7 Ways to Get Your Exercise Mojo Back Up and Running

adelaide half

I’ve been really interested to hear that recent research that has found exercise to be as useful in reducing the symptoms of mild to moderate depression as medication – an added bonus of engaging in regular physical activity in addition to the traditional benefits that we know exercise has on physical health.

Now that the weather is finally changing and that daylight savings is upon us, I think it’s time to crank up the exercise routines and get your exercise mojo back. Here’s seven ways to show you how!

1. Make the time:

Many people tell me how they wish they could do more exercise but that they just don’t have the time.

I have two things to say about that.

Firstly, if it’s important to you you’ll find and make the time.

Secondly, people often fail to consider early morning as a time to exercise. Getting up just 30 minutes earlier than normal is all that’s required and now that it’s lighter earlier it’s a great time to get that habit started. Early morning is such a lovely time of the day and when you’re out and about at this hour you’ll be amazed at how many other people know this and use it as their preferred time to work out.

2. Make exercise a non-negotiable aspect of your day:

In much the same way as you allocate time for meals and sleep (which are of course non-negotiable), make exercise a part of your daily routine. I know from experience how easy it is to talk yourself out of exercising with self depreciating thoughts such as “I’m too tired,” “It’s too hot/cold/windy/wet” or “I don’t have enough time” being classic excuses to not getting your exercise done.

The solution? It’s simple. Just go. Don’t engage with these thoughts, they’re not helpful (in fact they’re just self defeating). Approach exercise in the same way as you would any other routine. Write it into your diary if you need to or set an alert on your phone, almost like blocking out a period of time for an appointment with yourself. By doing this you’ll find that in a relatively short amount of time your exercise will have become a habit and the whole process of going will become much easier.

3. Create and use opportunities for incidental exercise

This means making opportunities for exercise to happen. A great example of this is by walking/running/riding to and/or from work. This does take some planning and preparation but the benefits include getting to work in a great space mentally and then having the opportunity to use your preferred method of exercise home as a third space opportunity.

[*Worried that you won’t be able to do this because of all that marking you have to drag to and from home? Plan to stay back a bit later than normal and do it, then you can leave the marking there.]

Other opportunities for incidental exercise include using exercise as a means to get to and from places that you normally go instead of driving or catching public transport. Alternatively, if distances are just too far, consider exercising for a portion of the distance (for example a friend of mine lives over an hour away from her work. She rides to the train station which is a few kilometres away from where she lives and then leaves her bike there for the day).

4. Make exercise part of your journey to or from work:

An alternative to getting to and from work whilst exercising is stopping off to exercise on your way home. This may mean detouring past the pool to swim a few laps, going to the gym for a class or PT session or going to a yoga class. That way the exercise is incorporated into your commute and doesn’t become something else that needs to happen in your day.

5. Create a team or join a club:

In addition to building collegiality around similar points of interest, creating a work team has the added benefit of making people feel accountable for their participation in exercising with others. Being part of a team can help as a motivator as your participation is required in order for your team to be successful. If hanging out with your work mates after hours isn’t your thing, joining a sports club is another way to make new friends and work out at the same time. Remember, friends who sweat together get fit together.

6. Workout for a cause:

Preparing for an event that you’re raising money for can be another really motivating way to incorporate exercise into you routine. Runs and rides are common fundraising activities that combine exercise with fundraising. Training for these events can be highly satisfying because you i) aim for and achieve a goal and ii) your efforts go towards supporting a worthwhile cause and helping people in need. Once again, creating a team with people from work can be a good way to get colleagues from work motivated and engaged in exercise.

7. Create opportunities for exercise to happen at work:

Got a gym instructor, yoga teacher or personal trainer on staff? Why not allocate a time where they run sessions for staff before work or at the end of the day? Alternatively, bring the specialists to you.

* A REMINDER: As effective as exercise is as a means to physical health and mental wellbeing, I must caution against overdoing it. There is such a thing as doing too much exercise and this can have serious effects on the body. Remember to mix-up your exercise routine and to have days of rest to avoid exercise induced injury.


‘Safe and Secure’ – A Guide to Understanding the Effects of Family Violence from the Australian Childhood Foundation.

