We often talk about the impacts of student wellbeing, but what about teacher wellbeing? This week we spoke to Dr Tim Sharp, AKA Dr Happy from the Happiness Institute about the obvious (and not so obvious) symptoms of burnout and how we can look after ourselves outside of the classroom to make things better in class.
A lot has been written over the past twelve months about teacher burnout. What are some of the elements that could impact teacher stress and wellbeing at the moment?
The most obvious contributor over the last few years has probably been the pandemic; well, not the pandemic directly, but the range of factors associated with it. Having to shift to online teaching and make all the necessary changes to content and delivery, all within their normal busy schedules, has definitely been difficult. And this occurred off the back of already strained conditions in which most teachers were already working in the context of being under-resourced and stretched. In short, staff shortages and what can probably be described as unrealistic expectations on teachers have taken a significant toll on many.
We're now consistently hearing about teacher burnout in news publications or on social media. It’s almost become a buzz term, but for teachers who might not realise they’re burnt out, what are the symptoms (and not so obvious ones) to look out for?
Although there are some differences, the symptoms of burnout are similar to those of depression and anxiety. Specifically, burnout is often characterised by:
There may also be physical symptoms including:
These can also be associated with pessimism, withdrawal and isolation which although understandable, can actually exacerbate the aforementioned symptoms and problems.
What are three practical ways teachers can prioritise their mental health and wellbeing outside of work?
I’ll preface this by noting that as with many things in life, it’s easier said than done. But it is possible and it is important because if teachers don’t prioritise their health and wellbeing outside of work, they won’t be able to continue to work; at least not in any way that’s sustainable over the long term. So that’s probably the first step: – recognising that taking care of oneself is NOT selfish, but is in the best interests of all involved including colleagues and students. A healthy and happy teacher is a good teacher. Make wellbeing, then, a priority. Recognise when early warning signs are appearing, label them to make them tangible, accept that it’s OK not to be OK all the time but then do what you can as best you can to nurture healthy living. Obvious strategies include:
How do you recommend teachers realistically build a healthier work/life balance?
One small step at a time. Too often, too many of us are black and white, thinking if we can’t do “everything” we think we “should” do then there’s no point doing anything. But every little bit counts; even if those little bits are imperfect. So, start where you can and do whatever you’re able to; then, if or when possible, build from there.
Also, if possible, find a “buddy’; someone you can exercise or walk with, someone who can check in with you (and you them) at regular intervals to help maintain motivation and momentum. And don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back for each and every step you take, no matter how small it might seem.
And finally, when things do go wrong in the classroom, are there any tricks you recommend for centring yourself or getting support?
Well, things WILL go wrong; that’s life. So have realistic expectations to begin with and you’ll be less likely to be surprised. As much as possible, try to keep things in perspective. And have a plan; prepare in advance strategies or steps you can take that will help you deal with the problems that are most likely to arise. Finally, always remember, you don’t have to deal with these types of stressors alone. Reach out and ask for help from a colleague or friend.