Teacher wellbeing is an essential ingredient for effective, creative, and motivating teaching. Yet, so many teachers neglect their own self-care, focusing their time and energy on other aspects of their professional practice. In this blog, I outline how we can all become a little ‘smarter’ about our wellbeing. A ‘SMART’ teacher attends to their Self, Motivation, Activity, Relationships, and use of Time, in order to teach to the best of their abilities so that they can truly flourish as professionals. Let’s look at each facet of a ‘SMART’ approach to teacher wellbeing.
SMART teachers understand the value of self-care, self-compassion, and placing the self in the centre of their agenda. Many educators are naturally orientated towards caring for others as is the nature of the profession. However, this focus outwards often means that their own ‘self’ needs can be overlooked and neglected. Yet, the saying, ‘you cannot pour from an empty cup’, serves as a warning of the perils of not attending to the self. If teachers want to teach to the best of their abilities, they need to ensure they are looking after themselves too so that they have energy and resources to draw on in their professional roles. Self-care is not an indulgent luxury; rather it is the foundation of good practice.
SMART teachers are aware of their own motivation. Everybody’s motivation experiences peaks and troughs. The key is to recognise the dips and know what you need to do to help you regain your drive. Humans also have a natural tendency towards a negativity bias meaning we tend to focus on the negatives and sometimes lose sight of the positives. Our wellbeing and motivation can benefit when we deliberately take stock of the positives in our jobs on a daily basis.
At the end of the day, make a note of things you enjoyed, found rewarding, or are grateful for about your job. Looking at the positives is not about denying the negatives which you may still need to address; it is about maintaining a balanced focus. It can be motivating to remind ourselves of what we love about our jobs and perhaps, for some, reconnect with our original motivations for choosing this profession.
SMART teachers appreciate the tight connections between physical and mental wellbeing and the benefits of being active in this regard. Our physical wellbeing centres around what is known as the ‘health triangle’, which involves sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Attending to these aspects of self is a prerequisite for being able to flourish at work. Everyone’s needs and capacities in this regard vary, and each person needs to find their own balance. However, the key is to consciously attend to our health triangle ensuring that quality sleep, healthy nutrition, and time for exercise are not pushed off our agendas by other seemingly more pressing demands. Nothing is more important than your health and recognising this is a critical first step. Human bodies are incredible machines but they also need good maintenance – make sure you look after your body as well as you look after your car, plants, or pets!
SMART teachers know just how important relationships are for wellbeing. John Donne famously said, ‘no man is an island’. We are all embedded in a web of social relationships. In the workplace, our wellbeing is boosted through positive relationships with colleagues as well as with our learners. Among colleagues, a special friend at work to connect with and share work ideas with is particularly valuable. In our personal lives, family and friends represent a key source of strength and support. Investing in our social relationships means setting quality time aside to meet, and then savouring the time together without distractions. Making ‘date nights’ with partners and friends remains a great strategy to keep relationships healthy.
SMART teachers have strategies for managing their time effectively. Good time management is not about being efficient so you work even more and even harder! Good time management is about finding ways to work effectively, so you can create more time in your schedule to engage in self-care, do exercise, be with family and friends, and spend time on hobbies and other aspects of life which refresh and motivate you. Being able to manage your time means knowing what needs to be done, keeping an overview of deadlines (long- and short-term), and understanding when you work best on what kinds of tasks. Check your priorities and organise your time accordingly – that includes making yourself and your relationships a priority fixed in your schedule like any other important appointment.
Teaching is a wonderful profession, which can be extremely rewarding and meaningful. However, the passion and dedication that many teachers exhibit often means that they neglect their own wellbeing. ‘SMART’ teachers know that making their wellbeing a priority is not selfish or something to feel guilty about. Instead, it is a recognition of personal worth and the fact that everyone – teachers and learners – benefit if teachers look after themselves and are wellbeing-SMART: Self, Motivation, Activity, Relationships, and Time.
Do you want to discover more great strategies for nurturing and promoting your wellbeing? Read Teacher Wellbeing, by Sarah Mercer and Tammy Gregersen – a practical guide for language teachers!
Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria, where she is Head of ELT Methodology. She is co-author, with Tammy Gregersen, of Teacher Wellbeing, published by Oxford University Press. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience, and she has written and edited prize-winning books in this area. She is currently vice-president of the International Association for the Psychology of Language Learning (IAPLL) and serves as a consultant on several international projects. In 2018, she was awarded the Robert C. Gardner Award for excellence in second language research by the International Association of Language and Social Psychology (IALSP).