Category Archives: supporting colleagues

how to thrive through the autumn months

Schools have been back in England for 4 weeks, there are another 4 weeks until half term. Personally, I have loved being back in schools, working directly with children and staff, I have been reminded how much I love my job as a nurture consultant. If you were to quickly look into a reception classroom it would feel and look pretty normal to any other year, apart from hand sanitiser and lots of handwashing symbols on the visual timetables. However, behind that is a staff team who are working extremely hard to make this a success. As the weeks have gone by I have noticed how much the staff are holding, the extra worry, the extra organising, and planning. This is heavy and understandable that staff are feeling tired, and yet there are still 4 weeks to go.

This week I have begun to wonder with staff what will help them to nurture themselves. As a nurture consultant, my job isn’t just about nurturing the children, it’s as much about helping staff to feel nurtured too. But I am aware that I cant just talk about it and advise, I need to live that too.

At the end of this week, a question I have been thinking about for myself is how can I thrive through these Autumn months, I love autumn, the colours the change in temperature, having a fire in our stove, all of those things bring me joy. However, I am aware that this autumn feels heavy, in our family life there is a lot of heaviness and then add COVID, the hurt we hear about through black lives matter, climate crisis, Brexit, this all feels huge and can be overwhelming. My gut feeling is I need to put in place things that will help me to thrive, I need to plan for this. I started this weekend, yesterday I went on a mini day trip to the coast with my husband, we swam in the sea, I floated on my back in the sunshine. The rays of the sun warming me while the water held me, that felt so nourishing and I was able to switch off, just enjoy the sun and the moment. I have a list of ideas that will help me to thrive, these are a mix of sunrise walks, being in the woods, collecting sweet chestnuts, places to swim, chutneys and jams to make, and books to read. These are all simple things, but I know I need to be intentionally proactive in embedding them.

Hope for the new term

With the start of the new term, I am feeling fizzy inside!, it’s not a dread, thankfully I love my job, however, it’s the fizz of expectation with the slight nervousness and unknown of what lies ahead. I am aware that over the last week this feeling has been growing. I usually experience this a little on the return to school. But this year it is a stronger feeling than normal, as we are not in normal times. I haven’t met the new children I will support, I am not totally sure what the new school set up’s will be like, and I am slightly anxious about how children who have been out of a setting for 6 months will feel about starting school.

I am hugely aware that I feel unsure, and this includes slight nagging doubts and questions about will I remember what to do, what happens if a child becomes dis-regulated on my first day in a school, will I remember how to respond. The logical part of my brain kicks in and tells myself this is my work world, I know how to respond, as my 21 yr old daughter this morning reminded me I will automatically say ‘ Wow I can see you are so cross and angry, your face is red and I can see you want to hit, but we don’t hit people’ and then apparently I will play with mud or playdough! ( according to her this sums up my job well!). And I expect she is right.

But if I am feeling fizzy and slightly nervous, then I am pretty certain teachers, headteachers, parents, nursery workers, children and young people across the country are also feeling that slight anxiety, worry, fizziness. We are in different times, this is not just a normal new return, which can be hard for many in ordinary times. This is different, as well as the usual concerns there are of course many anxieties around COVID, safety, and protection, for some they have been away from school or nursery for 6 months, that all complicates our feelings and anxieties.

Knowing that I am feeling like this, I am trying to pay attention to my breathing, spend more time outside noticing and enjoying nature, barefoot walking, and wild swimming, all ways to be extra nurturing to myself.

My hope for the new term is that wellbeing will be high on the agenda, that headteachers and managers will be supporting their own wellbeing and from there they are then able to support their staff wellbeing who are then able to support the children’s wellbeing. Wellbeing needs to underpin this return, it can’t be an add on, it needs to be an embedded approach. But also parents and partners of staff who work in education need to focus on their loved ones’ wellbeing in these next days and weeks. Provide food, hugs (where allowed), chocolate!, a listening ear. This needs to be a joint effort, a joint support package.

