School closures and the current climate has meant that everyone’s wellbeing has taken a hit and teachers are no different. Many are having to juggle a rotating schedule of travelling into school, adapt to distance learning, support their students in person, at a distance and from afar, and for some they have to do this whilst being a parent, shielding or caring for others.
But as teachers do, they’re taking the current situation in their stride, finding ways to overcome the adversity they face and helping others along the way. One of those teachers is Beth Williams, a Reception teacher from London in her second year of teaching. She’s an advocate for wellbeing and has created a Teacher Wellbeing Journal that’s free to download from her Twitter account to help support fellow teachers during this period.
We reached out to Beth to find out how she was coping during school closures and to share any advice she’s found to be helpful in maintaining positive wellbeing during this period.
Read the full interview below and find her on Twitter here.
Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi, I’m Beth! Or Miss Williams to little people. I’m a Reception teacher from London and currently in my second year of teaching. I finally feel like I know what I’m doing a bit more rather than running around like a headless chicken!
I try to be very open and wouldn’t really say my passion in education lies in one particular subject, I genuinely believe all subjects are of equal importance. One thing I am a huge advocate for though is giving time and careful attention to teaching children values such as kindness and forgiveness.
I’m really lucky that at my school we teach values like these explicitly through ‘Character lessons’ and it’s an integral part of school. It’s not unusual to hear one of my four year olds say something like: ‘We need to show kindness to one another and take turns’ - it’s really lovely to hear.
Outside of school I love travelling, eating at good restaurants, yoga, books and a good crime drama.
On a normal day, how do you look after your own wellbeing?
This is something I work really hard at. My personal journey with mental health hasn’t always been easy and I’ve learnt over the years to listen to my brain and body and check in with what I need.
I try to eat well and be organised with this; I make sure I spend time on Sunday batch cooking meals I actually like rather than grabbing a sad sandwich in Tesco! I always make sure I sit down in the staffroom and give myself a proper break. I go to yoga classes that I treat like doctors’ appointments, I’m not allowed to skip them! Most importantly I try to tell myself that no matter how I’m feeling, I did my best today, whatever that looked like.
In my NQT year I would really beat myself up about how I wasn’t doing a good enough job, that I should be doing more and more and more, working for at least 11 hours a day and going above and beyond every hour. I know now that actually, ‘going above and beyond’ requires an awful lot of energy and doing that every single day is quite frankly, impossible.
What inspired you to create your Teacher Wellbeing Journal?
As I said, I really struggled in my first year of teaching. Whilst on the outside I seemed perfectly fine and like I was doing well, inside I absolutely wasn’t. I had more than a few secret lunchtime bathroom cries and even though I loved the children, everything felt really overwhelming.
I thought about quitting almost every day and spent weekends reading job descriptions in other industries. Towards the end of the year I decided to stick out one more year ‘just to make sure’ and I’m SO glad I did. But I knew something had to change. I needed something that would ground me, remind me I was worth caring for and allow me to pause, reflect and celebrate myself.
After browsing through incredibly beautiful, but expensive journals, I decided to save my pennies and instead created a rather basic, yet helpful journal in a simple Word document. Although basic, I cannot tell you how many times I have opened it, to either add to, edit or simply read back over, when things have been difficult at school.
When I joined Twitter I found I had an influx of anxious Trainee Teachers who were attempting to complete their training during a worldwide pandemic (they’re amazing!) so I thought that by creating a free wellbeing journal, it might help other teachers, new and experienced, to prioritise their wellbeing particularly during a time of uncertainty and anxiety. Even if it just helps one person, I’m happy.
Since school closures, have you noticed a change in your wellbeing?
I’ve actually really enjoyed having a chance to slow down and appreciate the little things. I’m a control freak so the lack of it has hugely thrown me and I’ve had a few down days for sure! I miss my family, my friends and having a routine. But interestingly, my anxieties have been all non-school related.
I’ve loved the fact that the families I work with are having some time to bond, I’ve loved being able to focus on what I want my career to look like in the future and complete some CPD in things that genuinely interest me and will benefit the children I work with.
And most importantly, I think it’s made me realise I genuinely do enjoy my job and feel so grateful to work with so many children - I miss the funny conversations the most and I can’t wait to get back!
How have the normal actions you take to look after your wellbeing been affected as a result of school closures?
Not having a routine has really thrown me. I have moments where I just don’t know what to do because I’ve never had to work from home unless I was essay writing as a student. The first week was a struggle but now I’ve established a bit of a daily schedule.
I’ve also noticed my sleep change hugely. Normally at the end of a day I’m so physically exhausted that I fall asleep straight away but sitting at a desk all day, I find I’m lying awake for ages and it really flares up my anxieties. Reading has really helped this and I’ve managed to get through 6 amazing novels so far!
I also really miss my colleagues and having people to talk to who understand the job. Teaching is so different to any other profession and having friends who ‘get it’ is really important.
What are you doing differently to prioritise your wellbeing whilst working from home?
Listening to myself more and allowing myself to work flexibly. I’m lucky that we’re not doing any ‘live’ learning yet so if I have a moment where I feel like I need to take my daily walk or have a break from my desk, I do.
I’ve also been in contact with my family much more and ensure I have fun things scheduled like virtual quizzes and FaceTime with my friends. I’ve loved being on Twitter and connecting with other teachers from all over the country! It’s made me feel less alone and is really inspiring me to keep going.
What advice would you give to someone who’s struggling with their wellbeing both in general and as a result of the current landscape?
Get some help. Talk about how you feel either to someone you know or a mental health professional. Getting therapy was the best thing I ever did and something I have returned to a couple of times when I felt like my mental health was spiralling.
Being able to talk openly about how you feel to someone who has no emotional attachment to you is so helpful. It takes a lot of emotional energy and you have to do your ‘homework’ but it changed my life. I think the stigma surrounding therapy is something we really need to break. It should be as normal as having a personal trainer at the gym. A personal brain trainer!
If you’re feeling really overwhelmed at school, talk to your line manager or a member of SLT. They will have your best interests at heart and want you to be able to be your best. I’ve been given extra PPA time before and loaned a TA to get some admin done that was getting on top of me. It really helped.
I always preach about the fact that good wellbeing practice in school is not just a fruit bowl and free yoga. What’s the point of a downward dog on a sticky floor if you’re going to spend the whole class panicking about the marking in the classroom down the hall.
Good wellbeing is being given the time, support and respect to do your job well. Fight for this. It’s essential. Happy teachers are outstanding teachers.