Tag Archives: supporting staff

Exhaustion in education settings

It is finally the end of term 2. I thought term 5 & 6 last academic year was the hardest I have seen, but no this term I think has been the most challenging. I am tired, but I know this is nothing compared to the utter exhaustion the teachers, ta’s and senior leaders in schools are feeling. It has been such a strange term and it has impacted me in ways I did not expect. As well as being a nurture consultant with young children, I am also a writer and a trainer, but this term I have not felt able to write. That might be partly because at the end of the last term I finished one of my biggest writing projects, a new book for Routledge, but I think it was also due to trying to manage the constant change, I did not have the capacity to think about writing or training.

This week I have been writing reports for the children I support, it has given me some headspace to think and reflect. As I write that, I know that is a total luxury, and if I am honest I am feeling a bit guilty about that. One of my reflections has been how this term has felt like I have been standing on shifting sands. Every time I planned something, things changed, the rules changed, the children were there, then they were not there, it reached the point where daily I dreaded seeing an email or having a phone call telling me about another change. I have realised during this strange year that I really don’t like change! I like routine, I like to know what my plans are and I like to have notice about any changes. That is very similar to the children I support, they don’t like change and they like to be prepared for changes. If nothing else I think this term has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation of how the children I work with often feel.

As I said at the beginning of this piece of writing, I am tired, but I know this is nothing compared to what I am seeing in education staff. In previous blogs, I have written that I was concerned for education staff, but ending this year, I have never seen so much exhaustion and brokenness on such a large scale. I can’t express how worried I am for the staff who work in our education settings. They are doing the most incredible job. During terms 5 and 6, it is thanks to many education settings that families had food to eat, there were so many food deliveries to families organised by them as well as all the education they organised. In terms 1 and 2 this academic year, many staff have been worried about their health, and yet they have been working incredibly hard to provide an education for the children. Despite all of this the government and the tabloid press seem to think it is ok to criticise, to accuse teachers of slacking. I have often felt that the government and the press have no idea about what it is like to work in a school, and these last few months have proved that.

My hope is that the education staff can stop and rest over these next few weeks, but I know that won’t actually happen. Education settings are still responsible for the track and trace until Christmas eve, they will still be planning and preparing for next year and our colleagues in the senior schools will now be changing their plans for the beginning of the new term, as well as figuring out how to roll out testing on a massive scale.

Now is a time when those education staffs need to be held up, supported, encouraged, and helped.

The long term

In Bath, we are entering week 8 of this first term back. If I am honest I didn’t think we would get to this week, I genuinely thought the schools would have been locked down or there would have been a 2 week half term as a circuit breaker, I know I’m not the only person in education who was hoping for the 2 week half term!.

My role is in reception classes, and all the reception classes I am in feel pretty normal, and this is down to some very dedicated staff making it feel ok for children. I know senior leaders, teachers, and teaching assistants are working so hard to make this ok. The transition into school is always hard, and we are seeing children who are finding the transition trickier after having 6 months at home. But at this point in the school year, I am not so worried by the children, but I am concerned about how much the staff are carrying and how tired many of them are.

As an outside person going into schools, I can see the job in a school is harder. There is more planning, more cleaning, lots of logistical thinking around keeping the children in their bubbles, barely any time to take a lunch break as the staff are often monitoring the lunchtime for their class, virtual school meeting’s, virtual parents evening alongside the hope that they and the children in their class won’t get Covid. This is a lot of additional thinking and worry.

If I am honest I am quite concerned about term 2, the term which is always nuts!, planning for Christmas often starts straight into the new term. To survive the term 2 education staff need to be well organised. Alongside the additional things they try to fit in with all the teaching they need to do and targets they need to reach; they also have the children’s rising excitement and for others the distress because it is all changing and they don’t like change. This alongside minimal lunch breaks, extra cleaning, extra planning re Covid, trying to keep everyone safe, that is a huge burden.

What is the answer? I don’t have one, but I do know that anyone who is living with or is friends with a teacher or teaching assistant, be kind to them this half term, be extra kind. They may need lots of rest and relaxation, but I know many will be using the half term to prepare for term 2, but they also need a break from work and schools and thinking and planning.

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.

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.

Building trust with staff and children

 

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The first week of the new term can often feel like a harsh shock to the system, for both the children and the staff. This week I have been visiting some of my new schools. I was reminded again that the role of a nurture worker is as much about supporting staff as it is supporting children.

Children who arrive at school feeling overwhelmed, frightened, confused, may show us those huge feelings in a strong way, e.g. kicking, biting, scratching. These feelings are overwhelming for the child, but they can be frightening, shocking and overwhelming to the adults too. I and my colleagues spend a lot of time explaining, interpreting the children’s behaviour to staff. We also spend a lot of time listening, being present, reassuring staff.

When you start in a new school, the emphasis is on building relationships, over the next year we are going to work very closely, I will be in each week, supporting, guiding, and leading staff in how to support the children. I need the staff to learn to trust me, I need to trust them, the child needs to learn to trust all of us. Sometimes, we encounter staff and schools who have had limited experience of children who have encountered a difficult start in life and can be really shocked at some of the behaviours they see. I need to remind myself this is ok, the staff will adapt. I need to quietly but firmly reassure them we can change this, we can support the child, we will enable the child to feel safe, secure, loved and that they belong and from this we will seee change. I have found myself repeating a phrase this week, ‘It will be ok, I know it is hard but we can do this, I am here to support you’. I know that will be a phrase I will repeat a lot; it’s not to deny the stress of working with a very scared and cross child, but it hopefully reassures that they are not on their own in this.

At the start of a new school year, I know I need to hang onto the knowledge and hope that change is possible and will happen. Sometimes I think the staff must think I am mad when at the beginning of the year I am saying, I am not worried, I know we will see change. I need to be the one holding onto that hope. This is the 5th year of this role, I have that knowledge and experience to carry me through the tricky first term, knowing that ahead of us, in a few months, all could be very different.

This morning I was walking in our community meadow, this is a practice I do each Sunday morning. At the bottom of the meadow is a view into the valley across the way. This morning the sun was shining down, it looks like a window. I was reminded of the words by Julian of Norwich, All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. I expect I will be saying this a lot to myself over the next few weeks!.