharmed through the whole experience. They really helped young people regulate themselves through the process, so looking ahead I feel really optimistic. I feel like COVID-19 has really highlighted the value of educators because of course education had to now be supplied all from home and so parents we had to learn what it was that you engaged in on a daily basis and we had to learn how to keep our children engaged and focused and it became so clear that this is big - what you all do all day - and I’ve always known it and I’ve always subjected an educators no one knows until you're actually in a school just how much it involves to keep a group of young people interested in the curriculum and focused and happy and so I think we've really got to understand this and what of course has come to the surface is it's a stressful thing to do to support young developing minds.
Of course anyone who took on that role could see the impact it had on their well-being, and the well-being discussion really started to come to the table so I really hope that this is the beginning of a culture change, where all schools will have great access to wellbeing programs that teach their educators how to take care of themselves and avoid burnout, and to see just how simple it actually is, and to provide that training and those opportunities and on a broader skill scale I would just love to see that right from the TAFE and the university level, that anyone wanting to work in education is taught about well-being, and taught about the importance of self-care and self-compassion, and that they will develop those crucial tools so that at the end of each day they can reset and recharge and recover, so that they can come back the next day to work fresh again to do their incredibly valuable work.