While working on my own feelings of burnout over the last year I’ve been doing a lot of research, one of the most useful sites I’ve come across is that of the Mayo Clinic. Before you end up in a full burnout situation you might find that your stress levels are increasing and part of preventing burnout from occurring is to manage these levels. While it’s a normal part of life to have stressful times these shouldn’t be never ending nor should you find yourself without tools to deal with them after all you wouldn’t be expected to do your job without relevant training so why should the same thing not apply to managing your wellbeing. Something that I have learnt about through the Mayo Clinic is the 4 A’s of stress management: Avoid, Alter, Accept, Adapt. Sounds simple right? Well it is mostly because a lot of these things are obvious things you would normally practice when trying to manage stress but organising them into 4 simple areas makes it feel less overwhelming it also helps you to think about which strategies are going to work best for you depending on your situation.
Yes it is possible to avoid things that stress you out and it’s not weakness to do so!
Simply put; plan ahead and rearrange your surroundings. Planning ahead is one of my favourite things especially when I’m teaching, but before I get into this since I started suffering with burnout I have set myself working hours these are hours I shade in on my diary that shows when I am willing to work, days I work late, days I leave before 4 etc. On a Sunday morning I make a list of to-do’s for the week, I list EVERYTHING it’s a total brain dump! I then number everything with 1’s, 2’s and 3’s. Ones are my must do’s most important things, twos are the things I really should get done ideally by the end of the week, threes are the things that aren’t that important. The 1’s I then write into my trusty planner with a deadline in a specific slot, I then look at how much time I am going to have left over and I slot in my 2’s taking account of my working hours. If I’ve still got space I add some 3’s…not all of them. I leave contingence time for all the random things that crop up as a teacher or for things to take long than I’m expecting. If the week goes to hell I always priorities the ones.
The other thing I do on a Sunday is prep food for the week. While cooking Sunday dinner I make sure that everyone in the family has what they need for their weekly lunches prepped and boxed. I also prep extra veg and sometimes whatever proteins we might have ready for dinners in the week especially nights I know I’m going to be working late.
Now let’s look at taking control of your surroundings: if the traffic is bad getting to work leave a little earlier or try a new route that may be quicker. If you have a colleague who really grates look at ways you can limit your interactions; sit apart at meetings, if you plan together suggest you split the subjects and each focus on your own subjects. If you have a lot of responsibilities take stock of what you are doing and say NO, it doesn’t come naturally to many teachers but it’s ok for you to do so, choose 2 things that don’t have a positive impact on your classroom, children or own development and explain that at the moment you simple don’t have time to give them the attention you feel they need.
Try to take inventory of your current situation and select some changes to make for the better. Don’t feel that you have to do this all at once, take it slowly.
Time management we have touch on in avoid – planning ahead but you can take this further group activities together; when planning make the resources for each lesson as you do so you know they’re prepared well in advance, spend the first 15minutes you get to work answering your emails, while your putting the books out for the next day finish off any marking. Another good one is to get the children to stick in their own sheets/write their own LO’s etc for the day while you’re doing the register. It’s also important to set limits on your time; if a colleague pops in for 5 minutes, state at the start of the conversation I’ve got 10 minutes then I need to get on and at the end of 10 minutes it’s ok to say ‘right I’ve really got to get this done, lets catch up…’ (be specific in giving a time). Communicate your feelings respectfully and openly (this is the thing I often find hardest), if you’re asking for something to change try to give a solution; ‘I feel really frustrated that I’m expected to do…perhaps I could work with…shadowing me to give them experience and allow me to share the burden?’ or ‘I don’t like they way you addressed me in front of the team today. Maybe we could have weekly meetings to discuss issue that arise or maybe we could communicate these types of issue via email?’
A very well worn phrase for me when I was teaching full time was ‘it is what it is’. Meaning of course that there was nothing myself or anyone else could do about this so we should just make the best we can out of it. It was usually in response to some completely unhelpful piece of advice we’d receive from which ever branch of the LA had just been in to visit or from an unrealistic expectation made by our SLT in relation to EYFS of which they had no experience. And it is true sometimes we have no choice but to accept things the way they are but be careful that what you are accepting is appropriate for you to accept. If this is the case then try to talk to someone and vent your frustrations, if it’s a work colleague make sure it’s one you trust and you can’t be overheard. Or talk to friends and family outside of work. Once you have vented remember that it takes energy to be angry so forgive and let it go (see my Instagram for some quick exercises you can do to help you let go of the feelings of anger or frustration). Use positive talk, it’s really easy when stuck in a negative situation that you can’t change to speak and think negatively but try to put a positive spin on it instead of thinking ‘I’m never going to be able to hand this’ think ‘This is going to be really hard and I’ll make mistakes but I’ll learn a lot from this and next time I’ll find it easier’. We talk to the children all the time about being resilient and learning from their mistakes and teachers should take this advice as well, recognise the ‘teachable moments’ and use them to your advantage. You will get though them and you will learn from them!
When you’re in a negative situation, or you have a million things on your plate or it’s just the end of term and you’re knackered it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and like you can’t manage. A little know fact is that those feelings themselves are actually some of the biggest stressors. They cause you to put far more pressure on you than you need. So changing your own expectations can be one of the most helpful things you can do to manage your stress levels!
Adjust your standards. Do you need to mark 30 maths books in detail every day? Would the school fall down and the children fail all future exams if you gave yourself a break and left by 4pm one day a week? We don’t expect perfection from the children and shouldn’t from ourselves either! GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK! Practice mindfulness; refuse to replay the negative situation in your head on repeat and focus on listening to all the sounds you can hear around you, or count your breaths to 50, or look at and name 10 things in your line of vision. Then try to reframe the issue instead of thinking you’re stuck at parents evening until 8pm think of that one child that’s really been worrying you and make sure you get those parents in to have a good chat about what’s going on. Instead of sitting in the staff meeting thinking about the mountain of planning that still needs to be done, choose to find one thing from the meeting you’re going to build into your planning when you do come to finish it. List all of the things that bring you joy in your head, how many can you come up with in 3 minutes? Remember your big picture…will this matter in 1 year? In 5? Usually not.
Think carefully about the situation that you’re in and try to apply some of these techniques. If after a month or 6 weeks there is no improvement then it might be that your situation is bigger than you can handle and it’s time to speak to someone with more knowledge; your doctor, your union, your coach, your counsellor.