On Thursday I attended a Professional Development session that I had been keenly anticipating for a number of months. The session was run by the Australian Childhood Foundation (@auschildhood) and was called ‘Safe and Secure,’ with the content relating to supporting young people who have experienced family violence related trauma.

safe and secure

I’ve been interested in the field of domestic violence for a number of years now, particularly after attending a session run by the Western Adelaide Domestic Violence Service about 5 years ago where I learnt about the complexities that victims of domestic violence face.

I registered to attend this course because I was working with a number of children whose mums were experiencing DV at the time. I didn’t learn about the violence these children were exposed to from the children first hand; I’d learn about it when I had meetings with their mothers to discuss the unpredictable, bizarre, volatile, sometimes unsafe and occasionally dangerous and destructive behaviour that we were witnessing at school. It was when these disclosures were made that the behaviour all began to make sense and with my main concern (as always) being for the students, it was from there that I developed a keen interest in the effects of family violence related trauma on the children with whom I was working.

I’ve done a lot of training with the Australian Childhood Foundation since around 2008. This was when I first learnt about Strategies for Managing Abuse Related Trauma (SMART) which turned my way of thinking and working with young people who experienced challenging behaviours on its head. In the initial years of the program’s release SMART was considered a model of best practice when working with students who had a history of abuse as we traditionally know it (including mental, physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect). In more recent years the SMART framework has included family violence under the umbrella of abuse related trauma because of the damaging effect it has on the brain development of children who are exposed to it. I was particularly pleased to hear this inclusion because in my experience in schools, family violence was the top cause of high level challenging behaviours that I worked with most prevalently (in fact, significantly way more than any of the traditional abuse categories combined).

You may not be aware of any situations in which children at your site are affected by family violence or you might not understand the effects of the trauma sustained on young people. For whatever reason (I think it’s largely as a result of our society’s attitude domestic violence which is slowly but surely changing) teachers have very little knowledge about it, let alone how to support young children who are caught in the middle of complex and violent home situations. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, I suggest you check out the Australian Childhood Foundation website, particularly the SMART online training section which gives a great insight into how the experience of abuse related trauma (including experiences of family violence) impact brain development and behaviour.


How Becoming a Parent Made Me a Worse Teacher.

There’s been a bit of banter on the Twitter airwaves about parenting and how it affects our ability as teachers recently. Craig Kemp (@mrkempnz) wrote about how he felt his recent experience of becoming a father had enhanced his professional practice, whilst Corinne Campbell (@corisel) penned a sophisticated description of her experience as a committed and highly experienced teacher who feels she has many times been treated unfairly because she happens to not have had any children of her own.

I know that both of these posts elicited passionate responses from people who read them. And I have to say that when I read them my immediate response was that becoming a mum made me a worse teacher. And here’s why…

Baby Number One aka Baby Oops (now Miss 10) was an unexpected surprise. At the time of her conception I had just returned from working in a number of complex Special Education placements in London (think Brixton) and was flitting between short term contracts at local primary schools here in Adelaide. I had just begun my Masters in Counselling and wasn’t concerned about having a baby at the same time. After all, how hard could it be? I’d simply put the baby to bed and then do all my uni work while she slept (I was a competent teacher, surely I could just teach this baby to sleep when I wanted it to, right? How hard could that be?)

Let me tell you that Masters took me 8 years to complete. That was partly because Baby Oops didn’t sleep all night (and didn’t until she was over a year old) but also because I chose to go back to work after a relatively short time after having her. I loved my little girl very much but found motherhood an isolating experience so opted to return to work on a very part term basis for no other reason than to have something other than bowel movements, breastfeeds and projectile vomiting to think and talk about all day long.

The short term part-time contracts continued for a couple of years (as did the study…not quite as quickly as planned but that was ok) and along came Baby Planned (now Mr 8). Around this time I applied for and won a job at the school that I had been working as School Counsellor, a job which I was really excited to win. It was a challenging role that one, faced paced, furious and nothing short of completely full on some days, with police involvement not an infrequent occurrence but in the initial stages of the tenure I completely loved it.

