Guest post - 5 minute read
Chris Eyre, Religious Studies Principal Examiner and teacher
In this blog Chris Eyre – one of the RS Principal Examiners and author of a wellbeing book for teachers looks at some of the things that we can do to help our mental health and our learning whilst we are working remotely.
Welcome to lockdown 3, the worst sequel since, well, lockdown 2. This lockdown seems harder doesn’t it for both staff and students? There are so many unknowns, so many changes of plan and although the days are getting slightly lighter it seems a long way to go until we reach the end, the return to normal or whatever that is.
As I pondered writing something on wellbeing for both the staff and students in my department, my thoughts turned to a book I’d read around 25 years ago whilst doing my degree.
It was by an American pastor, Ronald Dunn, whose son tragically and unexpectedly died. Dunn asked the question ‘What do you do when you don’t know what to do?’ His answer has stuck with me over the years. If you don’t know what to do, ‘do the things that you do know to do.’
There are so many unknowns at the minute. We don’t know how long we will be in lockdown, whether we will return to school or college as planned, what is happening with exams, when we will next meet up with family that we haven’t seen for almost a year. So many unknowns. But we do know quite a lot about what typically leads to good mental health and how we can decrease some of the stresses we are under.
First, there are the physical things. When teaching from home I have noticed that I drink more coffee and less water. This leads to the predictable afternoon crash. So, if you are teaching or learning remotely have your water nearby just as you would in class.
We know that drinking more water helps our brains. Also take advantage of the daily exercise we are allowed. If you have a free lesson why not take your walk then, you will get your vitamin D and you will be refreshed physically and mentally.
Secondly, there are the emotions. In his book on emotional intelligence Daniel Goleman observes that emotions are quicker than our more rational side but ‘emotions are sloppy.’ They kick in before we have time to think logically about our situation but are not necessarily an accurate guide to reality.
Sometimes we have to have a word with ourselves and challenge the way we feel with the facts. If you have a trusted friend that you can be honest with, why not check in with them, tell them how you feel and ask them honestly whether your perspective is being coloured by the present situation.
In terms of our minds, what we think about depends on what goes into our mind. The more we dwell on bad stuff, the harder it is to stay positive. With this in mind each of us probably needs to cut down our doomscrolling and limit our intake of news. The world is unlikely to have changed in the 5 minutes since you last refreshed Twitter.
Instead try to do something each day that energises you or brings you joy. It may be 30 minutes on a favourite game, listening to music, reading a book: anything that makes you feel better and more energetic after you have done it.
Then there are our habits. Human beings are creatures of habit and we benefit from routine and structure. It can be tempting, particularly if lessons are not live, to get out of our routine, getting up as and when, working into the night one day but falling asleep after dinner the next. (I think this is for students not staff but who knows!).
Try to keep some form of routine by following a timetable, scheduling breaks, and aiming to go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day.
In terms of our studies – again we can do the things that we know even if our current situation is unusual. We know what works in the classroom: regular review of the current topic, checking in on past topics, doing practice exam questions. Those things still work remotely. Whilst we don’t know what form assessment will take but we do know that those things will get us ready for it.
Finally, let’s cut each other and ourselves some slack at the moment. Those people who normally irritate you slightly have now become unbearable: they are as stressed as you are, be kind and give the benefit of the doubt.
Pause before answering the email. I am an RS teacher so there has to be some link to the subject. Jesus said ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ Sometimes the hardest thing is to be kind to ourselves and cut ourselves some slack. You may not have done all the things on your list today but you have not had to teach or study in a pandemic before.
Chris Eyre is a Principal Examiner for RS and Head of Humanities at a sixth form college. He has written various RS textbooks and a teacher wellbeing guide – the Elephant in the Staffroom – which is available from the publishers Routledge and other bookshops. You can read more from Chris on his website as well as connecting with him on Twitter @chris_eyre.