You only have to go as far as your social media pages to see how much momentum #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek is getting at the minute, and it’s not really surprising.
The lockdown is forcing us all to live and work in unconventional, confined, and in some cases life-changing, circumstances right now.
And with increased recognition of these challenges - particularly within the education sector, school leaders are being directed to free guidance on how best to support staff wellbeing in places that they didn’t even know to look. In that vein, I wanted to share some of the best tools and practical tips that I’ve seen from across the sector...
Show and share gratitude
Simple acts of gratitude can be incredibly motivating when morale is low and pressures are high - which is, unfortunately, the case for many of us right now.
Fittingly - this year’s #ThankATeacher day has coincided with mental health awareness week, and pupils, parents and headteachers have been getting into the spirit by taking to social media, sending e-cards and recording video messages to show their appreciation.
Even though the day has been and gone, you can still send personalised thank you e-cards by filling in this form. Many schools have been circulating the form within their teams and to parents, encouraging them to express their gratitude. It's even possible to do this anonymously, for anyone feeling shy!
Support healthy bodies and minds
Everyone knows exercise and meditation are highly recommended antidotes to stress. That’s all well and good - but a lack of time is often the contributing factor to stress, so it can feel impossible to make time for these practices!
However, there are apps that have made it more manageable to fit in mental and physical exercise. Insight Timer, for example, is a meditation app with free sessions and classes run by teachers, for teachers. Headspace has also made a lot of their content free, and these meditation sessions can be as short as 5-10 minutes.
In terms of physical wellbeing - the Nike Training Club app has thousands of on-demand workouts ranging from five minutes to 45 minutes. Hotpod Yoga is also running free online yoga classes every day (with the option of making a donation) and is suitable for all levels.
Even with the best of intentions - it can be easy for your staff to have the day run away from them, and before they know it, it’s 5 pm and they haven’t had a break. Therefore, consider asking your teams to organise group meditation and exercise sessions at least three times a week, (if not every day, which is recommended) and putting regular slots in the diary so they stick to it.
Feel equipped to handle the toughest scenarios
Even with the above practices in place, there’s no escaping that many of your staff will still be struggling with mental health issues in reaction to the pandemic.
Our colleagues at The Key recommend that you and your SLT take extra steps to keep an open dialogue with individuals. Executive principal Patrick Ottley-O’Conner calls his direct reports at the beginning of each week to check in on their wellbeing, and they then check on their direct reports. Consequently, every member of staff has had a call from their manager by the end of the week. He also mentions that if anyone shows signs of anxiety or stress he checks in on them more frequently.
From these calls, it may transpire that some people require further help. Thankfully, there is teacher-specific counselling available via Education Support, which you can link your staff up to. The charity Mind also has some free resource packs to help you sensitively help those who are struggling with their mental health at the moment.
Unfortunately, dealing with bereavement is another likelihood for individuals right now - and of course, I hope this won’t be the case for anyone in your team. However, if any members of your staff are grieving - our colleagues at The Key have worked with a number of bereavement charities to create some comprehensive guidance on how best to help them through this sad time.
For further advice on supporting your remote teams - from facilitating social activities to managing workloads, you can refer back to our previous blog: how to successfully manage your remote school staff.
It’s been uplifting to see how #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek has unfolded on my social media news feeds this year. People that we never expected to hear from are sharing stories of their personal struggles in the hope of helping others, and we are being given more tips and tools that can make a big difference to someone’s state of mind.
It’s a heartwarming movement, and its impact transcends one hashtag and one week of the year alone. And with that, I hope you are able to use some of the above advice to support yourself and your staff, both during #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek and in the future.
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