How to keep your teacher-spirits high

Sarah Bedwell
Sarah Bedwell is, amongst many things, a teacher and unashamed geek when it comes to learning and technology. She is dedicated to improving professional learning and has run many events in order to allow other educators to do the same. She recently relocated back to Australia and is looking forward to a new career direction.

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Workload, Ofsted, new initiatives, new specifications, changes to external tests, child poverty, mental health issues - it’s enough to make even the hardiest of teachers question whether or not teaching is a career with any longevity. It’s no surprise that there’s a recruitment crisis and even less of a surprise that there’s a retainment crisis. I’ve been teaching for thirteen years and I have no intention of stopping, though I admit the thought has crossed my mind, and I’ve even gone so far as to search for a job outside of education. There’s a lot that keeps me in the classroom, and there’s a lot that I do outside of it that keeps me teaching.

#teacher5aday

If you haven’t come across Martyn Reah and the fantastic work he’s done building #teacher5aday to the movement that it is today, then you need to take a look. His ‘how to get started’ guide is the best place to begin, as it explains both the background to it all as well as the framework: connect, exercise, notice, learn and volunteer.

There are regular themed aspects to #teacher5aday, and you often see these popping up on Twitter and other places like Staffrm. Last summer many of us took part in #teacher5adayCook, where we shared what we created in the kitchen and often swapped recipes. January saw the #teacher5aday5kchallenge,"Some of us haven’t quite forgiven the organisers for the Bring Sally Up challenges yet…" and February was #teacher5adayfitfeb, which got us all moving - or trying to - with various runs, walks, squats, lunges, yoga and pilates workouts every day. I don’t think some of us have quite forgiven the organisers for the Bring Sally Up challenges yet… There are plenty of challenges that involve arts and crafts as well, from #teacher5adaysketch to #teacher5adaysew.

The great thing about all of these is that you can commit as much or as little as you choose - every day and every challenge, or dip in and out as you have the time and energy. The other benefit is that these challenges connect you to other teachers, many of whom form unofficial support groups and friendships.

Thinkles

David Rogers is responsible for introducing me to ‘thinkles’. These are ‘thinking walks’, meant to get you out and about while contemplating something to do with teaching. I’m not sure how well these work for city-dwellers, but if you live in the Pennines like I do, then getting blown about the moors in poor weather is something you can take part in on a weekly basis. I find that a minimum of half an hour is required for a really good thinkle. I also like to go quite late at night - partly because I have an anti-social dog who can’t be trusted to behave around others if we go earlier, but mostly because walking in the middle of nowhere with nothing but moonlight to guide me and feeling like we’re the last survivors left on earth is pretty conducive to major thinking and problem solving. Quite literally getting blown around really does clear out your head.

Disconnect

The irony of extolling the virtues of disconnecting after recommending #teacher5aday and idea of ‘connect’ is not lost on me. Nor is the irony of suggesting being offline, however temporarily, when I’m a self-confessed social media addict and geek. Irrespective of that, switching off devices or taking a holiday from social media can be of huge benefit. I did this myself for part of the Easter holidays and felt like I’d had much more of a break than I otherwise might have "When it’s term time, Twitter’s the best kind of platform to slip in and out of."had.

It’s easy to get sucked into the social media vortex. Twitter is a brilliant tool for CPD, and there’s a huge teaching community there who you can engage with, learn from and share resources with. When it’s term time, it’s the best kind of platform to slip in and out of, given the constant stream of tiny updates that mean you aren’t having to set aside time for long reads. You can save those long reads for later (using apps like Pocket), and you can use lists to narrow down what you see at any given time. I also highly advocate being selective with whom you follow, using lists and the block / mute buttons to edit what shows up in your timeline.

When it’s the weekend or holidays, having a little extra time can mean too much time spent on social media. Sooner or later it always seems to kick off, and you can get sucked in before you know it. Setting a time period to take a break from social media means that not only do you avoid the inevitable arguments, but you also have far more time to do things like thinkles! Social media is a lot like most soaps - no matter how long you’re away for, the same storylines are still happening when you finally return.

Reflect

Last year one of my colleagues started a project at my school to get us using reflective journals. She didn’t specify how we were to organise them, or give us much beyond general guidelines on what to write in order to get us started. In the end we all had completely different styles of journals, but each one helped us in our own ways. Hers was a random collection of notes, scraps of paper, sketches, longer reflections and scribbles. Another one was more like a scrapbook, like a memory book or art project.

Mine was all about words. I’d thought it’d be something I did online, as I blog on various platforms and I’m far quicker typing than I am writing. What it’s become is a mixture of blog posts, Staffrm posts, IMS articles and handwritten reflections. The printed blog posts and articles have become something of a record of my writing (not everything I post goes in the journal), and the handwritten posts force me to slow down and really think about what I’m writing.

The journals are personal. For the purpose of the project that my colleague was doing, we organised to read one other person’s, but we were careful to not have someone read the work of a colleague that they line manage. While I’ve continued to add to mine this year, I haven’t shared it. Mostly the act of putting something down on paper provides a form of catharsis, but often it’s an inside version of a thinkle - taking the time to sit down to write without distraction provides decent problem solving time.

These are just a few ideas to help relieve stress and keep you sane when dealing with the pressures of teaching. There’s plenty of others - please feel free to share them in the comments.

How to you keep your head? Share your tips in the comments below!

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