Unbeknownst to me, all was not well with Baby Planned. At the 20 week scan we discovered that he had some very serious health issues; there was question as to whether or not he was even going to be a viable foetus. It’s sufficient to say the next 16 weeks were extremely tense and fraught, as we went from appointment to appointment, having test after test, scan after scan to monitor my little guy’s progress and to find out what we could about what was going on for him. I have to say, despite all this going on in my private life, I was still really enjoying my work and it served as an excellent distraction from what was proving to be one of the most stressful times of my life.

Baby Planned was born 3.5 weeks prematurely and had his first of countless surgeries when he was a mere 16 hours old. His surgeon told us afterwards that 20 years ago he would have died after a couple of days because the procedure he had been through was still relatively new.

At 4 weeks of age he spent a week in PICU with Influenza A, having only been home for two weeks. He was back in shortly afterwards for a  procedure on his heart. Then there were the tests. And more tests. And paediatrician appointments. And follow-ups with surgeons. And the people who did the tests. And physio. And so on, and so on and so on.

Baby Planned was (and still is!) a little champion though. By the time he was 8 months old he was up to average size and weight and was thriving. Once again I returned to work for the same reason I had when my daughter was still quite young. I needed to be able to think about something else and have a break from the very constant and stressful world of hospitals that I had been exposed to with my little guy over the last year or so.

Fast forward a couple of years. Over that time things changed. My role as Counsellor continued to be full-on and challenging; in many ways the complexity of the cases I was managing had increased and that meant I needed to devote more and more of my emotional energy to what was going on at school. I was constantly sleep deprived (with two small children who were frequently unwell, as kids that age are) to start with (it wasn’t unusual for me to get to work having been up since 4:30am) and my days at school were often extremely complex and intense. It wasn’t unusual for me to come home and pass out while putting my daughter to bed as I was completely smashed by the time I got home.

I began to feel that I wasn’t doing a very good job at work and that I wasn’t doing a very good job at home either (I was in a seemingly constant state of emotional exhaustion). My best intentions (which had previously served me really well in life) were just no longer cutting it. And I was still studying.

There were three things which happened in a relatively short period of time which changed things for me. The first was around the time of the Swine Flu epidemic (I’m guessing that was around 2009). Although he never contracted Swine Flu as such, Mr Planned had some serious upper respiratory issues which resulted in six hospital admissions (most by ambulance at 3 o’clock in the morning) which lasted several days over a period of nine weeks. I spent more time in hospital with him that term than I did at school. I think it even got to the stage where they bumped someone out of class to cover for me, as my absences from work had become so prolific. Although I felt awfully guilty about not going into work I just wasn’t in a position to do anything differently. I had to give my full attention to my son before I did anything else.

Another thing that happened around that time was a conversation with my principal who was venting her frustration about parents who didn’t read with their children at night. I remember that it was dark at the time, way after 6 o’clock and I thought to myself as she was talking ‘That’s me. That is completely me. I am one of those parents she’s talking about. I don’t read with my daughter because I’m here, focussing my attention on other people’s children while my little girl is at home with out me, not doing her reading.’ That came as a rude shock that did, and it was a thought I just couldn’t get out of my head. What was happening? How had all this come about? Why was everything suddenly so difficult?

Once Mr Planned had stabilised and I was finally able to return to work things weren’t the same for me, they’d shifted. I arranged to see my Counselling Supervisor to debrief about what had happened (hospitalisations would trigger my trauma from when he was in utero) and my concerns about not being able to spend time with my daughter, she very kindly and I think quite accurately suggested that I seemed burnt out, not just from my work at school but also from parenting. What I needed to do at that time was just take a step back, regroup and recover and make a plan about how to proceed in what had clearly become a work situation which was no longer working for me. As she reminded me, when we are emotionally exhausted and unable to connect with the people in our care, our professional abilities can become severely compromised. Being a conscientious practitioner, I very well knew this to be true and so made plans to resign.

There was some angst around leaving that position, the one which I had worked so hard towards and which I had completed a Masters degree for. I felt a sense of commitment to my colleagues and the children and families with whom I worked but despite this felt (whether accurately or not) that I was no longer doing the best that I could for them. I was not the teacher I used to be; I no longer had the drive, vigour or emotional energy to manage such complex cases to the level which I felt was good enough. I also really wanted to spend more time doing things with my own children which I had not previously been able to do because I had been too distracted by my work and study.

