It’s now well known that for many adults and children, the ongoing pandemic and winter months have taken a toll on mental health. For many teachers and practitioners across the music education sector, this sense of fatigue has been felt keenly with an increased workload, sense of uncertainty, and changing guidance.
With a need for strategies which build resilience and positivity, we asked author and education consultant Tamba Roy to share some practical ways teachers can support their wellbeing. Tamba will be leading our wellbeing-focussed Member Webinar on 27th April, where he will explore the tips below in greater detail.
‘Finding My Own Rhythm’ is about supporting our own wellbeing. As music teachers you nurture not just the musical ability of the pupils in your care, but also their emotional needs. Whenever you give a word of encouragement; each time you notice a child who is struggling and give them additional support; every time you identify the next learning step that will challenge pupils, but not overwhelm them. But who looks after your wellbeing? You may be lucky enough to have relatives, friends or colleagues who provide support when you need it, but even they cannot always be there for you when you feel out of balance. That’s the focus of this webinar. To provide strategies we can use when life feels a little discordant. This is perhaps even more important at this present time when we are all trying to adapt and meet Covid related challenges.
So how do we find our own rhythm?
Since 2007 I have travelled the country listening to teachers and sharing wellbeing strategies. Below are some tips for supporting wellbeing taken from my book ‘Success in Focus’.
Make yourself one of your priorities.
Key Question: You have many responsibilities that relate to others, such as supporting family, leading Zoom rehearsals, preparing pupils for exams, but do you also regularly do something that is just for you?
Of all the balls you are juggling i.e. as a teacher, a sibling, a partner, a parent etc. one of them should relate to you and you alone. This may sound self-centred, but we all know that when we feel okay within ourselves then this impacts upon everyone around us. Our whole demeanour changes for the better. Setbacks don’t seem so monumental, individuals who irritate us don’t seem quite so annoying, last minute changes to routines don’t immediately morph into the ‘last straw’! We have to learn to be as kind to ourselves as we are to those we care about. And please note. This tip doesn’t say ‘Make yourself the priority’, it says ‘Make yourself one of your priorities’. This statement acknowledges that we have a wide range of responsibilities which we need to fulfil, but we also need to take care of ourselves!
Action: Write down one new thing you are going to do for yourself and take the first step.
Be kinder to yourself when you make a mistake
Key Question: How do you feel when you are performing and you make a conspicuous error playing a piece you thought you could play perfectly?
You will regularly be reminding your students not to feel stressed as we all make mistakes, but do you truly apply the same insight to your own life? How do you treat yourself when you make a mistake; especially if it impacts upon others? Do you berate yourself, re-running it in your head and feeling humiliated? Have you ever considered that the amount of time we spend regretting a mistake doesn’t help anything at all. Of course we will feel shame, regret, or anxiety if we’ve let someone down, but if this goes on for too long it can actually stop us from taking action to ensure we don’t repeat it. So notice how you treat yourself the next time you make a mistake and if you are inappropriately negative for a long period of time, remember that you can learn from this mistake. Mistakes are an essential part of learning and the experience you gain from this can help you to be even better than you were.
Action: Focus upon ‘Feedback not failure’ when you next make a mistake
Nurture an inner voice that can treat you as a friend.
Key Question: Does the voice inside your head generally help you or hinder you?
This is a fundamental question. Obviously context will play a big part in your response, but having explored this whilst facilitating a great many training events, I have come to realise that most of us have a bias one way or another. One way to consider this is to ask yourself this question. “When I face an unexpected challenge does my initial response veer towards, ‘I can manage this’ or ‘This won’t go well”? For many of us it is the latter.
There’s been thought-provoking research exploring the impact of an inner voice that makes us feel unnecessarily fearful. In 2007 the University of Alabama conducted a randomised clinical study with individuals who were continually ‘catastrophizing’, (emotionally anticipating a worst case scenario) and suffered from chronic headaches. After learning how to counter this negative self-talk, approximately half the participants saw their headaches decrease in number and severity (Thorn, Pence et al., 2007).
However I do want to emphasise that if a negative inner voice motivates you e.g. to reach a deadline, then it might not be a problem. But if your thoughts frequently leave you feeling emotionally drained, then they might need addressing.
You are today where the thoughts of yesterday have brought you and you will be tomorrow where the thoughts of today take you.’
Blaise Pascal: French writer, mathematician, and inventor (1623–1662)
Action: Notice how your inner voice treats you when you face a challenge. If it is unnecessarily negative, regularly use a ‘Power Statement’ (Details at www.tambaroy.com)
Recognise and appreciate your successes
Key Question: Think of times when you’ve managed to adapt to online teaching, or helped a child to develop their appreciation of music. Can you recall your successes as vividly as you remember ‘failures’?
‘Finding my own rhythm’ is about nurturing balance within our lives. If we place huge emphasis on our failures and very little on our successes then we immediately have imbalance. Consider how you view your successes. Do you re-live them, reflect upon them, share them, take action as a result of them? We often do this for things we have done wrong. In order to deal with challenges we face, I would suggest that we need to form as strong a relationship with our successes as we do our ‘failures’. Knowing that we have overcome past problems can help us to have the tenacity to move forward. Just for a moment reflect upon whether you have stronger emotional ties with your failures than your successes. If this is the case, you might want to take action to counter this.
