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SHANARRI, and making healthy choices

Myself, and others, have long argued that well-being, for learners, ourselves and that of our colleagues or those we lead, should be a priority for all in education. In the ever demanding systems that we work in, we neglect well-being at our peril. If we want our learners to achieve and attain their potential, and if we want our schools to thrive and develop, well-being of ourselves and all staff has to be at the forefront of our thinking and our practice. However, often the difficulty is that, when your day and your work is very busy, it can be difficult to find the time to consider your own well-being and that of others. As a school leader, I often find myself spending quite a bit of time considering and dealing with well-being issues of those I lead. We work closely with people, and those people create the learning conditions in which our learners can either thrive or wilt. Like our learners, I believe we have to know and understand our staff and colleagues in an holistic way. We have to see the person that sits behind, and within, each role. Every individual is on a different journey, professionally and personally, and each of us needs to recognise and respect this. We also need to be mindful of our own journey and our own well-being, and I think we can find this the hardest aspect to devote time and attention to. Earlier in my career, I ignored my own well-being as I engaged with the busyness of becoming a headteacher and wanting to do the best job I could. I was a teaching headteacher in a small rural school. I was also very busy with a growing family, living in a rural area, that required me to spend time with them and ferrying them to and from sporting and social activities they were all engaged in. I was often carrying out my parental duties and responsibilities at night, after school, and most weekends, as all parent do. But, despite being pretty fit myself, I ignored warning signs, as well as the direct warnings from my wife and colleagues, as I embraced all my busyness. The inevitable happened. I was suddenly struck with a seemingly simple virus, which led to further complications and chronic-fatigue, and I suddenly went from being very busy to not being able to walk round our garden. I ended up off work for nearly twelve months as all my busyness was brought to an abrupt stop. My time off work did allow me to re-think everything I had been doing and, most importantly, re-prioritise. Looking back, I think my body had decided that if I wasn't going to slow down and think about my own health a little, it was going to take that decision out of my hands. Fortunately, I listened to the advice of my doctor, read a lot, and made a full recovery. When I returned to work, I determined to slow down my demands on myself, and others, and more prepared to say no to some of the demands placed on me by others. I also made sure my family and home-life became my priority, not my work, important though that was. Previous to my illness, I had lost sight of this and had the work/life balance conundrum out of kilter. Now I would make choices that hopefully would help protect my own well-being. This would have benefits for me, for my family and my work.

The consequences of not considering our own, and other's, well-being can be detrimental to ourselves and the schools or institutions within which we work. Therefore, we need to find a way of ensuring we focus on well-being in an embedded and systematic way, and as part of what we do. So, the question then is, how can we achieve this, both personally and professionally?

In Scotland we have a policy and a framework around which we consider the development of all our learners, this is called Getting It Right For Every Child, which has quickly been shortened to GIRFEC. This came out of a recognition that we had to get all agencies that work with learners and families to work better together and more collaboratively, and that we needed to consider all child development holistically, and in a joined-up way. This became a statutory requirement in 2014. Whilst I dislike some of the aspects of GIRFEC and some of the rhetoric round about it, I do feel it provides all of us with a way of considering learner development holistically and in a connected way. I also think there is a particular aspect associated with the framework that can help us as individuals to consider and take action around our own well-being. That is SHANARRI.

SHANARRI is another acronym, which we do like in education, and it refers to the well-being indicators that we should consider when looking at the development of any, and all, of our learners. I really like these as they force us to consider children and young learners, and their development holistically, rather than narrowly in terms of academic attainment. I also think that the indicators are good prompts for each of us when considering our own well-being. They can make us consider all our actions and the conditions in which we are operating through a variety of different lenses. Let's have a look at what each of these is.

Each letter in SHANARRI is the first letter of an aspect of well-being that we need to consider.

S is for safe. Are we safe and are the actions we, and others are taking allowing us to stay and feel safe? This chimes very much with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and is one of the basic needs identified by him and others. We need to consider whether the actions we are taking, and the choices we are making, are keeping us safe, in the fullest meaning of the word. We need to think not just of our physical safety, but also our emotional, social and spiritual safety. We need to make choices that recognise this safety factor and contribute to our feeling safe and secure. When we feel safe we are more able to assess and take risks, which we need to do to improve what we do. We also need to feel that we are operating in a safe culture that will support and trust us.

