Christmas can be a wonderful time of the year. I love the tangible buzz in schools as we ramp up to the holidays. The children are excited, the activities become somehow freer and it’s a reminder of how schools can play a big part in building those positive childhood memories (who can forget the tinsel-clad grottos of primary school yesteryear!?).
But it’s also one of the busiest times in the school calendar. With the fun stuff comes the added workload of extracurricular festive activities and organising Christmas events. That’s before we’ve even got to the every-day stuff that teachers are expected to do.
So, it’s important to take a step back and remind ourselves of what’s truly important to help us maintain perspective.
Here are a few things you might like to try:
The Good Enough Teacher
There is, without a doubt, a tendency towards perfectionism in the education profession. And it’s no wonder given the scrutiny that teaching staff sometimes find themselves under with inspections and monitoring.
But here’s the thing, not only is this standard not feasible or sustainable, it’s also not the best for your students.
English Psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, coined the phrase ‘the good enough mother’ back in the 1950s. His study of hundreds of mothers with their infants concluded that striving for perfectionism as a caregiver not only lead to burn out, but also disadvantaged the child in the long run as they were not given the opportunity to build resilience for themselves through witnessing mistakes and learning valuable lessons. And the same goes as teachers with our students.
So, here are a few tips you might want to try practicing being a ‘good enough teacher’:
Embrace mistakes - let your students see you owning your mistakes. Not only does it show that mistakes are inherent to learning, but it gives them permission to be imperfect!
Celebrate small wins – as a perfectionist your negativity bias (the tendency to focus on what went wrong) might go into overdrive. Set some time aside each week to focus on the small things that went well.
Nourish yourself – good enough teachers know when they need to ease off and focus on themselves. For more tips on this, read Dr Emma Kell’s blog on recognising your stress signals.
Have Tos Vs Want Tos
It can be tempting to feel like absolutely everything on your to do list is essential. The reality of this is that your list will be made up of what Psychologist, Tal Ben-Shahar calls ‘have tos’ and ‘want tos’. The have to’s are motivated by extrinsic purposes – the desire to please, fear of reprisal, arbitrary deadlines set by others. The want tos, however, are what drive our happiness and wellbeing. These are the things that are aligned with our personal values and will increase our pleasure and purpose (Shahars definition of happiness). The key then is to reduce the have tos whilst increasing your want tos. But how?
Write down your list of ‘have tos’.
Now think of ways that you can reduce the burden of this list. For instance, this could be pushing back on arbitrary deadlines or asking, ‘Does this benefit the children or the teachers?’. If no, then question why you’re doing it, see if you can push back.
Now write down your list of ‘want tos’. The things you really want to do that you know will nourish and re-energise you.
Consider how can you spend more time focussing on the things that bring you intrinsic reward. For example, if you value exercise but are struggling to find the time to fit it in, could you incorporate physical movement into your daily routine - before, during or after school?
Finding the balance between these two lists will help to increase your sense of wellbeing and decrease your sense of overwhelm.
Remember it’s Your Christmas Too
For teachers that have their own families, it can be a time of conflicting obligations. Whilst we’re in class making magic for other people’s children (and parents), we may miss attending our own children’s nativity performances.
For teachers without children, they may feel obligated to work even more over the holidays in preparation for the new term.
Whatever your circumstances it’s imperative to remember that this is your Christmas too. And, ultimately, a teacher that takes the time to focus on their own needs (whatever that might be), is a teacher better equipped to meet the needs of their students.
So, our message is, enjoy your break and do the things that nourish you. Have a great holiday and see you in the New Year!
Enjoy this blog? Take a look at "Creating Healthy Habits" for more tips on maintaining your wellbeing.