I love my children more than anything. They have made my life richer and brighter and they are both a constant source of amazement and inspiration to me. My son in particular has been the greatest teacher in my life. But their coming into my world made it impossible me for me to maintain my abilities as a teacher. There is no doubt and I have no trouble acknowledging that my performance at work dropped whilst I was caring for them when they were little and when he was so sick.

I left that position in 2012 and have fully recovered from being burnt out. I believe I am now a much better parent and wife, which to me is more important than being a good teacher. I’ve worked enough with children who are emotionally neglected; I won’t be doing that to my own children, that’s for sure. I’m not interested in getting divorced either.

As for working in schools, if you follow me you’ll know I’ve just finished a successful stint in a school recently, but it’s not something I’m particularly interested in right now. I’m more passionate about using the skills I gained from my Masters degrees (there was more than one) to help other teachers be the best that they can be with the children that they work with (and with other problems they might be having in their lives too). I might venture back into schools again someday but for now I’ve got the balance right and it’s what’s working well for me at the moment. It also allows me much more time to take care of the two children who are the more important to me than any others in the world. My own.


PERMA Series – Part 5: ‘A for Accomplishment’



Accomplishment – (noun)

1. an act or instance of carrying into effect; fulfilment

2. something done admirably or creditably

3. anything accomplished; deed; achievement

As educators we are often so caught up in the progress of our students that we may not take the time to even realise that their successes are actually a result of our own hard work and perseverance (which are considerable accomplishments in their own right!)

So how does accomplishment relate to staff wellbeing? Well, if we can focus on what we are achieving and remember that it’s a number of baby steps that are required to make giant leaps, this is a good place to start. Knowing why we do the things we do as well as understanding and being patient with the teaching and learning process is what motivates us to persevere with our work. Once we see students achieve and reach benchmarks that’s when our sense of purpose is improved and we feel like we’ve done what we set out to achieve. It’s this intrinsic reward from the sense of accomplishment which motivates us to keep going.

Accomplishment can be applied to your work in schools in so many ways and can have a significant uplifting effect within your site which of course results in staff wellbeing being enhanced. Publicly celebrating and/or acknowledging accomplishments and encouraging collaborative professional relationships are excellent ways to recognise colleagues’ hard work. We spend considerable time acknowledging student accomplishments in this way at assemblies don’t we but I’m yet to ever see staff news shared in the same way. Why is this I wonder? Do you think that as a profession we are just too busy to spend the time acknowledging our own accomplishments and those of others or is it that for some reason we don’t consider our own gains as important?

This A strand of PERMA is of course inextricably linked with the other pillars. Not that mistakes aren’t valuable opportunities for learning but if we can shift the focus onto What Went Well as well as our wins for the day then we are in a much better position to celebrate a job well done.

How do you celebrate your accomplishments? How does your staff acknowledge and recognise the accomplishments at your site? If you have any examples or ideas I’d love you to share them below so that they can become a resource for others!

Be Kind (Especially to Yourself)

remember to be kind to yourself

I’ve had a hectic last few weeks. Included in the fun times were finishing up a position in a school, children being unwell, a number of massive deadlines, the washing machine breaking down, and going on holiday (which although really lovely wasn’t quite as relaxing as I’d hoped it would be). Despite being away I found myself agitated and it took until the very last days of my camping adventure to feel some sense of relief from the distinct ‘on the brink of overwhelm’ sensation that I’d been experiencing in the previous three or so weeks.

Although I felt quite relaxed once I got home this was all relatively short lived. On the weekend occurred a parenting foopah, an incident which despite all best intentions and interventions being in place happened anyway. Something cringe-worthy, an oversight by my husband and I, something which never should have happened. I’d prefer not to go into details, however the event was enough to get that sense of overwhelm returned in no time and to essentially send me into a flat spin, agitated and distressed. I slept restlessly that night as I kept on waking, unable to settle back to sleep as I was plagued by thoughts of the event as well as feelings of guilt, remorse and shame about it ever occurring.

The next morning I rang my supervisor/counsellor to debrief. I knew if I hadn’t been under such a high level of stress that I would have been able to handle the situation differently, but as we know found that the existing pressures I had been facing had reduced my ability to manage this situation optimally. I explained what had happened and was struck by her first question to me which was “Louiza, are you being kind to yourself here or are you beating yourself up about nothing?”

