Taking Care of Ourselves –
The Professional Approach to Wellbeing
by Ross McWilliam
The role of any school staff member, be it explicitly or implicitly, is to support pupils and help them thrive academically, emotionally and physically. Ultimately their role is to help create independent learners and thinkers, raise aspirations and help establish a platform from which future life successes can be gained.
Yet increasingly, the very professionals entrusted to develop our young charges, are themselves struggling to maintain their own wellbeing. Against a backdrop of increasing accountability, expectations, less time and greater workload, teaching professionals are themselves becoming emotionally vulnerable to negative wellbeing. This sadly can result in a lose-lose scenario. So, what steps can we take to change this trend?
Often, we are not aware of our own emotional health, and sometimes when we are, we go back to a tried and trusted default of ‘keep pushing’, ‘showing resilience’ and ‘leading from the front.’ Whilst this can take us a fair way, it may not serve us well long term, especially as our minds and bodies are not quite as tolerant to stresses as we age.
A simple, yet effective analogy, is to think of parking your car in the same space every day. Eventually over time, you may have to park your car in a different way, maybe in a different space, sometimes as a result of external factors of more cars, less space, earlier parking habits, etc. The same is true for our emotional wellbeing – we must continually adapt to secure the best from ourselves.
So, what expedient plan can we roll out as teachers and school leaders that will firstly solve this lack of awareness, and secondly, what short-term and longer-term strategies can we implement to not only protect us, but actually help us thrive so we can enjoy a well-balanced wellbeing, both professionally and personally?
Where to Start
Initially, a great place to start our awareness would be to take a Personal Wellbeing Audit. Once we have this ‘snap shot’ we can then move on to identifying the Negative Triggers that create some of our stresses which can ultimately negatively affect our wellbeing (see attached forms).
Secondly, before any strategies can be effectively used, we must always see the bigger picture of our emotional wellbeing. Protective factors such as self-esteem and emotional confidence are the foundation to establishing greater wellbeing, much like a house must have solid foundations upon which it can be built. Once these foundations are in place, the five pillars of the house frame can be established, and these could be 1 diet, 2 exercise, 3 sleep, 4 being connected, and 5 support systems. The outside of the house such as a roof, paint, damp course and all-weather bricks protects us from storms – these represent our effective coping strategies.
Personal wellbeing starts with valuing ourselves, and continually developing our sense of worth. A simple way to recognise this is to record positive achievements and qualities in your own Mini Wellbeing Journal. This exercise of recognising your positives, maybe each week, is a powerful transformational action that helps you to recognise your strengths and their impacts. It fuels a positive self-fulfilling prophecy.
Another way is to either write, or verbally state, your Today Result and Tomorrow Promise. Simply put, this is where each night, you recognise three things that went well today, and then identify at least two things that will go right tomorrow. Your wellbeing always starts with you.
Remember to Breathe
More simple, and quick
If we use
This technique involves taking a deep breath and holding it momentarily. As you start to exhale do two things…squeeze the index fingers of each hand together with each thumb AND imagine the cortisol thermometer going down as you exhale the inhaled air. This is technically called anchoring, but a more user-friendly expression might be ‘getting in the zone to perform’ (McWilliam, R. 2017).
Another range of strategies that have found almost universal acceptance are based around the concept of Mindfulness. This is where we try and rid the mind of all thoughts, like a re-focusing, or an emptying. By doing this, we aim to be present and be in the pure moment. This allows us to stop dwelling on the past, or anticipating the future – and be in the present, which is a healthy place to be. A simple way of achieving this is by the Chocolate Meditation (Williams & Penman, 2011). http://franticworld.com/free-meditations-from-mindfulness/ Audio version.
1. Look at the chocolate and study its look
2. Pick it up – how does it feel? Examine it close up and describe its contours, what images do the contours remind you of
3. Smell the chocolate – how does it smell?
4. Place it in your mouth and don’t eat but describe the feeling (chocolate has 300 different flavours)
5. Start to chew it and think about the shapes it is making and the tastes and textures you feel
6. Swallow it and collect your thoughts
This process can last up to 5 minutes – whenever your mind wanders just recognise this process and return to your focus.
These are just a few strategies, that if combined with an awareness of our own wellbeing linked to our self-esteem and emotional confidence, can yield consistently positives outcomes.
Finally, to bring us full circle, if you’re having a bad day, or think you might have a bad day, why not try the Window of Tolerance (Dr Pooky Knightsmith 2018). This is where we become aware of the triggers that are making us either hyper-sensitive or hypo-sensitive to an event. This when we are getting acutely aware of stress, or cortisol rising, when we want to fight or take flight, try and be mindful to what are the triggers. Conversely, when we start to panic or freeze, or even feel dejected and want to disengage, what are the triggers to this behaviour. This simple reflective awareness is a quick way to recognise and adjust your thoughts and feelings so that they don’t have a negative impact on your behaviours.
Penman, D. & Williams, (2011). M. Mindfulness : A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Hachette Publishing, UK.
Knightsmith, P (2018). YouTube Download https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYab1q5N9-U
American Institute of Stress (with slight amendments) at
McWilliam, R. (2017). The Amazing Journey of CUPPA. RMW Associates Publishing, UK.
Ross McWilliam is a freelance speaker and mindsets author with over 30 years’ experience having worked in 1,000 schools with over 500,000 children, young adults and senior professionals. Ross speaks at various national educational conferences and is just about to release his second mindset book Katy Cupsworth – The Mental Health Performance Warrior.