The Christmas break is finally here, so how can teachers make sure they leave work in the classroom? Neurologist Judy Willis shares her advice.
The countdown has begun for many teachers who eagerly anticipate a well deserved and much needed Christmas break.
It may surprise you to hear that there is a neuroscience behind effectively switching to rejuvenation mode. Just as your brain’s memory strengthens with practice, so do your brain’s behaviour control networks. Essentially, what this mean is that teachers get used to patterns of behaviour – such as thinking about their pupils before themselves – during term time which can be hard to break over the holidays. However, it’s important to switch off. So to help you I’ve put together a few tips on how to do this.
Make a list and check it twice
Write down all the things you’ve promised yourself to get done during the break. This could include organising things you’ve put off – cleaning your desk and arranging the photos on your phone into albums on your computer. It might also include getting together with people you’ve had to put off during the term or sending thank you cards to students and families. Other top festive tasks include pre-making any holiday food or buying gifts for family and friends.
To care for your brain and body during the school break any demands that are put upon us need to be managed. Your behavior control centres are located high up in your brain’s prefrontal cortex. These neural networks send messages to the brain directing the desired physical actions or emotional responses. The system works well until stress builds up and blocks the behavior control messages flowing from cortex to brain. This means that knowing what you have to do stops you from stressing out.
As well as writing a list of what you plan to do it might also be a good idea to set aside time to get it done. That said, you don’t want to let your holiday be weighed down by too many plans and deadlines so don’t let your list lie heavily on your mind. This week write down what you need to get done and then portion out tasks. This let’s you really enjoy the holiday period because setting aside time to get things done will allow you to truly relax when you’re doing nothing.
Get out of teacher-mode and let others do things for you
After you’ve thought about what you need to do this festive period, select any remaining tasks your friends or family could help with. This might include cooking, decorating, gift-wrapping, even repainting the kitchen. Teachers can find it hard to get out of the mindset of doing things for others – it’s practically ingrained into their DNA – but it’s important to allow yourself to relax a bit. Think about tasks your friends might want to take on and willingly accept a bit of help.
To get rid of the guilty feeling we all get when we pass on work, only ask people to do things that you would absolutely do for them and with whom you have that type of relationship. It is those folks who you can comfortably turn to when you need to get help with a burden.
If you feel pressure to see people over Christmas
This advice is for people who put themselves under pressure to see friends and family at this time of year; especially if you feel you’ve neglected this obligation during term. If you’re not worried about seeing people then don’t turn this into an issue – just appreciate that it’s not an obligation.
But if there are too many people on your list to see, you could end up feeling as though every day is as scheduled as your usual school week. Why not consider a new way of seeing people? Bring different groups together with a dinner or afternoon tea, or even a fun night of karaoke. That way you don’t feel too much pressure to cram your social calendar with one-on-one meet ups.
It does take planning in advance to enjoy the restorative benefits of school holidays. The rewards go beyond your reinvigorated mind and body, however; if you can get things done you’ll return to the classroom less stressed. This will boost your energy levels and have a positive impact on your pupils too.