Educational athletes

I recently heard @team_tait describe teachers as educational athletes. I really liked his analogy. There’s no denying that the stamina, focus and commitment needed in the field of sport are akin to that required within the classroom. There are other important aspects in looking after the wellbeing of both these professions too – sleep, exercise and eating well. Often we find that sports people are far more disciplined in ensuring they get this balance right. Despite knowing better, this week I’ve skipped nutritious meals and instead eaten cereal, stayed up working til late and not exercised once! When I’m good I’m very very good, when I’m bad, I’m awful. But why are these the things I neglect, when I know how important they are in keeping me healthy and in peak condition for my performance as an educational athlete?

In recent months, we’ve heard lots about ‘flattening the curve.’ For the last few years, I’ve been attempting to try to flatten my own curve of extremes. Trying not to count the days til the weekend, but making every day count. Taking time for my wellbeing everyday, not just when I get to breaking point at the end of the week. Slowing down at weekends rather than jam-packing it with rushing around. And for someone who likes every minute of her day to feel worthwhile and productive, this has been difficult. But overall has helped me to experience a more contented and consistently balanced outlook on life. However, every so often, like this week, I need to check in with myself and give a gentle reminder to avoid the extremes of full-on intense weekdays, followed by weekends which I’m too shattered to enjoy.

This weekend I’ve escaped to my happy place – our caravan on the west coast. Like sports people, teachers need rest time too and could not possibly consistently perform without a break. The last few weeks have been incredibly busy and despite resolving not to, I’ve spent a big part of weekends doing school stuff. This weekend i know I need to recharge. For me, that’s reading (I finally got round to reading a magazine I bought during the summer holidays!), fresh air, running, time with family and with nature. A younger me, would have most definitely felt guilty in indulging in all these self-care activities. I would perhaps have told myself to ‘keep going’ convincing myself that you can ‘sleep when you are dead.’ But I’ve gradually realised that by taking time to look after me, the me I’m able to give to others, has so much more energy, positivity and patience. It is so important for me to know that I’m able to give the best of myself to my own boys as a mum, my learners as a teacher and my colleagues as a leader.

I think for teachers, it’s easy for us to get trapped in the martyr cycle. Yes teaching is often challenging, requires a huge amount of energy and some days it seems like the most difficult job in the world. But let’s not forget our why – it’s also a wonderful profession which is a privilege and honour to do day in, day out because of the impact our relationships can make on others. Without a healthy sense of our self and our life balance, I think it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, lack a sense of perspective and see the profession through a filter which often overlooks the best bits.

However it’s important to recognise, that even within the sports world, what works for a weightlifter, isn’t necessarily the same as what gets results for a tennis player. And it’s the same for us as educational athletes – we all need to approach wellbeing and self care in a way that works for us. For some, the idea of coming to the middle of nowhere with dodgy wifi in the rain, would not constitute an aid to wellbeing! ‘You do you.’ Whatever fills your cup back up, take time for it! Your perspective, your interactions and your resilience will all be impacted positively. ‘Self care is allowing you to give the best of you, not what’s left of you.’

Another big part of improving my own well-being and perspective, is ensuring that I have a supportive tribe with whom I can reflect, off load and build up in a safe, supportive and encouraging environment. Just as we would expect all sports people to have their own coach, so too is it important for teachers to have that one person who has our best interests at heart. Someone whose views we trust and respect. Someone who can be honest, yet encouraging. Coaching conversations can help athletes, and teachers, to reflect on their performance and improve. They can allow us to get things off our chest which may otherwise eat away at us and slowly consume our mindset making it difficult to move forward. There’s much research which has been done to support the notion that those with a ‘work best friend’ perform better. I would encourage you to seek out someone in your setting who you can build a positive relationship with. Someone who has your back, but will tell you when you are wrong. Who will inspire you, and whose views you can seek when you are unsure. I would suggest that the strength of these relationships can go a long way to creating a positive working culture. I am incredibly lucky that I am in this position and would encourage others to seek out the teachers in the school whom they respect and can learn from. For me, this helps me hugely to maintain perspective as well as grow.

I don’t have it all ‘sorted.’ I doubt many do. I still have days where I’m so exhausted the smallest thing makes me cry. I still get overwhelmed. Some days are harder than others. But my reflections are helping and finding what works for me is halfway to maintaining a positive work/life balance. The beauty is that I enjoy my job so much more when I’m recharged, refreshed and able to give my all.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend and as always, look after yourself and have a fantastic week!

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