When a new school year gets underway, it’s often with a feeling of excitement – but also a slight feeling of fear or apprehension. It can be daunting, as you know how busy it will get at times, and how you will be asked to dig deep and find superhuman powers as you tackle lesson plans, new students, different classes, new colleagues, new processes, a new curriculum or a new school environment. That’s on top of your day-to-day teaching. It’s a lot.
While you may feel switching to survival mode is the only way through, it is possible to thrive not just survive. How do you make the school year as enjoyable as possible? Maximise joy and minimise stress with this refresher. It’s thrive time…
1. Remind yourself of the rewards
Teaching can be a job that asks a lot of you. Rather than focus on the negative as you head into the school year, remember the core reasons you chose this marvellous career!
Remind yourself of the impact you’re making.
Look for those ‘aha’ moments with the students.
Congratulate yourself on your tenacity and skills.
Take pride in what you do well.
Remember that you are making a difference every day.
2. Prioritise self-care
Yes, everyone talks self-care. But are you doing it? Take care of your wellbeing in this busy first term when you’re getting established, so you have a deeper well of positive energy to pull from. A few small daily self-care practices can make a big difference in relieving stress, supporting good mental health and showing up for your students in the best way.
If stress is building in the classroom, breathe in deeply, hold it for a few seconds, then exhale slowly for a few seconds. Repeat that deep breathing for 2 minutes to lower your stress response and gain control.
Take a 5-minute brain break or mini-meditation to decompress throughout the day.
Outside the classroom, self-care can mean carving out quiet time, not over-scheduling your life, doing things you love and saying no to things you don’t. When in doubt, reach for an affirmation card to bring you some calm and focus.
3. Eat healthy & exercise
Staying healthy is the single most important way to keep yourself happy and motivated throughout the school year. A healthy diet and exercise regimen is a natural mood enhancer and energy booster too!
Cool moves: Find exercise you like – yoga, walking, gym – and schedule it when you can so it’s a regular part of your work week.
Restorative sleep: Those zzzzzs are a powerful way to stay healthy. Regular sleep lets your body and mind rejuvenate so you can meet the day with energy instead of fatigue.
Food as medicine: Getting the fuel your body needs to stay sharp will help you no end in the classroom. Prioritise fresh fruit, complex carbohydrates, leafy greens and lean proteins. Try to curb unhealthy snacks. (But also cut yourself some slack – you’re only human!).
Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water each day. H2O hack: fruit is loaded with water so you can also top up your intake there.
4. Make time for you-time
Your free time matters. It helps you avoid teacher burnout – especially in the school year when it’s go go go. Here’s how to make it happen so you maintain that energy.
Boundaries: Put some firm boundaries in place. If you can leave schoolwork at school, do! This might mean saying no sometimes to both personal and professional opportunities – but boundaries will make you more content as a teacher.
Thrive tip: Turn off notifications on your phone for work emails!
Happy place: Lean into hobbies, pets, friends, family, Netflix, the beach, road trips… find your happy place outside of school hours and carve out time for it. Having some ‘you time’ and taking the dog for a walk, getting that massage or enjoying a leisurely brunch will help support a healthier balance in your life, and make your teaching time more energised, focused and less stressful.
You’ll be a better you: You work long hours but remember that your personal time is important to protect, so you can keep being the teacher you love being – and your students will thank you for it!
Thrive tip: In each term, book in some watertight ‘you time’ dates – a friend catch up, a bushwalk or a family BBQ. Schedule them in advance so when the term hits, those dates are locked and loaded.
5. Talk to your colleagues
No-one understands the demands of a teaching job like other teachers, so work those workplace friendships! Communication and meaningful social connection can be stressbusting in so many ways.
You’ll laugh and support each other, relax with each other and build healthy perspectives and potential solutions for problems that arise.
Never be afraid to ask for help. It’s a sign of strength. So, reach out, offload and share – remember, a problem shared is a problem halved.
You can help others too which feels awesome!
It’s chemically proven! ‘Feel good’ conversations trigger higher levels of dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins and other biochemicals that give us a sense of wellbeing. Gotta love that.
6. Book some professional development
Upskilling and staying motivated is important, so make time to top up on your professional learning and update your skill set throughout the year. Write a list of what you’d like to learn and seek out conferences or seminars that could inspire your teaching. There are lots of training opportunities offered by so many organisations. You can learn so many new things even in one day. Perhaps you could aim for a bit of PD each term to help with your wellbeing and sense of growth.
7. Keep calm and plan
Before the year goes too far, stay ahead with a physical (or digital) planner. It will give you a great sense of calm and a feeling of accomplishment! Using a teacher planner, jot down notes or goals you want to achieve and put dates in place. The more organised you feel during the year, the more the stress will melt away and you won’t feel so overwhelmed.
8. Make the classroom clean a dream
Classrooms have a habit of getting cluttered really easily, even early on in the school year. Aim to stay on top of tidying throughout the year with a system – recycling, take-home work, rubbish, store away. Perhaps put students in charge of tidying up work on the wall. At the end of each term, do a mini-clean and tidy. Send projects or artworks home that you don’t need to keep in the cupboards or in tubs or drawers any more.
9. Tackle reports like a pro
Reporting is a real skill and twice a year, it will come up on you before you know it! Keep notes along the way (in your planner perhaps) that will help you when it gets to report writing time. Otherwise it can be all-consuming writing meaningful comments and assessments. When the time comes, find a quiet place that works best to write your reports efficiently and use a method that focuses you. Be strategic and disciplined with your time, and don’t let it take over your time completely. You’ve got this.
10. Familiarise yourself with curriculum changes
For many teachers, 2023 is a year of change as the new Australian Curriculum Version 9 (https://v9.australiancurriculum.edu.au/) comes into play as well as revisions to the NZ Curriculum (https://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Refreshing-the-New-Zealand-Curriculum). How do these changes impact your lesson plans? Take the time to understand the implications in the classroom and shape your teaching accordingly. Evaluate the relevance of the resources you’re using.
11. Outsource the admin
Having time to prepare for your core teaching duties is a hot topic!! Research shows that many teachers juggle an ever-expanding workload. To avoid burnout, learn what tasks you can outsource throughout the school year. Put your hand up for admin support wherever and whenever it’s offered and available.
12. Plan holidays
Plan regular mini-breaks or holidays throughout the year. Get online. Book something. Explore travel sites. Plan a home reno. Whether you unwind best with a vacation or staycation, planning a break is motivating and will give you something to aim towards after all the hard work you put in. As a wise person once said, you can’t pour from an empty cup, so make sure a little break, even if it’s just a weekend, fills up your cup.
13. Be imperfect
Remember that what you’re doing every day is enough. Many teachers feel stressed and are prone to burnout because they feel they need to do more. Banish the perfectionism. You’re in a wildly human job at the end of the day, dealing with many different people – students, parents, principal, admins, the school community. Keep stress at bay by reminding yourself that you’re doing enough.
14. Look for the opportunity in each moment
What strengths and skills are you honing in the classroom, even when the moment may not be one of your finest? Find the opportunity in every moment – the good or the bad. The school year may have challenges, but even on the toughest day, there’s a lesson – not just the ones you’re sharing with your students, but one for you. Look for it and see it as the opportunity it is – to self-reflect, to improve, to pivot or to keep doing what you’re doing! Remember, your goal this year is to thrive and keep that passion alive!
Plan for the best and apply some of these tips to keep your tank full! Making your school year stress-free is possible if you prioritise yourself, prioritise your growth as a teacher, connect with others, plan ahead – and don’t forget to hydrate and breathe deep every day! And of course, when you thrive, your students do too.