She reminded me of things I know and tell other people all the time. I am only human and sometimes things will go wrong, despite every safeguard being in place. There is only so much I can control in life and really what is more important is not events that happen but the way that I manage them in the event that they do occur. Although I would have preferred that the incident hadn’t occurred, the reality was that I had handled the situation really well minimising any impact or danger that may have occurred otherwise.

There’s two reasons that I’ve written this all out for you dear reader. The first reason is as a reminder to be kind to yourself. Accept your infallibility as a human being, and remember that mistakes are opportunities for growth and learning. Secondly, even though as a counsellor I know all these things and support other people when they experience similar levels of distress, I was still unable to see the situation objectively because I was too closely involved in it. This is normal and is the reason why I recommend speaking with someone on your ‘go-to’ team about issues when they arise for you. Having a support system in place which you can easily access when things go haywire is invaluable.

*NB – A happy ending to the story. On my counsellor’s recommendation I spoke to my child’s teacher about what had happened so that she would be aware and informed if there happened to be any fallout in the classroom. I felt so much better speaking to her about it, especially as she laughed and recounted a similar incident that had happened in her house with one of her children when they were at school. Imagine how much better I felt about things then!

Four Ways to Recognise an Overindulged Child

My Mr 7 wants a dog and Miss 9 wants an iPad. You (and they!) might think I’m evil and being unfair and mean-spirited because I’ve repeatedly told them in no uncertain terms that there’s no way either are getting what they’re after any time soon.

‘But everyone’s got one…’ says Miss 9.

‘I’ve always wanted a puppy…’ says Mr 7.

Bad luck kiddies, I love you – but no. And that’s the whole point. Not giving children what they want just because they want it (as well as me not being a dog person – I find dog slobber one of the most unbearable things on the planet) is called putting boundaries in place (aka not succumbing to a child’s every whim at the drop of a hat).

It’s an interesting age we live in. Thanks to prolific advertising and promotion, the perception that ‘whoever dies with the most toys wins’ is definitely a commonly held belief. Keeping up with the Jones’ has become part of the rat race we live in and without us even realising it its become the status quo.

My experience working in schools until the middle of last year has been working exclusively in the public system and mostly in disadvantaged schools. I’ve seen my fair share of neglect in the form of children not receiving their basic needs such as food, clothing and lack of supervision. What I’m hearing about from teachers I’ve worked with more recently is the relatively high incidence of what could be described as neglect in more advantaged circles. This has a different flavour to what I’m used to; kids who are well dressed and clean, cared for and safe, nit free and attending school but experiencing neglect on an emotional level, with laissez-faire parenting being the main contributing factor leading to student difficulty.

Let me tell you the children in these situations do not fare well. Despite having every toy, trinket and device on the market (Go-Pro AND an iPad for a six year old anyone?) these children struggle BIG TIME. I’m going to speculate that the two main causes of these difficulties are:

1. Lack of quality time with their parents – We know that 21st century lives are busy ones. Double income families means many children spend time in OSHC before and after school every day. The current generation of children are widely reported to be busier than any other that’ve come before them. I know many primary aged children scheduled to the eyeballs, with at least one activity(sport or otherwise) every night of the school week (many have before school activities too). Then of course there’s the weekend running around for games and competitions which leaves children and families exhausted and as a result of their out-of-home commitments disconnected from one another.

2. Lack of boundaries – Parents acquiescing to their child’s every want (not need). Perhaps this happens as a result of feeling guilty about point 1 above. What children need are boundaries around acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. If children aren’t given these boundaries, they don’t learn how to behave in ways that are socially acceptable. What evolves are tantrum throwing, mean spirited, petulant little people who run amok and cause chaos because they have never been taught social norms about how to get on with others. Frankly, that’s largely because many parents lack behaviour management skills and have never been taught how to put boundaries in place in their own lives.

We all love our children and we want them to be happy. As a parent I completely understand how giving children what they want may seem the right thing to do. However, as Jean Illsey Clarke explains in her book ‘How Much Is Too Much?’ the Test of Four is a useful way to assess if what parents are giving to their child is causing more harm than good. The four points to assess are:

1) Will giving this or letting my child do this hinder their development in any way?

