I think I might be a cautionary tale.
I eat my fruit and veg but when it came to prioritising my own well-being as a teacher, I fell well short of the recommended daily amount. Martyn Reah’s analogy of #5-a-day is useful because it’s not a duvet day, a ‘well-being week’ or the oasis of half term which we struggle towards at crisis point. It’s about getting into good habits which are assimilated into our routine. The problem is, most teachers I know will sacrifice these good habits for other perceived good habits such as a bit more planning, a fantastic powerpoint presentation for Year 7 or marking exam papers in unnecessary depth.
I am an advocate of grass roots change but here, I think Leadership teams have to step up and make space for teachers to #connect, #exercise, #notice, #learn and #volunteer. Leaders can model these values by talking about how they are prioritising their time accordingly.
Here is my attempt to foreground my five a day:
I’m doing really well on this one! This is the cornerstone of my professional future because through ConnectED, I seek to make new connections for myself and for others. If likeminded people are given the time and space to talk, wonderful things can happen and we build relationships which nurture our professional development. I have identified that connection is what drives me and there’s a certain liberty and relief that comes with recognising that.
I also had an epiphany when I watched Brene Brown’s TED talk on connection. Leaving aside professional networks, we exist to connect with others and we fear alienation more than anything. She explores the problem some people have with connection because to achieve it, you have to make yourself vulnerable.
So where I started was with connection. Because, by the time you’re a social worker for 10 years, what you realize is that connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice and mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is —neurobiologically that’s how we’re wired — it’s why we’re here.
In addition, one of my favourite books, ‘A Room with a View’ explores Forster’s idea of ‘only connect,’ thematic in so much of his work. While this can be interpreted as connecting across social barriers of class and race it also refers to the individual. He means that for true happiness, we need to connect ‘the prose and the passion’ the heart and the head and not deny either. When Lucy Honeychurch, our young heroine, pretends not to love someone,
‘she joined the vast armies of the benighted, who follow neither the heart nor the brain, and march to their destiny by catchwords.’
Fortunately for Lucy and the frustrated reader, Mr Emerson intervenes and instructs her:
‘Let yourself go. Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand. And spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them.’
I’m pretty sure that to spread your thoughts out into the sunlight is Mr Emerson’s interpretation of some kind of therapy. If we acknowledge our thoughts and accept we might need help to explore them without self-censure, we might avoid ‘a muddle’ (in Forster’s words).
Doing ok on this one. I run 10 miles every Saturday up to the Ashford Hangars on the South Downs. Not only do I feel enervated and fitter, but I have fantastic, honest conversations with other runners which have been the foundation of supportive friendships.
If you don’t read Melanie Reid’s ‘Spinal Column’ in the Saturday Times supplement, I can heartily recommend it. After a riding accident left her tetraplegic, she wrote what she has learnt since becoming paralysed.
Get out there.
A constant struggle. As a working mum leading an English Department, my Friday off was spent worrying and agonising over what now seem like trivialities. I wish I’d listened to my kids’ meanderings and inventions a little more.
So I’m embarking on my third career at the age of 40. My goal is to become a professional coach and help teachers define their vision and have a fantastically rewarding career. So there’s some learning to do, about myself and about the possibilities of making this work!
I volunteer two hours’ a week at FitzRoy, a charity for adults with learning difficulties. I’ve just come back from making pizza with Anthony, Colin, Johnny and Leonie. They all face enormous challenges but are having a laugh along the way. It’s brilliant fun, it’s connection, it’s noticing and I’m making a tiny difference in supporting the dedicated full-time staff.
So I represent one of many who have left or are leaving the teaching profession because they ‘want their life back’ or ‘need some balance.’ But with the right leadership and ethos, schools can protect their teachers and their students, creating healthy communities who care for each other and publicly celebrate the joy of full and fulfilling lives. #teacher5aday is a very good start.