Teacher Staffroom Episode 29: Prioritising your wellbeing

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Thanks for listening to this episode of Teacher Staffroom, where we catch you up on the latest evidence, insight, and action. I'm Rebecca Vukovic.

More than half of Australia’s population is under COVID-19 lockdowns, which means many of you are right in the thick of a long period of remote learning, maybe while trying to homeschool your own children at the same time. We’ve been separated from loved ones, we’ve missed important milestones and celebrations, and been restricted from doing some of the things we enjoy most. It’s no wonder our wellbeing has taken a hit. That’s why our fortnightly publication, Wellbeing by Teacher, may be just what you’re looking for. In today’s episode I run through some of the recent wellbeing pieces we’ve published, as well as some other highlights from a busy month here at Teacher. Let’s jump in.

Late last year we launched a new wellbeing publication called Wellbeing by Teacher, focusing on topics like mental health, nutrition, fitness, relationships, and sustainability, each fortnight we deliver a research-based article to our subscribers. We also accept contributions from educators, who share their personal stories on how they care for their own health and wellbeing.

This month I sat down with Dr Chris Irwin, an Accredited Practising Dietitian, and Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics at Griffith University. I asked him: ‘We know that getting a good night’s rest is important for our overall health and wellbeing, but are there certain foods we can eat that will actually improve our ability to sleep?’ Here’s a quote from Chris from the article:

We need to appreciate that diet is only one component in a very complex model that can influence both the duration and quality of sleep. So things like sleep hygiene (i.e. our habits such as bed/wake time and use of technology), the sleep environment, room temperature, noise, and darkness. Someone with medical conditions could also have complications with their sleep. If they’re experiencing pain or anxiety for example, that could influence their sleep. Likewise stress, medication use, all of these things could have an influence on sleep. And there are lifestyle behaviours as well – so things like smoking, physical activity level and diet plays a part of that. We’ve got to get lots of things right to make sure they all have a positive impact on our sleep.

To complement this article, we also published an infographic that looked at how many Australian adults experience sleep problems. It also explored the financial and health costs of a bad night’s sleep and what we can do to improve our sleep patterns. You’ll find a link to this infographic in the transcript of this episode on the Teacher magazine website.

This month I also had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr Kate Parker, a Lecturer and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Deakin University's Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition. I was keen to find out more about a study she’s been leading, the Our Life @ Home study, a national longitudinal study that aims to examine changes in activity-related behaviours, health and wellbeing, and identify the factors that may influence these at the beginning, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

I asked her: ‘With gyms and swimming pools closed, group fitness classes cancelled and community sports on hold – how are people managing to keep fit throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?’ Her research has found that people are turning to digital platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Zoom and fitness apps, as an effective way to stay fit when access to other forms of organised exercise is restricted.

We also published an Educator Insights piece from Donna White, a Grade 5 and 6 teacher in a regional school in Central Victoria. In her article, Donna shares her passion for gardening with readers, and explains why her garden is both a form of escapism and a sense of pride.

All of these pieces are free to access and available under the Wellbeing tab on the Teacher magazine site. To subscribe to the Wellbeing by Teacher email newsletter, the sign up form is also on the right-hand side of the Teacher magazine homepage.

Moving on now, I’m sure many of you will have seen that over five days in August, ACER held its annual Research Conference. This year’s theme was ‘Excellent progress for every student: What will it take?’, and featured international researchers from a range of disciplines. It was packed full of interesting keynotes and presentations, which we plan to follow up on over the coming months. During that week though, and following her presentation, we published a Q&A with Dr Karen Maras, a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales and specialist in visual arts education. In the Q&A, she talks about learning progressions in visual arts, and shares some examples of how students’ conceptions of art change with age.

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I’d like to tell you about two of the podcasts we published this month because they certainly were two of my favourites. My colleague, Dominique Russell, spoke with Alex Wharton, Head of Middle School and English teacher at Carinya Christian School in rural New South Wales. In the School Improvement episode, they discuss the reading culture that’s been developed at the school, how students in Grades 5-9 read on average 12 books a year, and how the school has seen a 40 per cent increase in male students reading beyond their assigned texts. Here’s Alex explaining why it’s so important to encourage students to read a range of different books, particularly for students in this age bracket.

And it’s not just kind of our rural communities, but I think all schools around Australia and indeed the world, are wrestling in the age of TV that’s on demand, of the time and pressures around social media and the screen, that the urgent and willing need to pick up a book for enjoyment is being often squeezed out of a picture. And so, you know, if we look at contemporary research, we’re seeing less and less students – particularly teenagers in that secondary age range and age bracket – picking up books to read in their spare time and I really think well what we’re trying to do, is literacy is just so, so key for life, isn’t it? It’s really the gateway to all careers and all opportunities for success. And with these so many competing pressures for time, even more so should we be valuing the written word and the role of literature to engage with, to have a personal response with, and that’s certainly what we’ve seen some of the impacts of this wide reading literature circles program on our students. So it is very much a real need for our community, but that’s also shared in a much bigger picture as well.

Alex Wharton also says ‘… for our student population, to see themselves being represented in book selection is really important, because it gives that authenticity. It gives that representation of voice that they can connect with’.

Here’s something to think about. Reflect on how you are addressing this in your own school context. Do you have a diverse range of books available for students to borrow?

An important part of Carinya Christian School’s reading culture is the involvement of all staff, which has led to a staff book club. Is this something that could be considered for staff at your school?

The other podcast I’d like to share is one I recorded with Dr Gary Stager, which explored his 30-year study into laptop use in schools. In 1990, Gary led the professional development in the world’s first laptop school. I asked him about the challenges they faced back then in the implementation of the program, how students engaged with the technology in the early days, but also what he’s learned about the way computers are used in schools today. Here’s Gary talking about why Australia should be proud of the fact that they were the first 1:1 laptop school in the world.

You know it’s really important to assert the fact that all of this began in Australia. I’m not Australian but I’m incredibly proud of the work that was done there by my colleagues and a little bit by me. And I think it’s really important to sort of plant the flag and let people know that this wasn’t an American-centric event. More than 50 years ago, Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon were talking about every kid having a computer and not only having a computer at a time when most adults had never touched one, but that the kids would have agency over that computer and they would be programming it themselves, and that idea was viewed as science fiction until a couple of people in Australia took it seriously. David Loader – who was Principal of Methodist Ladies College (MLC) in Kew, Victoria, at the time – in 1989, committed his school to every child having a laptop and using that laptop in a constructionist fashion to program across the curriculum, to bring ideas to life, to mess about with powerful ideas. At the most fundamental level, he recognised that computers were increasingly abundant and they were smaller and cheaper and it was probably a good idea for kids to seize this power.

And finally, this month we also launched our annual reader survey, where we invite you to share what type of content you enjoy seeing from Teacher, which topics you’d like to see covered in the future and how you’re using our content in your own school settings. By entering, you go into the draw to win a $500 Visa prepaid gift card.

That's all for this episode, and you're now all caught up on the latest evidence, insight and action. Links to all the content and resources I’ve mentioned will be in the transcript of this podcast available at our website, teachermagazine.com.

This podcast from Teacher is supported by The Hatchery Schools Learning Community where you can get all your learning and development in the one place.