On the re-opening of early years and school.

 

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This week most schools and early years settings are re-opening. There are so many political arguments about this, which I am not going to enter into on this posting. However, I know staff have been working so hard over the last few weeks, to make this the best they can for the children to return. I know staff have been working incredibly hard at organising, preparing, planning, and changing plans as the government keeps changing the guidance. I know that many staff feel that they are having to compromise what they believe is the best practice in order to fit into the new guidance.

I am aware that in all the arguing and political debating we can easily forget that behind all this are many staff, some will be pleased to return, some will be unsure and others will be incredibly scared. Change is so hard, especially when change is happening and we don’t really know what the outcome will be, how long we will be working in this new way, and whether we will all be shut down again.

Working in the time of a crisis, at a time of change and uncertainty, and at a time when many feel fearful and anxious, this brings with it additional stresses on top of an already demanding job in normal times. These are not normal times.

I am writing this blog for my friends and colleagues who are returning this week, and for those of you I don’t know, I am writing to say I am thinking of you, I know this is going to feel hard and maybe scary and to say thank you. Thank you for doing this, thank you for being there for the children, thank you for making it the best you possibly can for the children, because I believe that is what you will do.

Please make sure you take extra time to care for yourself and if anyone is reading this who lives with or is friends with a teacher, TA or early years worker who is returning, be extra kind to them in these weeks, check in on them, buy them chocolate ( or something else they like!), they are going to need it.

May your week go well.

Below are some links which might be useful

Alistair Bryce Clegg  has an excellent blog post with thoughts on returning

I was asked by my local early year’s team to make some short videos for staff about the return to work, staff wellbeing, and children’s wellbeing. They are accessible to all. This is a link to them.

Thinking about mental health

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I have spent the last few weeks thinking a lot about mental health, mainly because my Mum is really struggling with her mental health at the moment but also the last two weeks I have spent a lot of time talking to staff and parents about anxious children. One of the reflections I have had is that when someone is suffering from mental health it impacts not just the person but many around them. One problem is this is such a difficult thing to talk about because we don’t want to make the person feel guilty. There is, of course, nothing for them to feel guilty about. However, poor mental health always affects more than just the sufferer. Talking about mental health is less of a taboo than it used to be, and that is a good thing, but I think talking about the impact on surrounding people is talked about less.

JK Rowling writes about the dementors in her Harry Potter series, she has talked about how the idea of dementors came about from her experience of depression. I think this is such a good description, depression and anxiety suck the life out of you, it sucks away the joy of life, which is exactly what the dementors do in her stories. The problem is this doesn’t only impact the person, it also impacts those around them. When a child is highly anxious in school, they will often show this through very challenging behaviour, leading to the staff feeling distressed and often de-skilled as they feel unable to help or support the child. When a parent has a child who has been excluded due to their challenging and often distressing behaviour, again the parents feel worried, anxious and don’t know where to turn for help and support.

There are no easy answers in all of this, but one small thing that is needed is for people around to notice, and offer support. This week my colleague Fred called me and popped in for a tea in the middle of our day between schools visits, he knew my Mum was ill and he wanted to check in that I was ok. This meant so much to me. This small act of kindness and noticing made a huge difference. I think sometimes we can feel de-skilled when we know depression and anxiety is affecting a family or a school. When I delver staff wellbeing training I regularly talk about the need to support our colleagues. If you know a teacher or teaching assistant in your school has had a tough day due to being hurt by a distressed child, check in with them, ask them if they are ok. If you know a friend is struggling with their anxious child and the child has been excluded for the day or refusing to go to school, check in with the parents, ask how they are.

The other question you can ask for those surrounding the person with mental health difficulties is what small thing can they do help themselves feel well. They need to be well themselves to be able to support the person who is mentally ill. Thinking about their own mental health is so important. I write a lot about how swimming helps me feel mentally and physically well. On Thursday this week, I knew I needed to swim outside, the weather was awful, but I knew outdoor swimming would help me. I swam in our local Lido, in the pouring rain and it was the best decision I had made all week. It felt wonderfully refreshing, it allowed me to let go of what is in my head, it was cool, but that was I needed, the rain was at times heavy but that just increased the mindfulness of the experience. I am looking forward to my next outdoor swim this week.

