The role of technology in practicing self-care and promoting resilience
Hear from two experts in their field as they discuss the importance and practice of harnessing these critical life skills.
Lisa Wallis-Reep, Advisory Teacher, Social, Emotional and Mental Health Team, Babcock LDP. Maggie Carter, Educational Psychologist (retired) and Scomis Education & Product Specialist
Overview – The role of technology in practicing self-care and promoting resilience
Lisa and Maggie share their experiences and give you guidance about how to create a culture where self-care is embraced and embedded. They discuss the role technology can play in enabling this.
Self-care is a key life skill that we all know we need to practice and embed into our daily routines, but how often do we practice what we preach? Self-care is so often overlooked, deprioritised due to more urgent and pressing day to day needs or put off for another day. After all we all have such incredibly busy lives.
To engender emotional and mental health and wellbeing we need to promote and teach self-care. It is proven that in turn this can lead to an optimal learning state and contribute to greater resilience in times of challenge. It can also more generally help us to better support those around us be this our families, the children we are responsible for in school, our colleagues in the workplace or anyone else we might interact with at work, at home or in the world at large.
Self-care is a pleasure and can be a lifesaver, find out more.
Scomis has a culture which accepts people for who they are, for the qualities they bring and we try to promote self-care and wellbeing. We recognise the importance of work/life balance and family first principles as part of a healthy culture in the workplace. So, we also recognise that technology is an inextricable part of everybody’s lives now. It’s got lots of benefits and it comes with risks.
We believe the culture of an organisation is as important as the products and services it provides to its customers. After all we only work with people we like, and you probably do too!
Learn more about Scomis, our culture and values.
Other related topics
At Scomis, our purpose is to deliver innovative, high quality ICT services that make a difference and help our customers in schools and trusts nationally achieve their target outcomes. Learn more about us and how we might be able to help you from Debbie Foweraker, Head of Scomis.
Explore how apparently insignificant moments and gestures can have a huge impact on staff wellbeing, and in turn on effectiveness and retention of our best school staff with Dr Emma Kell, Those That Can.
In common with other sectors, education finds itself urgently addressing recruitment, retention, and continuous personal development because of multiple outside forces. Find out how investing in staff development has a positive impact with Stephen Morales, CEO, Institute of School Business Leadership.
Further reading and reference material
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Lisa Wallis-Reep talks to Maggie Carter about the role technology can play in self-care
MAGGIE: I was an educational psychologist for over 20 years. Now I work for Scomis but I am also a governor in two special schools. So, this is the sort of area that really interests me.
LISA: I work for Babcock LDP alongside schools across north Devon, supporting staff with children’s emotional health and wellbeing. Prior to that, I was working as a deputy headteacher in a school in north Devon which had been put into special measures by Ofsted. That was a stressful time for me, and I learned a lot about self-care the hard way. In my personal life, I have been a foster carer for over twelve years; I am the proud parent of a twenty-two-year-old son, who my husband and I adopted when he was eight. So again, through that I have learned a lot about self-care – sometimes the hard way. I am glad to be going through that today.
MAGGIE: Scomis is an organisation which has a culture that accepts people for who they are and for the qualities they bring, and we try to promote self-care. We recognise the importance of work/life balance and family-first principles as part of a healthy culture in the workplace. So, we also recognise that technology is an inexecrable part of everybody’s lives now. It has a lot of benefits, and it comes with risks. So, what we want to do is try and think about how we minimise the risks and maximise the benefits and the opportunities. The implementation of the big picture does require attention to detail to make it happen and part of that detail is to be able to pay attention to everyone’s wellbeing. So, we think that it is important that we spend a few minutes just talking around our thoughts about self-care and wellbeing and how we promote it to our schools, our colleagues and ourselves.
LISA: It would be a good idea to clarify what self-care is. Do you have thoughts around that?
MAGGIE: I think self-care is important because it is a life skill that we need to be able to practice and use when we need it. It is an important life skill for resilience and also, in a school context, I think that it promotes learning. We agree, I think, that with children, unless technical services are in the right emotional and psychological place, learning is not going to be as easy for them as it could be. So, the concept of self-care promotes what you could say is an optimal learning state, which sounds a bit technical, but basically is about being ready to learn – and if children are ready to learn, they are more likely to learn effectively and it also means that when they have issues and challenges in their lives they are more likely to exhibit resilience. That applies to all of us.
LISA: So, it is an issue for ourselves as adults as well. When we are supporting the children and young people who are often going through some quite challenging times – particularly during the last couple of years – it is something that we all need to think about for ourselves, if we’re going to be robust enough to be able to look after those children.
MAGGIE: That is true; you have to start with yourself. Speaking personally, it is sometimes difficult to think that. You have a sense that you must look after everybody else. But you need to look at yourself first.
LISA: I agree. We are working in helping professions. I guess the people that go into that work are often people that want to help very much, but sometimes it can be at a cost to yourself.
MAGGIE: The other thing about the culture in a lot of workplaces – but specifically in schools, since that is what we are familiar with – is that you have to be the strong person. You have to be the one that takes everything on board and deals with everything. And you sometimes just need a moment to deal with what is going on for you and you need to give yourself permission to do that; but also to be given permission to do that by your colleagues and indeed by the leadership of the school. I think that that is part of the need to develop a different culture in some schools. Would you agree with that?
LISA: I completely agree. It starts at the top, essentially. I mean, I am aware that some people will be thinking to themselves that this does not necessarily happen in their workplace. So it would be good if we could talk about how people can practice it for themselves.
MAGGIE: We have to be realistic about what’s possible. If you can make a small change and just be a bit more aware of your own needs, what you may also find you can do is support your colleagues who might also be experiencing some challenges and just need somebody to be there for them. And similarly, with the children, it is about giving them the sense that it is OK to have an issue or to feel like you are struggling. What we can do is we can teach you some techniques which we will come to in a minute; but what is important is to promote an approach in our relationships where it is OK to admit that someone is struggling.
I had an interesting experience a few weeks ago. I went to a school training session, and we were having a conversation about this very issue. We were talking about challenges that some of the staff were having with some of the children. And one of the teaching assistants said to me, “what I need to do when this happens is I just need to go and cry in the toilet.” And that admission suddenly opened a conversation with other people in the group who said “yeah, I do that too” or “I go outside” and so on. It made me realise that this is something that happens so often, and that people do that because that is what they feel they should do – go away somewhere privately and cry in the toilet. There must be other ways that we can help people to deal with that. So, I think the concept of looking after ourselves so we can look after other people, including the children that we teach, is an important principle to take on board.
LISA: I quite agree. What about the role of the technology? After all, this is what this conference is all about today.
MAGGIE: I think the thing about technology is that given how it has changed things so rapidly, we are hearing all sorts of stories about how, by the time our children or our grandchildren are grown up, the world will again be completely different to the world that we grew up in and that we are living in now. Speaking for myself, the amount of technology that I have seen and used has hugely increased in recent years. It has a lot of benefits, after all. Think about lockdown, and how many Zoom calls you had with your family and all the rest of it. We would not have been able to do that if we did not have technology. We can be socially connected and widen our horizons. How do you feel about it?
LISA: I completely agree because connection is such an important thing. I am sure many of us can relate to this – I will be sitting in a room with my partner at home; we might be having a lovely chat about how our day has gone; and I will be sat scrolling through Facebook or something similar while we talk. So, I feel that there are times when – even though this conference is all about the use of technology – we need to put that aside and I think that is something that will be important to talk about as well.
MAGGIE: Yes – I think, particularly for young people, that the opportunities of social connectivity with people who are all over the world are strong. However, there is also the risks of connectivity with people that it may not be a good idea for them to be connected to. I think that it is easy to make snap judgements, and you see judgements in the media all the time about this sort of technology – it is harmful, it is bad for emotional wellbeing, it is not as good as face-to-face. My judgement is that it is simply different. It is not better or worse. We need to embrace that and use the benefits of it and just try to mitigate the risks. That is how I feel.
LISA: I do agree with you. I guess that it would be good to talk more about how we can embrace it and harness it positively for our self-care and encourage children and young people to look after themselves, and to look at how we can be balanced in our use of technology.
MAGGIE: Definitely. Because one side of the technology we are talking about is the social side of it, but there is also the issue of supporting learning – this concept of the optimal learning state or whatever.
There is some evidence that technology can help things like brain plasticity. Because it gives you opportunities to use skills such as hand-eye coordination to improve the way your brain operates, which can be useful to children. Obviously, as a learning resource technology is second to none: if you want to know something, you type it into Google. And the ease of that for everybody and the use of technology as a learning resource is huge. But there are also negatives to do with physical effects on your wellbeing if you spend so much time on your screen: your vision goes awry, it can impact your sleep and your cognitive processing, and it can make you anxious. There are lots of different negatives. As you rightly say, it is about having a balance.
So, we have discussed how important self-care is and it always begs the question: how do you do it? How, in a busy life – at work and at home and anywhere else – how do you do self-care? How do you make sure you prioritise it in a manageable and realistic way? What strategies have we got?
LISA: I think that if we are talking about our own self-care, it is important to know where you are. I tend to think of it in terms of zones – green, amber, red; like a sort of wellness meter, with green being where you want to be. Being aware that when you go into the amber zone you are going into a danger zone. Speaking as someone who has gone into the red zone, when I was a deputy head, it was very stressful. You were talking about a member of staff at a school that you know who had spent quite a bit of time going in and out of the toilet – I probably spent about half a term going in and out of the toilet when I was in that situation in the school. Because it was extremely stressful – and I had to go in there, have a break, wash my face, and then come out and look fine. It was very stressful to do on a day-to-day basis. I think if I were back there now, knowing what I do now, I would have known well before it got to that stage that I was in that amber zone. Then I would have seen some warning signs and taken some action before that happened.
MAGGIE: Did anybody else in the school know that that was what you were doing? Who was there for you, other than the toilet?
LISA: Nobody. Nobody would have known, and I simply had to learn the hard way to start to take care of myself. So, I think that it is very important to think about those zones and be more mindful of where we are. What is happening that is telling you that you are starting to go into that amber zone – for example, are you drinking more? Are you getting a bottle of wine out of the fridge? Are you drinking the whole bottle or half the bottle? Are you eating well? Are you eating a lot more snacks?
MAGGIE: It is self-awareness, really – that is what is needed. The way you describe crying in the toilet – presumably, that was the only space where you felt safe?
LISA: It was.
MAGGIE: What other ways of feeling safe are there that are more helpful?
LISA: I am glad you mention that. I have been doing a lot of research recently into the idea of safe spaces. It might be a physical safe place where you can go and where the children and young people can go – not necessarily the same place, but somewhere to go to have a cry, take a breath, or have a drink. But it is also a kind of a psychological safe space.
MAGGIE: Yes, it is about more than having a physical space. But sometimes just going somewhere and putting on headphones and listening to some music and taking yourself away from the situation or reading a book or going outside in the garden is the sort of thing that people do. It is kind of accepting that that it is a legitimate thing to take yourself away. You do not have to keep ploughing on through the to-do lists and tasks. If you need to listen to some music for fifteen minutes just to get yourself back into a better frame of mind, then do it. It is obviously more difficult in school, with the practicalities of all the people around you, but I think the concept of having a safe space to go, which might be a physical place, is crucial. I guess that is where you start thinking about how we help children to learn about safe spaces and approaches to that including things like yoga and mindfulness. What are your thoughts about working with children on that kind of stuff and helping them to understand it?
LISA: I think that it is incredibly important. In the last couple of years, I have talked to colleagues in schools who have been extremely stressed – understandably, with the situation that has occurred. As the children started to come back, I was offering a supervision. We would talk over what would be a good use of technology; we would have a supervision conversation over Teams. Some of the things that they would talk about was that a lot of the children who were coming back, unsurprisingly, were struggling with anxiety and lots of other behavioural difficulties. They were saying “how can I help this child?” I said, “what I would suggest is that you use things like yoga in your class, mindfulness, meditation, visualisation. But do it with the whole class.”
MAGGIE: Rather than picking out the ones who are struggling?
LISA: For sure, because almost everybody could be struggling. They could be like me coming out of my toilet and looking fine. I was good at disguising that. Naturally, the children will be the same as us. If you can do something with that whole class, you will catch all those children. You are teaching them techniques for life. It is something that everybody should be doing; I am a firm believer in that. I found that when I talked again with those people in the schools, they had started those things and it was making a huge difference – not just to the children’s attitudes, but to their overall learning. If, for example, they came back after lunchtime and then just spent just five minutes or so doing a bit of yoga or a bit of meditation or mindfulness, then that was getting those children settled back down into class again. And it was getting them into the right headspace for learning.
