As a result of recent school closures, thousands of teachers and students have been forced to move their classroom activities to a home learning structure, in order to limit the spread of the virus as much as possible.
Thankfully, with the use of various video communication tools and e-learning platforms, most teachers are able to maintain their usual lessons and continue teaching as they would in the classroom. Students, similarly, can participate in lessons from their own desks at home, interacting with their teacher through video, chat boxes or emails.
The Mental Impacts of Working from Home
However, teaching and studying from home is not the same as a social classroom environment, and can lead to some people feeling very isolated. Teachers may miss their daily staff room breaks with other teachers, whilst students may long for the camaraderie of their friends.
Additionally, teachers in particular will be prone to burnout, as the lines between workplace and home become blurred. Due to the lack of social activity, they may be tempted to work later hours than normal, whilst also feeling under pressure to come up with more lesson plans and create resources to support the home learning structure.
Whilst working at home will indeed have obvious physical health benefits, it’s important to also consider the mental impacts of staying at home and take necessary measures to look after our mental health as well.
We’ve put together a list of ways that teachers can look after their mental health whilst teaching from home. Many of these can be passed on to students as well to ensure classes are working together to limit negative mental effects and help everybody remain at their most productive.
Ways to Support your Mental Health When Working At Home
1. Maintain a consistent routine
Perhaps the most important thing of all during this time is to maintain a consistent routine. This will help everybody keep appropriate boundaries between work and relaxation, as well as enabling you to organise your day better for maximum productivity.
If you’re a teacher, you’ll likely be managing a class timetable as best as you’re able. But it doesn’t stop there – create a schedule for yourself which allows time for proper meals, exercise, and breaks when you do nothing to do with work. Set a time at the end of the day when you will finish up all activities to do with teaching and just take time for yourself. If you have marking or researching to do, work these into the weekly plan as well so you know exactly when it will be done.
Related: 5 Tips for Teachers to Avoid Burnout
Some additional tips for both teachers and students:
- Designate a place to work that is as free of distractions as you can make it.
- No matter how tempting, avoid working in your pyjamas all day. This is likely a big change already so try not to lose all your daily routines at once. Parents should ensure children get dressed into appropriate clothes for the school day ahead.
- Try and set clear tasks for the day – three major decisions or activities is a good day’s work – but keep an eye on ongoing tasks too. You won’t always get as much done at home, particularly in these unnatural circumstances, but by tracking your tasks and goals you will get much more done than you thought.
- Have a proper lunch break. Stop, make something nice to eat, and eat away from your work area. Try and get outside and get some natural light if you can do so safely, and try some exercise, again within guidelines on social contact.
- Use your staff diary to clearly say to others when you are working and when you are available to speak. Teachers should also have clear contact hours that are communicated to students and their parents – when they are available for answering questions and providing extra help, and when they are not. You may be working at home, but you’re not offering a 24-hour service.
- When you are done for the day, pack away your work things or leave your work area at the end of the day.
- If you are home schooling or looking after children whilst trying to work, have a conversation with work about those realities. Try and set up a routine whereby you have distinct times for working and for helping with school time.
Free Daily Planner Template
Plan your day using our free daily structure template below. Teachers can use this to plan out their lessons, and any recreational activities or virtual coffee breaks they have planned throughout the day.
Teachers and parents can also use this to help students plan their day and maintain a balanced routine. We’ve included an example of what a student’s daily timetable might look like, offering ideas for exercise, relaxation, lessons and educational activities.
2. Keep up the social flow of work as well as the formal
It’s likely that as a teacher, you already have systems for keeping track of the formal aspects of your job, such as lesson plans, marking, sharing resources with other teachers, communicating with students and liaising with parents etc.
However, it’s important to have channels that keep up the social aspects of your job as well, such as chatting to your colleagues about work and life. This can involve video calls at certain points throughout the day/week, such as virtual lunches, coffee breaks or ‘staff room’ meets. Platforms like Zoom and Skype are invaluable for this, as well as a simple FaceTime call to your nearest and dearest.
Talk to your leader and colleagues about setting up a regular virtual meeting so that nobody has to feel alone. And of course, there are always online teaching communities you can join to connect with other teachers.
3. Stay connected with loved ones
Similar to the point above about social contact with colleagues, it’s important keep up healthy relationships with those you love in your personal life too.
Use phone calls, texts, WhatsApp, FaceTime or video communication platforms like Skype and Zoom to connect with family and friends. Although you won’t want to overdo it, social media can also be a good way to keep up with how friends are spending their time at home, and enjoy the sense of unity that comes with knowing everybody else is going through the same thing.
However, when overused, social media can also become draining and make us feel even more alone, so be sure to set daily limits for its use. See it more as a communication tool than a means to consume endless content.
4. Keep up with the news…in small doses
The news can be great for staying in the loop about current events, and in some ways can even provide a sense of comfort for many people.
However, listening to endless debates and predictions about how things might pan out can send our brains into an endless spiral and make it difficult to switch off. Set yourself a time at which you will watch/read the news for a few minutes every day – for example, in the morning as you drink your coffee, or at lunch time.
For the rest of the day, concentrate on work or listen to other mediums that have nothing to do with what’s going on outside. This could be music, podcasts, cooking shows – anything that helps to focus your mind on something positive.
5. Keep a journal of your thoughts
If you’re particularly prone to anxious thoughts, then keeping a journal of your feelings and thoughts day-to-day can really help.
You can use your journal to incorporate a gratitude practice – ask “What was I grateful for today?” – and learning – ask “What was I challenged by today?”. In a week or so you will start to get insights into things you can improve in this working pattern, as well what things benefit your mental well-being so you can do more of them. You can also use it to let go of any thoughts you have on current events and make sense of what is happening around you.
You could combine this with a paper bullet journal or planner to keep thoughts, tasks and achievement in the same place. This can actually be a great activity that teachers can share with students, encouraging them all to keep their own journals in which they write down their challenges and things they are grateful for.
6. Carry on doing the things you enjoy
You may not be able to go outside, but doing relaxing activities you enjoy is still super important for your mental well-being.
This can mean engaging in indoor hobbies like reading, playing an instrument or knitting, or learning a new skill, such as a foreign language or coding.
Remember to make room in your door for exercise – do zumba in your living room or roll out your yoga mat. If you’re fortunate enough to have workout equipment in our house already, perhaps you could set yourself up a little workout area You can also do your workout in the garden or go for a run.
Parents should ensure their children get some physical exercise every day after school, as they will be missing out on P.E. lessons and running around in the playground. Play games in the garden or take them to the park for a walk – keeping the required social distance. You can also do fun indoor workouts using YouTube videos, or yoga for kids.