• Lisa Camilleri

Running on empty - what are we doing to help ourselves?

Written by Lisa Camilleri


Nearly half a term into the new academic year, and I have found a few moments of calm to reflect on how we are all managing during this continued time of change for school leaders. We are all familiar with managing relentless national changes and high levels of scrutiny, but this term is proving to be unlike any other.


For many of us, the summer holidays were quite frankly non-existent. We spent countless weeks preparing for the gargantuan task of re-opening our schools. Ensuring the mental health of our young people was addressed; making watertight our plans for remote learning; tweaking arrangements for events, visitors, classroom layouts, groupings; managing and communicating with staff who were taking breaks away and staff who were too afraid to leave their homes; and of course risk assessments galore!


As we entered September, the reality of the situation began to hit. After a number of suspected cases of virus we have become quite familiar with those on the end of the PHE and DFE lines. I can’t recall how many times I've asked questions such as, “So how close were you sitting?....and which direction was X facing at the time?.....Were you standing like this [initiate modelling] or like this? .....Do you think you were with them for more than 15 minutes?....and is it a dry cough or a phlegmy type cough?” Oh yes, we’ve all got to know the ins and outs of staff bodily functions far more than we would really like to!


But the biggest challenge is probably juggling increasing levels of staff absence and wider threats to our local communities. Not only are we managing suspected cases of Covid but it’s also ‘cold and flu season’ and as we have all spent so much time isolating away from others, we seem to be picking up every little bug that comes our way.


So, with all this fire fighting and rapid response, what are we doing to help ourselves? Whilst keeping our communities safe, how are we keeping ourselves safe….emotionally and physically. It’s no wonder that after just six weeks of term, we are reading about and responding to school leaders questioning the career they once loved and feeling increasingly anxious, overwhelmed, and just down right exhausted.


However, this is not the time to moan and we know too well that there are others who are having a much harder time of it. We are strong and we can get through this. We just need to look after ourselves first. Everyone has heard the saying, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’, so I’ve taken the time to consult with a number of leaders to find out what they are doing and how they find the time to repair themselves and make sure they are not running on empty, so that they can keep on helping others.


Top tips from leaders across education:

  • Get up a little earlier to enjoy the gloriously coloured autumnal sunrises (then hop back into bed for a little more snoozing)

  • Boost your happy hormones and start a creative project. Knit, crochet, sew, paint, draw (personally I love to spend 20 minutes on a new Zentangle)

  • Get super organised (especially on Sundays) by making lunches, preparing your clothes etc, so each day can start calmly without any faff

  • The autumn term is long - break it up with midweek treats, movie nights, meals out, a special glass of wine….make that day the day you leave work a little earlier

  • Read a good book whilst wrapped up snug in a blanket

  • Connect with earth and nature by collecting fallen leaves, sycamores, acorns and doing some autumnal art or crafts

  • Take a hot bubble bath or try out some essential oils

  • Layer up and make the most of your pets by taking them for a lovely long walk (helpful if you have a dog, not so much if you have chickens)

  • Cook something on an open fire (make sure to get extra marshmallows!)

  • Disconnect from your devices and do something practical and hands on. Don’t be afraid to get mucky!

  • Enjoy some comfort food (dig out your recipes for stews and soups) and watch a bit of Bake Off

  • Take five minutes before anyone else gets up to enjoy a cup of coffee in the garden and listen to the birds welcome the new day

  • Before your evening begins, take a short quiet walk and clear your head after a long day at work

  • Find one day where you don’t have to go into work ‘as early’ and enjoy a nice breakfast at home. If you can extend it further, take your children to school whilst you’re at it

Special thanks to all the teachers and leaders who shared their strategies and ideas.


Take care of yourself and stay well.



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