I’m not a teacher but I do believe education and a love of learning are the most precious and sustaining gifts we can give to children, and through them, to society. One way we excite that love of learning is by making everything associated with learning less like a punishment and more like a joy; that includes changing the current culture in schools where teachers feel guilty when they are not driving themselves like Roman galley slaves, to one where they acknowledge the long-term benefits of paying attention to their own health and wellbeing – and act on that knowledge. Hooray for @MartynReah and his #teacher5aday initiative.
I’ve been researching into resilience in schools for some time now. I’ve discovered that physical and emotional wellbeing are important building blocks in sustaining resilience. It’s a virtuous circle:
- when you make a point of taking care of yourself, you have more energy
- when you have more energy, you’re more able to take control
- when you take control, you’re more able to act on the teacher5aday guidance concerning well-being
- when you act on guidance and take care of your wellbeing, you have more energy … and so on
Without wanting to sound dismissive, it’s not rocket science. ‘You know it makes sense’ – just as putting on a seat belt when driving a car, or not drinking and driving, or avoiding smoking in confined spaces (or at all). All those changes in behaviour required a change in culture. Cognitive awareness of what’s good for us isn’t enough.
The trouble is, as human beings we don’t always act in our own best long-term interests. Our amygdala (often called the brain’s alarm bell) is designed to alert us to immediate danger. That’s what kicks in first (particularly when we’re feeling under pressure). So the urgent becomes the important, and we avoid paying attention to the long-term dangers of exhaustion, relationship breakdown, illness and all the other consequences of our ignoring what’s important for healthy living.
So if you are a teacher committed to even one of the #teacher5aday actions at the beginning of term, and your resolve melts away by week 3, don’t be hard on yourself. You are swimming upstream and that requires a great deal of energy (which you won’t have unless you take good care of yourself). What you’re trying to achieve is counter-cultural. Consider why you went into teaching. To make things better for yourself? I’m guessing not. I’m guessing that it was more about improving the life chances of others. And that’s where you focus your attention. Richard Barrett’s 7-levels of human consciousness model makes it very plain
Unlike Maslow’s, the model is not hierarchical. The 7-levels of consciousness are what we need to focus on for a life well-lived. Our attention may be drawn to one level or another, depending on circumstances. It would be hard to focus on self-less service, for example, if we didn’t have enough to eat. Our focus would then be on survival. If you pay attention to ‘making a difference’ to the exclusion of survival, however, things soon start to go awry. To operate at our best we need to pay attention to all 7 levels of consciousness – and it needs to become a habit.
If you want to change the world, the saying goes, start with yourself. If you want to change a culture, you also need a little help from your friends. If you need to change the culture in your school, enlist the commitment and support of colleagues and leaders.
Be the change. You know it makes sense
You can undertake your own personal values assessment free of charge by visiting http://www.valuescentre.com/pva/