Have you heard the old expression ‘it’s in giving that we receive?’ For busy educators the response might be ‘How can I find the time to give?’ When life gives you 24 hours a day and your email inbox alone seems to take up 28 of those, how can you possibly think of putting something else on your plate?

Volunteering helps with my own wellbeing

Teaching, educating, working in a school and being a member of a school team are incredibly rewarding roles. For me, being a principal is the most fun, most challenging and most rewarding job I have ever had. The hours are long and, if I let myself, I could be completely consumed by the role – to the detriment of my health and wellbeing.

Putting up my hand to help is part of my nature. I love to help others and feel genuine satisfaction when I can do something for someone else. For years I have volunteered in different roles, from animal shelters, being a regional art gallery guide, volunteering with Caritas Australia and being actively involved in my local church. It was only recently when filling out a survey through Teacher magazine that I recognised volunteering was part of my own wellbeing strategy.

I started volunteering with the St Vincent de Paul Society in Brisbane seven years ago after hearing a volunteer speak at a school event. This society, affectionately known as ‘Vinnies’ has more than 60 000 members and volunteers in Australia and works at assisting people in need and combating social injustice. As a volunteer I visit the homes of vulnerable people providing a hamper of food, a listening ear and assistance where I can.

Anne-Marie Maw packing hampers from the storeroom at St Vincent de Paul Society.

I am involved in home visits with Vinnies two Saturday mornings a month. Don’t get me wrong, there are sometimes when the calendar reminder pings on a Friday that I have Vinnies the next day that I think ‘Urrggh… I’m too tired, I have too much on, I just want to relax tomorrow’ but inevitability I still turn up at 9am on Saturday morning for my shift. It is usually on those days I will have a visit with someone whose story completely floors me. It might be a family who have escaped a domestic violence situation, someone recently released from prison, refugee families or those who have just had terrible luck.

When volunteering we always go out in pairs, never alone. Visitations can sometimes be very confronting and so having a fellow volunteer that you can debrief with is essential. I find that over the years, my fellow volunteers have become friends who know about my life, family and work. It is nice to catch up at our fortnightly meeting and talk through our experiences and look towards solutions.

It has been through volunteering that I have found a strategy to support my wellbeing. Volunteering gets me ‘out of my own head’ and actively involved in helping others. Volunteers Australia names volunteering as a ‘critical gap’ in mental health recommendations.

You may have come across this article whilst looking for wellbeing ideas. You might just be looking for a wellbeing strategy that doesn’t involve having a bath with candles or drinking a green smoothie. This has been a strategy that has worked for me over the years and one that I will continue to prioritise even when life is busy. If you are looking for a wellbeing strategy that can have a positive long-term impact on others, please consider volunteering. Here are some links to help you get started:

Are you an educator working in a school setting? If so, are you interested in submitting an article for publication on Wellbeing by Teacher? We’d love to hear about how you care for your own wellbeing. Reach out to the team by emailing teacherwellbeing@acer.org with your story idea. We’ve also put together a handy guide to help you get started.