This blog comes from teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions, Jo Steer (@Skills_w_Frills)
Maintaining a good work-life balance is difficult in any profession.
The wonders of technology have given us endless ways to blur the boundaries, meaning that we often take our work home, physically, emotionally and mentally.
Despite what some may think, educator don’t “own” work-related stress. But by golly we’ve earned a majority share.
Given our excessive workloads, accountability measures and the fact that we work more overtime than any other industry, it’s no wonder that 67 per cent of educators describe themselves as “stressed at work”, with many showing actual symptoms of clinical anxiety and depression.
The truly tragic thing is that we’re not surprised by this. To us, the language of stress, panic attacks and antidepressants has become commonplace and normalised.
The risk of burnout
We accept and expect it. Some of us even seem proud of it, bragging about how little sleep we’ve had or how stressed we are, as if these things are synonymous with success.
We tend to ignore the warnings from our bodies, committing ourselves wholly to the school timetable. We don’t stop when we’re tired, we stop when term ends (even if we’ve contracted a moderate version of the Black Death along the way).
Of course, there will always be certain events that trigger an increase in this stress: exam time, data deadlines and OFSTED inspections. But if a bad day becomes a bad week, month or term, then you may be getting close to burnout. Here are the signs to look out for:
A racing mind, the need to be constantly busy and an inability to switch off and/or be still are all warning signs that you’re heading for burnout.
These can be accompanied by a host of uncomfortable physical sensations including shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, shakes, tight muscles, dizziness, nausea, out-of-body experiences, panic attacks and more. Insomnia is also a common but distressing side effect.
Losing interest in work or everything outside of work (hobbies, activities and entertainment that you usually enjoy) is a worrying sign. When I went through burnout, I felt detached from reality – and incredibly numb.
If your mind is racing, you’ll very likely have big problems concentrating. Maybe work takes much longer than it should; maybe you’re extra clumsy and forgetful; maybe you get to work, without any memory of how you got there. These are clear signs that your brain is overworked.
Perhaps one of the cruellest side effects of burnout is that, despite putting work above all else, you’re not even left with your self-esteem intact.
Instead, you’re often left feeling as if you can’t lead your school, that you’re a fraud, that you can’t keep up and therefore must be inadequate. If you’re increasingly insecure and unsure of yourself, you might be nearing burnout.
Sunday night dread and ranting about work isn’t uncommon in any profession. But if you’re finding yourself consumed by negativity, unable to think, see, hear or say anything remotely positive; if those feelings of dread become an everyday feature of life, then there’s something very wrong.
No matter what the symptoms, the key here is to notice change; in your body, mind, emotions and your behaviour. Like any disease, it’s better caught early, before it does long-lasting damage.
This past year has brought many unprecedented challenges for the teaching profession and Headteachers in particular, have had to engage with their role, their staff and their communities in ways that they could never have imagined prior to the events of last year.
For many school leaders there is now an emerging need to:
– Review their role and find a deeper meaning from what has unfolded
– Renew and revisit their sense of vocation and purpose within the context of the impact of the Pandemic and the Black Lives Matter Movement
– Reflect on lessons learned from this period and how they might influence their own leadership and the relationship that they have with themselves and others
As important as these needs are, we know all too well, that the spaces to think and reflect deeply on such matters are few and far between. This lack of space can mean that there are very few avenues for exploring and talking in depth about the immense challenges of this past year and also exploring solutions for moving forward.
Our “Developing Headspace” programme has been designed to meet this need. The programme has run successfully for several years and in light of recent events, our September cohort will have a particular focus on restoration and rejuvenation and what this means in the lives of Headteachers.
The programme will provide a reflective space for leaders to renew perspective, think strategically and refresh the vitality of their core purpose. It will also support individual capacity for authentic, inspiring and sustainable leadership, as well as provide on-going care, support and encouragement for leaders across the school year.
If you’d like to find out more about the programme, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…