2) Is there a disproportionate amount of family resources (such as time, space, energy) going towards one child?

3) Whose needs is the overindulgence really meeting? Is it the child’s or the parent’s? (***THIS IS A BIG ONE***)

4) Will this cause harm to someone else, the community or the environment? (and along a similar theme, if the child is causing harm, are parents active in teaching the child that their behaviour is not ok and supporting them to take responsibility for and learn from their mistake?)

It’s important to note here that what might be clearly overindulging a child from one family might not be the same for a child in another situation. An example of this might be buying a $5000 pony for a girl in one family because she wants one, as opposed to another family (who happen to run a Horse Riding School) getting their daughter a horse worth the same amount.

It’s an interesting position to be in when working with families who overindulge their children. I find it curious that most parents agree that their child’s behaviour is inappropriate but have no idea about their role in creating the problem. It can be a really tricky subject as a teacher to navigate a conversation around this issue, but I hope the information I’ve provided above will be helpful if this is ever a conversation you need to have with the parents of a child with whom you are working.

For more information, I recommend checking out the magnificent Carl Honore’s ‘Under Pressure’ and also this slightly dated but nevertheless relevant newspaper article from ‘The Age’ in 2009 which I think quite accurately identifies this issue as one that affects mainly middle class families (and I’m going to say also those classified as ‘new money’). ‘Loving Without Spoiling’ by Nancy Samalin also has some interesting perspectives on how to successfully address this issue.


‘Top 15 Ways to Improve Your Wellbeing These School Holidays’

I was very excited to have my article ‘Top 15 Ways to Improve Your Wellbeing These School Holidays’ that I wrote as guest contributor published in Australian Teachers Magazine last Monday.

I realise I left a big one out though! Remember to incorporate at some stage a digital detox. As much as our devices can be useful, even enjoyable, its important to have some time away from them. It helps us to re-group and recharge and also means we won’t be hassled by a school related issue when we’re trying very hard to not think about work!

Have you got any other suggestions about what people can do to improve their wellbeing over the school holidays? Remember this blog is intended to be a free resource to support teachers with their wellbeing so if you have any ideas, please add them below.



Along a similar line to ‘What Went Well’ is working out which things that happened in your day that you want to focus on. I term these things that go well ‘Wins!’ because when things go well it’s like ‘High-5 to me’ and a definite boost to my mood and wellbeing.

Despite there being some low points to my week (aren’t there always low points?) these are the wins I’ve had and are where I am choosing to invest my energy and attention:

– Sunday the election results were called. Needless to say I was happy with the outcome of that WIN!

– Monday I was approached by a principal during a chance encounter to do some work relating to Staff Wellbeing and Student Behaviour in Term 3 -> WIN!

Then I hung out with a friend who’s had a rough time recently and who sent me a lovely text thanking me for spending time with her and for my ‘kindness and counsel’ (insert warm fuzzies) -> WIN!

– Tuesday I was home recovering from a particularly violent but thankfully short lived stomach upset but got to catch up on a stack of iView and YouTube clips I’ve been meaning to watch forever -> WIN!

– Wednesday I confirmed a meeting with some people about some work which I am totally excited and interested in being involved in -> WIN!

– Thursday a parent of a child I am working with brought me a slice of homemade chocolate cake and relayed how happy she and her husband were with the improvement in their child’s anxiety since I had been working with him -> WIN!

I also finished of a 1000 word article due Friday before I went to bed -> WIN!

– Today because I finished the aforementioned article last night I’ve had much more time to spend catching up on blog writing (and I’ve written 3 new posts) -> WIN!

And whilst I was having a quick break and getting my toenails painted (a task I’ve only been trying to co-ordinate for the last 7 weeks) -> WIN! I got a phone call from yet another school inviting me to go and present for them at the beginning of Term 2 -> WIN!

And to top all that I was notified by organizers today that a session I am running next Saturday has sold out -> WIN!

