Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Taking responsibility as an educator during Mental Health Awareness Week

It's Mental Health Awareness Week.

Staff and students within the Higher Education sector are facing pressure like they've never known it before. In timely fashion on Monday this week, Universities UK launched an updated version of StepChange - a framework for what mentally healthy universities look like. Mental health is something to be preserved all year round not just for once a week and I think it's a good step that underlying structures are now being considered.

Even though we aren't yet quite sure whether we have escaped relatively unscathed (I imagine not many of us have) we are already pondering what next term may look like and how we might support our staff and students in what has already become an overused term - the 'new normal'. I'm hoping it will be more personalised, more flexible and more inclusive.

Despite much being out of our control, there is still plenty within it. Therefore, we all have a responsibility for ourselves and for others in our care. It may not be perfect, far from it, but as Brené Brown says 'we are doing the best we can with the tools we have'.

Some of what I'm doing for others:
  • I'm creating workshop material that I hope is sympathetic to people's circumstances; e.g. they don't have to worry about when to feed their children as my workshops aren't live and therefore don't clash
  • I've extended all deadlines where possible
  • I'm providing free mindfulness workshops and recordings
  • I'm offering free coaching to work colleagues

My local woods which I can't currently visit. 
They are the inspiration for one of my mindfulness exercises.

Some of what I'm doing for myself:
  • Switching off at weekends and spending time with my kids in the garden
  • Recognising when I'm getting frustrated at people's emails and stepping away till I'm calmer
  • Being kind to myself - there's only so much I can do in my circumstances
  • Allocating time for my yoga teacher training. I'm enjoying seeing the links between this and my coaching and teaching practices.

What about you? How are you acknowledging your own mental health and that of your colleagues and students?

Friday, 27 March 2020

Working from home while looking after our children and our well-being

This is a post for all the academic and librarian parents who are currently working from home, home-schooling the kids and keeping the house from becoming dangerous and unsanitary, while doing their best to look after their own mental health.

I keep receiving marketing emails asking me what I'm doing with all my free time?!

I suspect their target audience aren't working from home, home-schooling, and looking after a toddler and cat - the latter who still hasn't got the memo that 5.30am is not a good time to miaow for breakfast!

Naughty Loki!
So what are you doing to stay sane while you try not to be bitter about those who complain to be bored? Such little imagination! Personally, I would be reading all the things, baking all the things, becoming fluent in French, fixing up my garden and planning my adventures for when Covid-19 (also known as 'all this stuff') is no longer a massively disrupting force in our lives.

Instead, this week I am mainly holding back-to-back formative assessments via Skype, while my 5 year old argues that he is the teacher and will take the register (he's already told me the passcode for the school's reception!).

So here are a few tips on keeping your cool:

Go easy on yourself and everybody 

Your kids will be anxious, as will your students and yourself. It's an unusual time with lots of uncertainty. Do what you can to maintain some normalcy. Reassure them. With regards to teaching, it can take a lot of time and skill to develop fantastic online courses so be kind to yourself and just focus on the essential learning outcomes. The bells and whistles can be added a bit later. Can the activity be changed? Does it really have to be synchronous?

Let it go

Yes, there are selfish people stockpiling formula and toilet rolls. Yes, there will be people emailing you to say they are frustrated as they've had to deal with changed assessments and are worried about loved ones while you want to say, erm, hello. But - we don't have control over other's actions and feelings, only our own. At some point, unless we can do something directly about it, it's best to focus on the good that people are doing.

Find a routine that works for you

For me, I am chunking appointments and everything else is working on the premise of little and often. I'm currently: writing a chapter, an article, changing the way I teach and providing support for people on the courses I run. By fitting something from all of these into my calendar, even if I only manage a small fraction, I am still moving forwards on everything. Others may find that doing a day on and a day off works better, perhaps alternating with a partner if one is available. There are many factors to take into consideration, from the age of your kids to who has wi-fi priority, so it may take a while to find a rhythm.

Get some fresh air/exercise (ideally both) if you can

For some this will be easier than others. I'm lucky that I have a garden, although it's in a sorry state, so I can hang my washing out, plant some seeds and blow bubbles with the children and we can all blow off some steam. Social distancing can still involve a run or a walk outside as long as we stay away from people and wash our hands thoroughly, although I haven't done this yet. Additionally, there are plenty of free yoga, HIIT and other exercise videos freely available on YouTube. I like Yoga with Adrienne and The Body Coach (in small doses) and the kids like Cosmic Kids and Jump Start Jonny.