Making plans for your wellbeing

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At the start of last week, I spent a team day with my team. We did an exercise thinking about how we wanted to develop this year, how we wanted the team to develop and what we were going to do this year for our wellbeing. I spend lots of time thinking about wellbeing, it’s an essential part of my job, it’s what I write about!. But I really appreciated the act of taking time to stop, think and commit to paper and publicly say to my team, this is how I want to support my wellbeing. By sharing this with the team I felt that we were making ourselves accountable to one another. I love that I work for a manager who prioritises this at the start of the year, that as a team we were saying to one another this is important, as individuals we need to take care of ourselves but also as a team, we need to look out for one another.

My plan for the year to support my wellbeing is to find opportunities to swim outdoors. I have spent the summer engaging in lots of outdoor swimming and I have written about this on numerous occasions, but during this summer I realised just how important outdoor swimming is for me, I feel calmer, I feel alive and I often feel such joy. There was an article in the Guardian yesterday about cold water swimming helping with mental health and depression, I don’t suffer from depression, although anxiety is something I often have lurking in my head and chest. I have certainly found the outdoor swimming has become a very mindful practice and one which stills my mind and helps my anxiety.

As we enter a new work year ( school year in my case) I think it is really helpful to set out, write down our intentions for how we will support our wellbeing throughout the year. I know there will be times in the coming months when I will feel very stressed, and to have thought ahead about what will help is a good exercise. I am not sure yet how much outdoor swimming I will manage throughout the winter!, I have a colleague who swims weekly in a local river, throughout the year, I am planning on swimming with her sometimes, hoping that I can cope with the cold. But realistically I realise I may not manage it in December – February! and that’s’ ok, this is not an exercise about setting goals and then feeling guilty if I can’t achieve them, this is an exercise about thinking, recognising what helps in those times I feel very stressed. This weekend I started as I hope to continue, I swam in a beuatiful spot near to us, in a local river. It was cold, but I felt so wonderfully alive and joyful during and after the swim.

For more thoughts and ideas on supporting your wellbeing, I have a book called Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff.

The need to support colleagues

 

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When you are working with vulnerable children, there are some weeks which are truly challenging. I have just come to the end of one of those weeks, to be honest for a whole assortment of reasons it is one I would be happy to not repeat again. What has made this week bearable has been the emotional support from my amazing colleagues and manager.

I have been reflecting a lot on how we can support colleagues and what that can look like. Having the support from colleagues and managers can make such a difference. When you are working with vulnerable children, who are telling you in a multitude of ways they are hurting and sad, this can have a huge impact on staff. It can lead staff to question themselves, it can feed into their own vulnerabilities, it can leave staff feeling hugely stressed and sometimes traumatised. It is essential that colleagues and managers recognise this and support the staff.

I think there are a few things colleagues can do, these include:

Enable the member of staff to get 5 minutes break, offer to take the child/ class and encourage them to get a drink and take some time to breathe. Tell them it is ok that they finding this hard.

Check in with staff at the end of the day and a few days later. Ask how they are, ask how they are feeling.

Remind staff to take time out at the end of the day/ on the weekend to take care of themselves, this might be spending time in the garden, going for a walk or a run, reading a book, anything which enables them to slow down, breathe and be kind to themselves.

Give time and space to talk through what has happened, this is where supervision is so important. If you can’t provide this as a school/ nursery/ team then signpost to where they can go. Some organisations have a free telephone helpline to talk things through, others bring in outside supervisors. Supervision is crucial.

What made a difference for me this week was the support of colleagues and particularly the fantastic support of my manager. Also after one particularly challenging morning I  spent time in a stream, standing, breathing, being still, enjoying the sounds and feel of the water, that made such a difference to my wellbeing.