Despite how it might sound (and I have to say when you read through it it sounds pretty amazing) there’s been quite a few ordinary things and even one or two very unpleasant and negative things that have happened this week too. However, because I am aware that what you put your focus on grows I’m not spending any more time acknowledging those events or incidents and am finding that the effect of focussing on my WINS! has been quite amazing. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the more I emotionally invest in this work, the better I feel!

What were your wins this week? I’d love to hear. Please feel free to post your response below or alternatively on Twitter using the #win and/or #whatwentwell hashtags.




PERMA Series – Part 4: ‘M for Meaning’



Hopelessness and helplessness are two key characteristics of people who are deeply depressed or suicidal and it’s this lack of meaning in life leaves people struggling emotionally. To have no answer to the question ‘What’s the point of living?’ is certainly indicative of an unhappy, at risk existence.

Alternatively, associating meaning to your life is a well recognised predictor of wellbeing. Knowing why do we do the things we do gives meaning to our existence and our work which in turn affects our behaviour and consequently outcomes for students.

The belief in something bigger, more powerful, even more important than you is the starting point behind this concept of meaning. It might be your meaning in life is to serve and benefit all humanity; it may be faith in religion or some higher power or in humankind. For others, unity towards a common cause such as democracy, environmentalism, feminism, animal rights or even something as simple as supporting your local football team meets this criteria.

What gives meaning to your work as an educator? What is your professional mission? Is it the belief that you can make a difference in the lives of the students with whom you work? Is it a sense of social justice that gives you meaning? Is it the belief that young people have the right to receive quality education for free? 

Creating a Mental and Emotional Separation from Your Work

the third spaceTHREE people spoke to me at different times yesterday about how they were really finding it difficult to separate themselves mentally and emotionally from their work. One said he found it impossible to not think about work when he was at home (work ‘stuff’ was always in his head), another was waking at 3am and not being able to get back to sleep (don’t  worry, I referred her to the Sleep vlog series) and the last simply commented about how hard it was for her to ‘switch off.’

I understand where these people are coming from. As teachers we spend so much time planning and preparing lessons, then reviewing, marking, assessing, thinking about how we can do things better. Then of course there’s the emotional aspect of working in schools – and I for one know how difficult it can be to be consumed by thoughts relating to our student’s social and emotional needs, particularly when we hear of them experiencing distress, abuse or family dysfunction.

The reality of this though is that if our sleep is being disturbed (including not being able to get to sleep even though we’re shattered) or if we can’t stop thinking about work then the time that we have away from school to rest, recover and recuperate will be compromised which will leave us performing less than our best when we are next on deck.

Last year I heard Dr Adam Fraser speak at a conference about this very issue and I found what he said really useful. Fraser talks about using transition points in our days to very purposefully shift our focus and attention from one aspect of our day (like work) to another (home). It can also be used the other way around (so that remnants of the arguments you’ve had in the morning don’t affect the rest of your day)

I liked the idea of what Fraser what suggesting. My previous school was a short 5 minute drive away from home and I found I really struggled to switch from home to work in the mornings (especially as I had such young children a the time) and then work to home (from crisis management to tired and demanding children at the end of the day). It was simply too short a period of time to mentally transition from one demanding area of my life into another and would often find the emotional space I was in from one context remaining with me into the next. It was difficult to navigate and I found myself frequently exhausted.

Fraser’s concept involves using the concept of ‘The Third Space‘ to deliberately work through then end thoughts about what has happened in one space and prepare and be ready for the next. At my current job I have the luxury of a longer commute (which I most days I ride) and find the combination of the amount of time I am on my bike and the physical exercise being an excellent way for me to work through things and arrive at my required destination having processed events, mentally clear and ready to take on whatever is happening.

I appreciate that you might not have this luxury. However, there are a number of deliberate rituals you might engage in that can help with this process which include:

– taking off your name badge and leaving it at work

– changing clothes (or even showering) as soon as you get home

– going for a walk (or even better to walking to and from work if at all possible) or other exercise when you get home

– writing a list of things to attend to in the morning when you are about to leave work (writing things down helps to clear them from your head)

– disconnecting your phone/home computer from your work email

– leave as much work as possible at work

– schedule yourself a completely work free day at least once over the weekend and if you must take work home only do it between allocated times

What strategies do you use to create a mental and emotional separation from your work? Please share them here so that others can give them a shot if they’re stuck for ideas.