Staff wellbeing: Self-care isn’t selfish

Written by: Sophie Howells | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Looking after yourself is not selfish – in fact it is a vital part of being able to perform at your best as a teacher or school leader. As a new school year begins, Sophie Howells reminds us all to prioritise self-care


As the autumn term gets underway, the summer break may already feel a distant memory. Nevertheless, there are ways you can keep yourself feeling well throughout the rest of the term and I urge you all to commit to making self-care a continuing priority so that you can be the best “you” possible.

It is worth taking a moment to remind ourselves and our teams of the basics that really can make a difference in keeping us mentally and physically well.


Get enough sleep

How much and how well we sleep has a direct effect on our wellbeing. When work is demanding, our sleep routines often go out the window. A number of studies (e.g. Falkingham et al, 2021) highlighted how the pandemic has made sleep problems common, with the number of people experiencing insomnia rising from one in six to one in four (essential workers are among the groups particularly affected).

Last autumn our own research (Education Support, 2020) found that 52 per cent of teachers said they had suffered from insomnia in the last year. This was a significant increase from 37 per centthe year previously.

Here are a few things to ask yourself if your sleep routine is far from ideal:

  • Am I over doing the caffeine? Sensitivity can vary between people, but doctors recommend giving it a miss after 12pm.
  • How’s my screen use? It is well established that the blue light from screens can disturb sleep. Can you disconnect an hour before sleep? Or even better make the bedroom a screen-free zone.
  • Can I create a sleep ritual? Relaxing activities before bedtime help us to wind down and let go of the day. Making this a regular thing can have a lasting effect on our relationship with sleep. It could just be a herbal tea and a hot bath, or a meditation practice, listening to relaxing music and a journaling session.
  • Am I too hot? Temperature is often overlooked as an important part of our sleep journey. From 9pm our core temperature starts to drop. Check your room isn’t too hot, so you can ease your way toward good quality sleep.


Set the right boundaries for you:

Think about this half-term, or just the next week. You know the demands at work are not going to lessen. People with boundaries ask for help and delegate to avoid burn-out. You are human, not a robot.

What have you learned this year about taking on new responsibilities and knowing when and how to say “no”? In the past 18 months, you have undoubtedly learned a lot about your own limits.

This year, try to be clear about your own priorities and encourage and remind other staff to do the same from the word go.

Practise holding healthy boundaries that stop you from taking on too much or committing yourself to work that does not align with your personal priorities. Avoid over-promising and under-delivering.

What are your own red lines? For example, you may put aside one evening a week to focus on family or other outside commitments. This can make a real difference to your levels of exhaustion.

You can find a new Education Support guide advising on how to set boundaries via our teacher hub (see further information).


Connect with colleagues

The academic literature tells us that teachers thrive on collegiality. Good relationships with colleagues can improve our level of job satisfaction, which in turn affects our life satisfaction.

Most staff teams have pulled together during Covid-19, drawing on a reservoir of goodwill and strong relationships. By now, some of those relationships may be a little worn and under-loved. Has there been time for casual connection and shared laughs?

Think about what you might be able to instigate now you are back at school. A lunch-time walk with colleagues? Friday breakfast? A staff BBQ?


It’s not selfish

Remember, you have worked through one of the most demanding times in living memory. You helped children to stay connected through multiple transitions and to keep learning. Taking care of yourself this year is just as important, and the best investment of time you can make. Self-care isn’t selfish. It helps you to be the best possible educator.

  • Sophie Howells is from Education Support, a UK charity dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of the education workforce. Read her previous articles via http://bit.ly/seced-howells


Further information & resources

  • Education Support: For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or www.educationsupport.org.uk
  • Education Support: Teachers’ Hub: https://teachershub.educationsupport.org.uk/
  • Education Support: If you are a headteacher in England, the charity offers limited free spaces to participate in online, facilitated peer support and individual telephone supervision (https://bit.ly/3iU5RGH)and if you work in Wales, you can visit the Welsh headteachers service (https://bit.ly/2W3YvHG)
  • Education Support: Teacher Wellbeing Index 2020, November 2020: https://bit.ly/3APzoHI
  • Falkingham et al: “Sleepless in Lockdown”: Unpacking differences in sleep loss during the coronavirus pandemic in the UK, University of Southampton, July 2020.


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