Use all media mindfully

Like many others, I was avidly listening to the radio, watching the news and following social media for updates. I felt myself getting tense, scared and crying occasionally. This week has been so busy with the kids and the assessments that I've barely had time to look. Social media has long since been my way of keeping in touch since I had children so I won't be logging off; however, a little recalibration is very useful to ensure we spend time looking at what is helpful to us or where we can be of use to others. 

Ultimately, this is going to be our new normal for a while. The easier we can make it for ourselves  and those around us the better it will be.

What's your approach? What are you doing to look after yourself?

Sunday, 8 March 2020

My Senior Fellowship experience

I have been awarded Senior Fellow status of Advance HE. While I started writing and thinking about Senior Fellowship just over a year ago, my Senior Fellowship experience began, although unknowingly at the time, at the Aurora programme I attended in 2016. At Aurora I defined my values, my strengths and my skills. This in turn led me to changing roles from an Academic Librarian to a Lecturer in Higher Education. This move allowed me to be less constrained by budget limitations and make more of an impact on teaching and learning development. In my interview for the role, I was asked to present my approach to helping staff develop their practices and it was here I first chose to define my coaching approach. It was this coaching approach I developed into my Senior Fellow application.

My reasons for applying

Primarily, it was a pre-requisite of my probation in my new role. however, having previously completed my Fellowship application in 2015 I was aware of the value of the process. This value is what I reiterate to those who have also been told they must achieve it - yes, there are boxes to be ticked, but the space and time to reflect and discover can, unfortunately, be a rare thing. This process provides that space and time.

My process

I started by looking at the criteria and considering my case studies. I had been on maternity leave just prior to writing it so was acutely aware that some of my experience may seem out of date. As part of my role at the University, I sit on panels where people who apply for Senior Fellowship are routinely referred as they don't fit specific criteria. This meant I was able to pick up tips, which helped. I  advise, coach and train others to achieve accreditation; however, taking your own advice, as so often in life, can be challenging. I also had a different format to follow as I applied directly to Advance HE to avoid any ethical conflicts. Advance HE currently requires two case studies, one reflective account, and two references which may be different to those who go through their University's accreditation schemes. 

While I had a loose plan, I actually took a different approach to usual and used Julia Cameron's morning pages method of just writing and writing, and writing some more without worrying about making sense - to the point that when I looked again at the word count I was shocked to discover I had double the total wordcount! I'm not sure I'd recommend this approach. While I found it to be quite cathartic, I really did feel like I was then killing my darlings as I omitted whole sections when editing.

Drafts, drafts, drafts - don't necessarily mean perfection

So many drafts to the point I was fed up of it and wanted to hand the whole thing in. I would strongly recommend getting other people's eyes on it; however, I'd advise not having too many. I received conflicting advice and at one point began to question my own judgment which added to the challenges. Ultimately, I am grateful for the people who took time out of their routines to read and offer their opinions and I gained from each of the interactions. My final draft was given to one of my references who told me that, yes, while small tweaks could be made, it was suitable for submission. My old self would have jumped on that comment and 'corrected' those areas; however, done is better than perfect, so I sent it in.

Waiting to hear

I knew it would be a long time to hear back, so I had almost forgotten about it until a fellow Auroran announced she'd received hers. I was hoping I had passed as I don't like revisiting and redrafting something once I have emotionally and psychologically said goodbye to it. I was relieved indeed to receive an email soon after which announced I could now use the SFHEA post nominals.

Going forwards

I continue to keep my teaching notebook for jotting down a few thoughts after my classes. I continue to be interested in how using a coaching approach in higher education can improve both practice and wellbeing simultaneously. I will shortly be speaking at both the Accredited Programme Leader's Network and the Advance HE learning and Teaching Conference on various aspects of this topic. I also have a few writing projects in the pipeline. Paying it forwards, I would be absolutely delighted to help, coach or mentor anyone whose goal it is to achieve FHEA or SFHEA accreditation.

And, just for my mum, - my full post-nominals are BA (Hons), MA (Lond) MCLIP SFHEA.