Action: For seven days make a note on your phone of two successes you have had during the day. At the end of the week you will have fourteen successes that I can almost guarantee you would have simply forgotten in the haze of new challenges.
Understand that flexibility opens opportunities
Key question: With all the changes you have experienced during lockdown do you think you are flexible in how you think? What would family members say?
I often refer to ten key statements that I call ‘Drivers’ because they drive the thinking behind my work. ‘Flexibility opens opportunities’ is one of the statements. You will have already shown real skills in this area in terms of your creativity e.g. when you adapt your teaching to match the needs of a student, or perhaps because of necessity e.g. changes because of the pandemic.
However, change can be a real source of anxiety for us; especially if the change has been forced upon us. Of course I’m not saying that we can all simply smile contentedly when we are forced to change what we do, but understanding how to adapt to circumstances will give us the greatest chance of success. If we can be flexible in how we think and how we behave, we will be able to move with the times and adapt to an ever-changing world. The most successful entrepreneurs practise this on a daily basis. It doesn’t mean reacting to every pressure, or changing who we are; it does mean being flexible enough to make the most of each situation. This line of thinking includes those times when we know an aspect of our lives needs to change, but we simply hope it will ‘sort itself out’. It was Einstein who highlighted the irrationality of doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Action: Identify an action you will take this month that will go ‘against the grain’.
- really listening and giving your whole attention to someone who normally irritates you
- trying a food you’ve never eaten before
- participating in a new activity
And remember, it’s not deciding to do it that makes it happen – it’s doing it!
When you feel you lack choices reflect upon ‘cause’ and ‘effect’
Key question: When your professional role can be affected by so many external influences such as government music policies or pandemic restrictions, do you feel you have any control?
Did you know that one of the greatest causes of stress is the feeling that we don’t have control over what is happening to us? We sometimes believe we have little power or few choices. In Neuro-Linguistic Programming this is often spoken about in terms of ‘cause’ and ‘effect’. When we believe things just ‘happen to us’, we can feel we are stuck on the ‘effect’ side of the equation. When we have some element of influence and control we feel we have options, and we tend to feel we are on the ‘cause’ side of the equation. The techniques I refer to such as ‘My Choice of Inner Voice’ aim to help us to move from feeling we lack choices (the effect side) to feeling we can make choices (the cause side) and to place them firmly within our reach.
Action: Consider a situation you feel is out of your control and identify a new perspective that will help you to feel more empowered.
Create a space that is for you
Key Question: How do you manage when a contract is cancelled, or you don’t have enough time to rehearse, or you feel you haven’t got any mental space?
We live in a world that makes constant demands upon our thoughts and our time. This can easily lead to cognitive overload and the feeling of being drained. Lao Tzu the ancient Chinese philosopher and writer stated: ‘The greatest revelation is stillness’ How often do we get a chance to be still? Not just physically, but perhaps even more importantly, mentally. ‘Personal Space’ is a tool that subtly removes you from the pressure and pace of everyday living. It invites you to create a welcoming outdoor space in the safety of your own head. As this is a visualisation technique we have the opportunity to visit this space whenever we have three minutes to ourselves. This might be on the train, in a quiet room, or even waiting in a queue. These three minutes can be a powerful way to change our emotional state. And in relation to tip one above, it is also proof that we are choosing to make ourselves one of our priorities
Action: Practise ‘Personal Space’ (Webinar – 27th April 2021)
Remember that decisions need action
Key question: Think back to the time when you decided you would like to teach music. At what specific point did this transform from being an idea to an action?
There is a lovely metaphor about twenty-nine frogs who sat by a pool and nine decided to jump in. How many were left on the side of the pool?
The answer is twenty-nine! The nine frogs had decided to jump in – but they didn’t actually do it!
We can decide to do many things, but unless we take action the decision will simply be a fantasy. For example, I might say ‘I’ve decided to go to the gym’ – but I don’t actually go. Or, ‘I’ve decided to apply for this job’ – but I don’t fill out the application form. Taking action is key, and this is our responsibility. This understanding allows us to have significant control over our daily experiences, rather than simply being a ‘victim of circumstance’. If change is required, if the action is beneficial, and if it is not intended to have a negative impact on ourselves or others, then take action!
Action: Draw a line across a piece of paper. Put today’s date at the beginning of the line and at the end of the line write a positive goal that will impact upon your wellbeing. Now jot down key things that will happen between now and then for this goal to be accomplished. Finally, return to the start of the line and identify what you will have done by the end of today to set this line in motion. And most importantly – do it!
In conclusion I would suggest that you take a little time to consider how you treat yourself. You are unique. The way you teach, the way you play an instrument, the range of music you enjoy. There has never been anyone like you on this planet. In the midst of all you do for other people you also deserve to focus upon your own wellbeing, to enjoy a rhythm that works for you.