When schools reopened following the unprecedented COVID-19 lockdowns, the rubber had barely hit the road when reports surfaced showing the immense toll that the pandemic was taking on students and teachers.
Yet, school staff rolled up their sleeves and continued working tirelessly to support students in their learning, wellbeing, and to help them re-establish relationships with their classes. What’s more, they did this without the support of parent volunteers or the balance that comes from non-classroom activities like school assemblies and excursions.
In another encouraging sign that Australia’s education sector remains strong and resilient, many students appeared to express optimism about their schooling heading into 2021.
However, experts say that the sector cannot rest on its laurels.
Recent research by the University of Newcastle has highlighted a need to provide ongoing support to all teachers and students to ensure their wellbeing of themselves and their students as the 2021 school year commences.
“Teachers told us about increased stress, anxiety, poor social interaction and focus, and difficulties re-engaging in the classroom among their students,” Professor Jenny Gore, who led the study, wrote in The Conversation.
“The cancellation of non-classroom activities such as sport, assemblies and excursions might have been a factor in teachers reporting high levels of fatigue and a rise in unacceptable behaviour.”
Teachers and principals surveyed for the study described the learning from home period as one of significant stress, anxiety and frustration in many families, wrote Professor Gore.
“They also expressed concern about student well-being, even after the return to face-to-face schooling,” she wrote.
“Supporting student mental health substantially increased the workload of school counsellors, where available, and of teachers and principals in addressing student behaviour”.
Staff morale and wellbeing: who is responsible?
Happy School is one organisation helping principals and teachers with stress management, anxiety and staff morale.
The company’s founder, Steve Francis, said the importance of staff morale and well-being have never been as significant as they are in these challenging times.
“In high functioning schools both morale and well-being are a shared responsibility of both the leaders and the individual staff member. It isn’t up to leaders to ‘fix’ the well-being of staff but they have a huge impact on ensuring a positive school culture that supports staff,” he told The Educator.
Below, he shares five tips for staff in schools to improve their own well-being.
1. Set your golden rules
Setting boundaries is important to limit the impact that schoolwork can have on the rest of your life. The rules or boundaries that you put in place are a personal decision that depends on you and what works best for you. Here are some examples of golden rules:
- Limiting the checking of work emails to 10 minutes (set a timer) and only Sunday to Thursday nights
- Don’t take work home
- If you have to do some work at the weekend – specify the time and stick to it. Don’t wreck the whole weekend!
- Sit down at the dining table for dinner three times each week with your family (no phones allowed)
- Leave school at a reasonable time (early for you), one day per week and do something for you
2. At the end of the day appreciate what you got done, not what still needs to be done.
3. Stop and sit down to eat lunch each day and drink 8 glasses of water each day to look after your voice
4. Make exercise a priority every day, especially when you are busy.
Many people STOP exercising when they are busy at school (eg report writing time). However taking a break and getting some exercise is the most important thing they could do for their well-being AND their effectiveness.
5. Try to avoid multi-tasking:
This can be done by identifying the MOST important thing you should be doing with the time available and getting that done, rather than trying to do multiple things at once. Try the Pomodoro technique, which uses a timer to break down work into intervals (traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks).