Hurry up, I’m trying to relax!

As we approach the middle of the summer break, many of us will be taking this opportunity, sub-consciously or otherwise, to reflect on just how different this year has been. Our experience, and those of our students, is unlikely to be repeated ever again. Regardless of whether we were teaching live lessons every day or uploading work on a Monday morning to collect on a Friday evening, many of us won’t have the same jarring change from the frantic pace of school life to a different style of home living that we have in the last weeks of July every year. For some, teachers and students, it won’t feel like much of a transition; some will welcome the ‘downtime’; some will have those nagging, unwanted questions creeping in – what do I do now? Should I be planning? How can I get ready for the next year? Am I making the best use of this time?

I’ve had many conversations with friends in teaching this week about the different ways of coping with the creeping, irksome thoughts that prevent the quick switch off so many of us strive to achieve. Whether we’re still checking emails out of habit, keeping in touch with other staff and students, making a start on next year’s planning, organising results days – you name it, if it involves some sort of connection with school, it continues to be part of our day. So, when did it become so hard for us to switch off once the gates shut for the summer? Does the expectation really exist for us to work over the summer or is it just part of our psyche? And why do we feel that niggling sense of guilt if there’s not a laptop or exercise book within reach?

More often than not, these conversations result in the same conclusion; very few feel able to ‘switch off’, and many just give up trying. In my first year of teaching I was told by a very experienced member of staff that they had read a study that had proven teachers don’t actually start to unwind until the last week of the summer break. It’s becoming alarmingly apparent that the pace of education today allows very little room for staff, and by extension students, to understand, recognise, or practise self-compassion. So, how and where do we start? This is akin to the chicken and egg riddle; our very own self-compassion conundrum.

The fact that many schools have no resources or no frame of reference to teach self-compassion means many are stuck in that downward spiral of always working towards the next thing, rather than taking a breath, a step back and admiring their handiwork. In addition to this, the requirement for teachers and students to achieve a lot in a short amount of time leaves next to no time for kindness to ourselves. During summer breaks the value of time shifts from reflection and genuine downtime (something we promise ourselves we’ll achieve every year!) to simply refuelling. Because of this, our time off is spent recovering rather than building the resilience we need – a bit like preparing for our next marathon when we’ve just crossed the finish line.

For most of us a tropical holiday is the perfect way to unwind and de-stress after a busy school year, but many of us have sadly had our summer plans disrupted due to Covid-19 pandemic. Here are a few ways in which you can relax and enjoy your holiday time without leaving the beautiful Kent surroundings or even your home!

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