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In March 2020, within the matter of a day, the South African school calendar was disrupted. What was first believed to be a short-lived, temporary shift became a lengthy process of transition that lasted into 2021. As it stands, South African educators are being called upon to adapt to various levels of lockdown. For some, it has meant prolonged stays at home, disconcerted parents, pay cuts and even job losses. For others, it has entailed a paradigm shift to remote learning for which many were not prepared. South African educators have faced their own set of unique challenges during the pandemic, some of which include:

  • Lack of tech-preparedness and infrastructure to accommodate remote learning.
  • Shorter time periods within which to execute the national curriculum.
  • The added stress of needing to abide by stringent measures at school to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
  • “Zoom fatigue” or the physical and mental consequences of using web conferencing tools to deliver lessons.
  • Longer working hours and an expectation to be “always on” during remote working.
  • Added family commitments.
  • Anxiety around infections and deaths caused by the pandemic.
  • The uncertainty and turbulence of the social and economic setting in the country.

These challenges, compounded by each teacher’s individual circumstances, have had a detrimental impact on teachers’ mental health and by extension, their physical wellbeing. We chatted to teacher, coach, international speaker and author, Renee Lighton as well as Kate Rowe, the founder and CEO of Explorare, a connection and communication coaching service. Together, they provided these invaluable tips for teachers on how to look after your mental health and wellbeing during these uncertain times.

4 Wellness Tips for Teachers You Can Try Right Now, Wherever You Are

1. Take 10 Minutes to Write a Joy List

Reconnect with the things that bring you joy. These don’t have to be related to your job as a teacher. They can be absolutely anything from a good foot rub to your favourite scarf – no joy is too small or insignificant to write down and feel grateful for. As Lighton advises: “Choose to be proactive, playful and creative. Look for the fun stuff. Write down all the activities that add to your feelings of joy. I call these things, #PPEs: Positive Pleasant Experiences, and they’re vital to wellbeing.”

2. Put “Rest” in Your Diary

Working from home and adapting to new routines can be exhausting. Rest and relaxation may play second fiddle to your other responsibilities if you let them. “For teachers, rest often gets pushed to the end of your list of priorities. It is vitally important for us to have enough time for us to reset and allow ourselves time to pause. This wonderful quote by Steven Covey says it best: ‘The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.’ So schedule your rest time into your day – put it in your diary and commit to ‘getting it done’ just like you would a task,” said Rowe.

3. Take 5 Minutes to Move

Movement can be a powerful form of therapy. And it doesn’t mean exercising or exerting yourself in any way. Stand up from your desk or table and move around for 5 minutes to get your heart pumping and your blood flowing, and to declutter your energy field. Rowe recommends any kind of movement, from dancing to your favourite song, going for a stroll or doing some stretches that feel good for you.

4. Do Some “Habit Stacking”

Wall Street Journal best-selling author, Steve Scott coined the term, “habit stacking” to refer to a life improvement strategy that you can use to build small changes into your routine that you can follow easily every day. Lighton had these”habit stacking” suggestions for teachers:

  • Instead of reaching for your device first thing when you wake up, reach for the divine – give thanks for the things you are grateful for before you leap out of bed.
  • Do some “beditation”? (meditation in bed).
  • Start the day by saying “Oh yes, I am here,” out loud, rather than “Oh no, it’s another day.”
  • Stretch while the kettle is boiling.
  • Drink a glass of water while you wait for the kettle to boil. Our brains need water to think!
  • Instead of listening to the news in the morning, listen to music or an inspiring podcast.

Some thoughts for school management teams

As Rowe advises, if you’re a principal or part of a school’s management team, remember that mental and emotional wellbeing affects everything, not only the way teachers work. It affects the way we perceive the world, the decisions we make and the ability to problem solve. Make your teachers’ mental wellbeing a priority – they need to feel heard and understood so whether you show your gratitude through an encouraging email or a digital voucher as a small token of appreciation, remember that a “thank you” goes a long way.

Lighton had this advice for school management: “The thinking that teachers will survive and thrive once they get the jab and get back into the classroom, is flawed. Our teachers need more than the jab. They need a safe space to address their concerns. They need support in building up their own resilience toolkits, ones that work for them. Practical, Positive, Engaging, wellbeing workshops that support teachers with easy to do and use, ideas, tips and tools, will build their wellbeing in all their life areas; including spiritual, mental, social, emotional and physical wellbeing. This is the #PPE we need today, #PPE that supports our wellbeing tomorrow.”