MAGGIE: Because I have worked a lot with special schools, one of the things that has struck me is that special schools often have sensory rooms, which are rooms full of interesting stimulating light and sound etc. But they are incredibly great chill-out spaces for anybody, including the adults. I mean, I know that not every school can have one, but the concept of a space where it is just somewhere away from everything else is great. It is also great to teach some mental techniques which are not reliant on being somewhere else so that you can do some breathing or some yoga or just some quiet reflection just to get yourself back in the zone. I think to give children – even young children – the idea that that is OK and it is allowed is great. You do not have to come straight back in and do English; you can spend five minutes just grounding yourself. I know lots of teachers do that instinctively. I think it is something that we can promote as much as we can. I suppose the other thing, bearing in mind the technology in this conference, what about virtual tools that can be used? We have talked about how we introduce things in the classroom. What about virtual tools that we have got to help, all of us with it?
LISA: Do you mean as adults?
MAGGIE: I mean both, adults and what can we signpost children towards. Because there might be some things more suitable to things for adults and other things that might be suitable for children. I wonder what different ideas you had about those?
LISA: There are some great mindfulness apps. I have been trying some of them myself because I am not going to sit and talk about things that I do not use and try for myself. Ultimately, if I am supporting stressed colleagues in schools, who are supporting stressed children in schools, then I need to know how to look after myself first and foremost. I tried a lot of those things at home when we were in lockdown with my partner. I remember listening to Calm, one of the mindfulness apps, and really enjoying it. The man on the app was talking about imagining that you were crossing over a road and then sitting at the side of the road and having a cup of tea, watching lots of traffic come past. He said mindfulness is a little bit like that. Because you are standing at a distance and you are observing your own thoughts, your feelings and your body sensations without judgment. He said just look at the buses and the cars as they go past. And just let them go.
MAGGIE: That’s interesting.
LISA: It was very helpful. I have tried that quite a lot of times. I would recommend those apps. They are very easy to access as well.
MAGGIE: The other thing we talked about was the use of music – I exercise in the mornings. Sometimes, depending on the mood I am in, I put music on – and sometimes you just want some chill-out music; sometimes you want some music to make you go faster. There are a lot of playlists out there, on Spotify and other platforms, that are just great.
LISA: Spotify is one of my best friends. That was introduced to me by my partner. He is a huge fan of Spotify. In fact, I was talking to him about playlists the other day. He has been with Spotify for about ten years or more, and over the past six months I have created more playlists than he has because I got so into Spotify. I have several kinds: power playlists to make you feel strong, and relaxation and calming playlists for when you need some downtime. I really do recommend that – and with Spotify, of course, you have podcasts. So, you can listen to different wellbeing podcasts. There is just such a wealth of good stuff on there.
MAGGIE: That is the other thing. There is so much you could spend your whole life focusing in on – how to improve your mental health and wellbeing. But you do have to get on with life as well. It is about a balance; it is about recognising that it has got a role to play. And that our to-do lists are not necessarily what drive us. We still do have to have to-do lists.
It is the same in schools. We still do have to deliver literacy and numeracy and all those things. What this is about is feeling like you can legitimately include this kind of stuff into the day-to-day life of a school by doing what you said: five minutes at a time, ten minutes at a time, finding that small amount of time, because we believe that the benefits of that small amount of time are much greater than the time that it has taken to do it. So, I think it is about permitting this culture – and I think one of the other things that we have focussed on, when we were talking about the crying in the toilet stuff, is that you are scared sometimes to show to your colleagues or to the children or to the leadership that you are vulnerable. We are all vulnerable. We all have moments when we are not as confident as we want to portray. We do feel vulnerable; again, it is about that being OK, and it being OK for people in a work situation to say, “I am feeling pretty bad at the moment” or “I am feeling wobbly”. Sharing your vulnerability, and it being OK to do that and being there for each other. Have you got experiences of that kind of thing?
LISA: I really have. When we went into lockdown, I was starting to go through a divorce. It was finalised during the lockdown and during that time my team were having regular virtual meetings. And I went to one of the meetings to find that my team members were starting off by sharing with champagne moments – positive moments from their day. And I did not have a champagne moment to share that day. So, I said “I am going to tell you now that my mental health is not great. I am struggling.” After all, we are the social, emotional, and mental health team. I felt that we need to be able to talk about our own mental health to each other.