H is for healthy. Are we considerate of, and giving time to, maintaining good levels of health? Again, I think we need to consider not just our physical health but our emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual health. Are we mindful of how healthy we are and how this impacts on everything else we do? We need to take active steps, often literally, to protect our health in all these areas. We need to create time in our busy lives for exercise, fresh air, hobbies, family, friends, mindfulness and for just having some down-time and me-time. We need to think about what we eat, as well as when and how we eat. Grabbing a bag of crisps or a sandwich on the run, or at your desk, doesn't cut it, and shouldn't be expected. We need to recognise stress, the conditions that produce stress, and have strategies that allow us to deal with this and still function. We also need to know when and how to switch off, for the sake of our own health.

A is for active. Again, this has numerous meanings. Yes it means we need to consider and think about our physical and mental activity levels, but we should also consider how active we are in contributing to decisions about about our personal and professional activities and engagements. If we feel we have no control in these, and that too much is being directed by others, and done to us, and we are passive recipients of all this, then this will impact negatively on us as individuals and as professionals. We have to be actively engaged in not only our actions, but decisions around our actions. We also need to recognise when we need to be less active.

N is for nurtured. Do you have a professional and personal life where you feel valued and nurtured as an individual? Do you take steps to nurture yourself? If you are careless about caring and thinking about yourself and your own well-being, don't be surprised if others adopt a similar approach. We all need to do things, and engage with people, that help us to grow and develop and which recognise us as unique individuals. Don't be focused on the negatives and beat yourself up about the set-backs or failures. We need to recognise these for what they are, all part of the process of developing and growing, and everyone experiences them. Instead, think of all your successes and positives, build on these and use them as springboards to more success and growth. You need to actively seek out activities that nurture you and help you grow as an individual.

A again, and this time it stands for achieving. We all want and need to experience achievement, and we all do. We need to create and seek out  opportunites for us to achieve in areas we regard as important. We need to achieve personally and professionally, and be able to recognise our achievements, and have them recognised by others. We also need a sense of proportion and recognise that sometimes we will fail, and that's okay. We should decide ourselves on what we would like to achieve, and what is reasonable, and should resist attempts by others to dictate what we should be achieving. Nobody knows us as well as us.

R is for responsible. We, and others, need to see ourselves as the main person responsible for our well-being, our lives and our actions. We need to embrace and understand this responsibility, as well as our professional responsibilities, but we need to maintain perspective. We want people to give us responsibility and trust and support us to embrace this, so we can deliver. We should be aware of our responsibilities but not allow ourselves to get down about the things over which we have no control or responsibility.

R number two is for respect. We have to respect ourselves and others, and expect the same in return. When we don't feel respected it affects how we feel about ourselves and our roles. We recognise that you can't demand respect and that it has to be earned by our actions. Our first action will be to respect all those we work with, learners, staff, colleagues and others. We will demonstrate this through our words and our actions and it is reasonable to expect this to be reciprocated by those we engage with. When we feel respected it impacts positively on our self-esteem and self-worth, which then has more positive impacts on our practice and our actions. Start by respecting yourself. You are not a fraud. 

I is for included. We need to feel, and be, actively included in decisions about our role and our performance. We also need to feel included and not discriminated against in any way in our work place. Equally, we need to ensure that colleagues, staff, pupils, parents and others we come into contact with on a daily basis feel the same. When we are included fully we feel valued and engaged and know we have the ability to shape our working conditions and our practice. We can ensure our inclusion by our actions and actively seeking opportunities to engage in a measured way. Though we need to be included, we need to gatekeep for ourselves, and for others, so that we do not overstretched ourselves and create unrealistic workloads.

All of the above well-being indicators are useful when considering choices you are making that can impact on your well-being. They all involve you thinking about each from your individual point of view, but they also require of you to consider them in your interactions with others. They are wide-ranging and can help you to broaden you focus regarding well-being. They are a useful guide I think, but remember your well-being is your responsibility and depends very much on the importance you attach to it.

 Avoid getting trapped in all the busyness of what you do and take some time to think about you.

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