Coping with coronavirus closure
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
You don’t need me to tell you that our lives right now are so different to usual. We’re all staying in our houses, schools are closed (for most children anyway), and there’s widespread uncertainty about what the future will bring. So why, when we’re working from home in this time of complete change, are we trying to work as if things are still the same?
If you don’t intentionally put in place some good habits, there’s a real risk that you’ll run yourself into the ground and be much less effective at supporting the people you care so much about. So, here are 5 top tips to help people working in education to navigate the strain this season will be putting on you. 1. You’re not going to get as much done as you would in a normal day at work. Accepting this fact is the first step towards staying sane! It takes off your shoulders some of the pressure to act like you're physically at work and, for instance, not take any breaks because you wouldn't if you were in the classroom. It stops you working ridiculously late into the evening if you took a quick break to look after children or go shopping during the day, frantically trying to feel like you've done enough and always feeling behind (when probably you've actually done way too much...) Life right now isn't normal and the environment you're working in is different, so you can't be as productive as usual.
2. Keep track of the hours you've worked. This isn't to make sure you work enough, but rather to stop you over-working! Like I mentioned above, you're probably going to be left feeling like you haven't done enough work once the working day has finished, so you're more likely to continue late into the night. But if you have evidence to contradict your feelings, you can say to yourself "oh, I've already done my 8 hours today, so I can stop working even though the tasks aren't all done yet - those other things will have to wait til tomorrow!" At this point, the longer you continue working, the less productive you'll be; the most efficient thing is to rest.
3. Find fun things to do in your rest time. Having a project to get your teeth into can really help when it feels like every day is the same: you can see it taking shape and moving forward even if the rest of your life seems to be standing still. For me, it was writing and publishing my e-book! (Which, incidentally, has a whole section on setting healthy limits for yourself when you're working from home.) For my wife it's knitting; she's recently achieved a goal she's had for a while of dyeing her own yarn, which I think is amazing. Having something good to do in your free time helps you stop working rather than filling your empty time with more work, and thus helps you avoid burnout.
4. Connect with your colleagues. One of the privileges of working in education is the amazing adults we get to work with, and through the wonders of technology we can still stay connected. My team and I do a video call every morning at 8.30am, helping us all start the day in a positive way, discuss any issues (face-to-face is much more time-efficient and personal than email), and check in on how we're all doing. It also keeps a little normality which is helpful in the present, and will make it less of a shock to the system when we're seeing each other every day again in the future.
5. Be kind to yourself! You're doing the absolute best that you can, and I bet you're doing really well when you stop and think about it. There is no manual for this, you're doing it for the first time and learning as you go, and you're having to spend a lot of time outside your comfort zone with new and unexpected challenges. If you're having to make a lot of decisions, especially if you're a school leader, you're not going to get everything right, but keep learning from your mistakes and you'll get there (and do recognise that you're doing a lot of extra thinking work on top of your normal job, so do try to delegate other tasks so you have more time for thinking during the working day rather than in the evening). With safeguarding, again you're doing the best you can: like in normal school life you can’t pick up on everything that's going on in a child's home life; just keep your ears open and apply the same professional curiosity you normally would if anything's niggling you. Look out for your own family too; if they need your support during the school day, take a break and make up the time later or another day if you can. And ultimately, as I've said already above, don't just keep working the whole time as your wellbeing will plummet.
Are you already doing some of these things? Is there something you're going to start doing (or stop doing)? Do you have another piece of wisdom that should have been in my top 5? Please comment below - I'd love to hear your thoughts!