In this #PLtogether Lounge Talk, Christian van Nieuwerburgh talks about teacher mental health and how to create a well-being plan.

Watch the conversation above or read the transcript below.

You can also check out this blog post about teacher mental health with a summary and highlights of the discussion.

Teacher Mental Health is More Than Just Happy Thoughts

– Welcome to another PLtogether Lounge Talk. I’m Adam Geller, Founder and CEO of Edthena, the platform that streamlines feedback to teachers using video of classroom teaching. Today, we’re talking with Christian van Nieuwerburgh. He’s the global director of Growth Coaching International who has experience coaching inside of schools and inside of the corporate world. And, he also is someone who has a Harley Davidson. And if you need some proof check out his Instagram. It’s @coachonamotorcycle. Christian, thanks so much for joining us.

– Thank you, Adam, I’m delighted to be here. And thank you for hosting PLtogether. It’s just a wonderful way of creating a community of educators interested in professional learning.

– Thanks, well we’re excited to have you and before we get into, let’s say the meat of talking about coaching which I know everybody wants to hear your kind of perspective of what’s happening today in the world context. Let’s talk about that world context. Teaching, being an educator, being in a school; it continues to be very, very stressful. I mean, I think it was stressful three years ago but it’s very stressful now with, all of the kind of twists and turns of a world in a pandemic. So I guess let’s start by talking about mental health and how teachers and coaches can work on their own mental health in order to be, you know, more ready to be successful in their roles.

– Thank you, Adam. Such an important point and you’re right. I think teaching and being a leader in educational settings, you’re right. It’s always a challenging role. Especially during this pandemic, that’s been highlighted. So first of all, I just want to mention my gratitude to those educators, because they’re making a huge difference during a very challenging time. You know, you know this Adam. They’re front line. These are frontline people during this pandemic. So I’m very grateful. But one of my key messages has been the importance of educators and educational leaders looking after their own wellbeing in order to be available to look after the wellbeing of all of those around them. And I’m talking about not just the students, their colleagues but maybe even parents and carers of their students. So, you know, my passion is about coaching but in order to support the growth, the wellbeing and the success of others, you do need to be, I would say, intentional about our wellbeing. So what I mean by that is, I think under normal circumstances many of us were getting what we needed from our daily interactions. You know, we’d go into school, there’d be this student who discovered something. There’ll be a colleague who just says something. We were getting a lot of what we needed, social interaction, some kind of recognition for what we did. But with the current pandemic, sometimes we’re working from home, we’re using Zoom like this. Sometimes when we’re going into schools, it’s just so fraud. There’s so much going on that we might not be getting what we need for our mental health. And so I think what’s very helpful now is for educators and educational leaders to be intentional about “What am I doing to nourish myself during these challenging times?”.

– You know, I saw something you wrote. You called this idea of making that plan, ‘making your own wellbeing plan’. So what are some of the components of a wellbeing plan? I mean, is this sitting down and thinking positive thoughts or is this something a little bit more structured and formalized I should be making for myself?

– Yeah. It does, there’s nothing wrong with being optimistic and hopeful. Those are good things. But when I was talking about a plan it’s probably a little bit more specific and it is tailored, Adam. Each individual will know the things that are good for their wellbeing. So what I’m thinking about, if we want to be practical is for, let’s imagine a teacher would just sit down and think, “I know there’s gonna be challenging times ahead. I know that resilience is going to be called for. What do I need, normally, what are the things that boost my wellbeing?”. And it’s individual, very individual. Thinking personally, because I’m an educator too. You know, I work at the university and I had to do some of this work myself. I love the outdoors. So during very restrictive times it was protecting an hour for just walking outdoors. So I would protect that time, maybe 5:00 PM, maybe 8:00 AM. I would say, I get an hour to go do a little bit of a walk. I love getting things done as well, Adam. That’s good for my wellbeing, and during some of the toughest times of this pandemic I was kind of thinking, “Am I doing what I’m meant to be doing? Am I achieving what’s important?” I was kind of losing sight of that. So I got back to jigsaw puzzles. I just love that. It’s a mindful activity. I would set aside maybe 30 minutes. Get my puzzle out and it would give me the satisfaction of completing it which actually is good for my wellbeing. Other things was scheduled Zoom calls with family members, because I don’t live together with all of my family members. So I kind of created my own wellbeing plan and it changes depending on where we are in the pandemic. And Adam, you mentioned my Harley-Davidson. Now, that is a huge boost for my wellbeing. Again, it’s personal Adam, because for me, I tend more towards introversion. I get energy from just kind of having time by myself, thinking time. And when you put a helmet on, you’re on a motorcycle, you’re on the open road. That’s wonderful. I’ve got nature around me. Time to think, I can take breaks whenever I like. Now, I can’t do that every day. But I would say for example, I can look forward to it. So one thing for all of us as educators is asking ourselves “When am I gonna have some down time?”. And we need to build that in. The other thing is, “What sort of things am I looking forward to?” Even if it’s five months from now. Putting some time aside for me, it would be, I’m gonna take the Harley out. Maybe it’s a three day ride up to Wales or to Scotland, ’cause I normally live in the UK. So, having things that we’re looking forward to is good for our wellbeing, as well. And you know, for those teachers and the funny thing Adam is, probably as educators, we’re worse at this than many other professions is intentionally looking after our wellbeing. If we’re not comfortable with it, if it looks like, “Oh I’m being a bit indulgent”, you know, taking time out for a bath or whatever. My argument is, we have to do that so that we can be the best educators that we can be.

– It’s a little bit like the old adage, how the, you know, cobblers shoes are usually the ones that have the holes in them. I feel like you’re reminding teachers that they spend, and educators more broadly, that they’re spending a lot of time caring for others. In that mode of caring about others and the kind of productive lives of others and they need to kind of turn that energy inward a little bit in order to maintain and sustain what will be required as we continue to support our communities through our schools.

– Beautifully said, Adam, exactly. You know, we want teachers, educators more broadly, to look after themselves because that allows them to look after others better. And you know, when we’re depleted, when we’re running on empty, we’re not going to be able to provide the kind of care and support we would like to provide. So, you know, it’s not selfish. That’s an important message I want to convey. It’s not selfish to look after yourself, particularly in times like this. We have to do it and we have to be intentional about it. And if we come up with a plan, let’s say, we’re running every morning, or we’re gonna drop by our neighbors. Let’s just check in. “Is this giving me what I want?” And you know, I mentioned Netflix too, before we started Adam. You know, for some people just having that chill time, watching a series on Netflix, that’s what they need, you know, so don’t worry about what it is. We need to do the things that regenerate us and reenergize us.

– Well, Christian, very helpful to hear about creating this wellbeing plan. Before we get into some of the topics of being a coach and being a leader, we’re going to take a quick break. If you’re interested in what we talk about next, or you’ve found this video on Christian’s Instagram, probably not, but maybe. Then make sure to head to PLtogether.org for the rest of this conversation as well as many more. Christian, thanks so much for being part of PLtogether.

Check out more of our conversations with Christian van Nieuwerburgh.

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