I was nervous and scared about being so vulnerable with my team in that way but in fact after I talked about that stuff other people in my team started to share as well, and it just opened everything up. By the time we got to the end of that meeting, we had all decided that we would share champagne moments during other meetings if we had something to celebrate. But they did not have to be about that any more.
MAGGIE: No – you should not have to be unrelentingly positive about everything all the time to cheer each other up. Sometimes you just need to say, “I am having a rubbish time at the minute.”
LISA: What do they call it – toxic positivity? I think I am a positive person, but I think if I am having a bad day, I will talk about having a bad day. Because all our feelings are normal and OK. We are humans. I believe in that.
MAGGIE: It is just something that we need to accept is OK. It is not the good old British stiff upper lip stuff. We need to accept that we are all going to have difficult times and be there for each other and permit it. I think you are right that when you start taking the risk of exposing your own vulnerability, people will follow your lead. Our basic message is that self-care is important for everybody: for ourselves, for our colleagues, and for the children that we are responsible for. And we need to find ways of incorporating it into day-to-day life in schools.
LISA: I think so. Children and young people are what you call digital natives. Technology, as you say, is here to stay; it is not going anywhere. So, it is a good idea for us to explore it and make friends with it and harness it where we can and then we can help the children and young people to be able to use it for themselves – but also sometimes to turn it off and go and do something else. We also need to talk quite frankly to children and young people about that as well.
MAGGIE: Yeah. It is all about balance in the end. OK. So, I think we have had some questions come in. There is one question which I have picked up that I think will be interesting given what we have just been talking about, which is that it is all very well if you are in a leadership role in a school. You can promote this culture; in a way, you set the tone for the culture when you are in a leadership role. If you are not, what can you do to encourage that culture and promote that culture from what might be a much less influential position but just by virtue of who you are and how you are as a person? How can we promote that culture?
LISA: I think what we need to look at is the idea of perfectionism. I have been guilty of that – who in education has not? It is an issue for us all. When I was a class teacher, I would have perhaps 29 sets of parents that were happy and then one that had some little complaint to make – and I would blow that up: focus on that, instead of everything else that was going well. So, I think it is important to think about what we can control and what we cannot control.
MAGGIE: That’s true.
LISA: As we have said, it is important to carve out a little bit of time for yourself. When I was a deputy headteacher, I would just get up a tiny bit earlier – not much earlier, but I would just carve out a bit of time when it was quiet just for me. Even if that was ten minutes in the morning. At that time, I was doing a bit of exercise and I would find that would make the day different for me.
MAGGIE: That was enough for you to do for yourself because you were not in a culture where it was accepted that you did it.
LISA: Absolutely right.
MAGGIE: But you were in a leadership role – so, was there anything you could do with your colleagues to get them to accept this stuff?
LISA: What I used to do was this – everybody had their own drawer in the staff room. I used to put little gifts such as face packs and little notes into those drawers thanking them for what they had done that week. I believe they are called random acts of kindness now; I am a great believer in random acts of kindness.
I hope that these ideas do not sound trite. That is not the intention. But I know in terms of my wellbeing, I am taking control – taking back my wellbeing because it is so important. So, I often think back about some things that I have enjoyed about the day. And if you are focussing on the positives – not the toxic positivity, but the really good things – when you look at those, there are more than you realise in a day.
MAGGIE: If you are not in a leadership role – if you are, perhaps, a teaching assistant who works in a team – you could still do that kind of thinking because of who you are as a person. You can have that kind of approach to your colleagues, even if the leadership does not have that mindset. There are ways of enabling that to happen by virtue of the person that you are.
LISA: I think so. Because it comes back to caring about yourself enough and, dare I say, loving yourself enough. Knowing that you are important and that you matter. And if no-one is going to do that for you, then you take it back and do it for yourself. And that also might mean putting a couple more boundaries up to say, “I am afraid I cannot do that tonight.” One of the concepts I have read about is the idea of presenteeism: that feeling that you must be there all the time and that you have got to be the last one in school. You have got to try and take back your time because it is extremely important.
MAGGIE: That might be as far as you can go, but you hope that it might be a bit catching – that other people might realise that this is what you are doing and give it a go too.
LISA: I think so.
MAGGIE: Thanks, Lisa. This has been an interesting and enjoyable conversation – it makes you realise, “I have got to do some things in my life differently.” Thanks very much for your advice.