Advice for life and work: Alexandra Mehri - Teacher + Expert on PSHE
Alexandra Mehri is an expert on Personal Social Citizenship and Health Education, teaching the importance of self-care to students and fellow teachers alike. Alex's words provide hope for students that there are people around them that care about their wellbeing above all else. Her advice also provides hope for aspiring teachers that whilst the job won’t be easy, it’ll be extremely fulfilling and there will be appropriate support.
This episode highlights how if you don't put your own well-being first then you won't be able to do your best at helping those around you.
Find out how Alex makes sure she avoids burn out in a profession where everyone seems to be constantly stressed and undervalued.
Find Alex's life and career advice below.
Alex's life advice
01. Show care to your future self
Self care has become such a buzzword in recent years and is often met with eye rolls when suggested as a way for people to destress. Ensuring self care is part of your routine, however, is essential when it comes to being your best self. Now, self care doesn’t have to cost you any money (ignore the endless stream of adverts shoved in your face telling you otherwise) and sometimes, doesn’t take a lot of time. In fact, it’s often the unglamorous stuff that you’d rather not talk about like organising your paperwork so your home isn’t cluttered or deep conditioning your hair or meal prepping for your next day of work
Alex puts it well when she says that you sometimes need to think of the future version of yourself. How can you show yourself that you love and care about *you* today and what will your future self be grateful for?
Some days it will certainly feel easier to put your own self care needs last and whilst being flexible with your routines can ensure you are able to adapt to the craziness life throws your way, it’s important to know when to be strict on yourself. Alex says that it can be the case that you need to be strict to be kind when it comes to sticking to your self care promises. The best piece of advice she’s received is that it’s vital to have non negotiables in her week - these are things that absolutely will not go out of the window, even when life gets hectic. Sticking to whatever these things are (whether they're something you've booked in with others such as exercise classes or visits to see friends or simply things you do by yourself such as cooking from scratch or watching your favourite show) makes sure that you don't lose yourself completely in the madness that life can often feel like
02. Start and end the day with things you love
Alex starts and ends her day with something for herself. She suggests that this can be something simple, like swimming in the morning and cooking in the evening. Whatever it is that you love to do, building micro habits around them each and every day - especially before and after you work, can help you avoid the fast track to burn out and actually look forward to every day of the week. We should not be living for the weekend. Each day is a chance for us to create, to laugh, to feel love and we need to grasp that with both hands
Okay, perhaps on a dark Wednesday morning at 5am in January when you have a day ahead of meetings that you're not enthused about, it might feel harder for you to be all 'carpe diem!' but you're much more likely to enjoy that day if you start it with something delicious for breakfast, perhaps get a coffee from your favourite coffee shop, get some fresh air and plan an evening for yourself that consists of at least 1 thing that brings you joy (a bath, reading your favourite book, chatting with your loved ones, lighting a nice candle, it could be anything)
03. Tell people when they've crossed the line
Alex teaches her students the importance of both knowing when they've crossed a line but also telling one another, calmly and politely that someone has crossed a line of theirs. Setting boundaries is an essential part of interpersonal relationship building. When you set healthy boundaries with others, you protect your own time, energy, and needs
Boundaries often require clear communication, such as stating:
what you need
what you will and won’t tolerate
how you’d like others to treat you
But setting limits in your relationships can be challenging, especially if you haven’t had much practice (unfortunately, we haven't all been able to have teachers like Alex!). Self-awareness and setting clear lines become easier with practice
We've all felt a time when people may have been trying to cross our boundaries. Sometimes, this may have been unintentional because of a lack of clear communication. Other times, it may have been intentional, with someone pushing against your boundary to fulfil their own needs. But there are assertive and respectful ways to deal with someone who crosses your boundaries. These involve communication and consequences - check out this really simple blog from Psych Central to learn some tips on doing so or, if you have time, read Crucial Conversations: tools for talking when stakes are high
Alex's career advice
01. Remember that offering support to others should not fall on just your shoulders
In the context of teaching, one professional can often be viewed as the support system for so many around them (students, parents, fellow teachers, teaching assistants...). Alex clearly states that this is wrong. A school is a system and one in which a teacher plays a key role in ensuring the wellbeing of others is paramount but they must not forget that they are not alone in this. It's not only unfair to expect one person to be solely responsible for the safety, happiness and support of others but it's also going to stop the individual requiring the help at the time from getting the best assistance possible
According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, teaching staff and education professionals report the highest rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in Britain. This is such a sad thing to read but also probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who's been through the education system in this country or knows somebody who has
Alex's advice is so uplifting when it comes to tackling this and it's to remember that *you* are not and cannot be everything to everyone - this can be applied to any work place - you are part of a system of support. Find out what that system is by asking those you work with, use the that system and, if needed, suggest ways to improve it so that everyone can benefit from it being as strong as possible
(If you're self employed or looking to transition into a role without a formal support system set up then why not design one for yourself - this doesn't have to cost the world or be extremely difficult to establish, for example: it could include finding resources online from trusted sources to send to anyone you're concerned about)
02. Carve out your work time
Wouldn't it be great to say that you never work beyond the hours that you're paid for or that you would ideally like to. We all know that isn't always possible, no matter what field you work in. That said, you can set yourself work time and free time however you like to plan your day and then stick to it as closely as possible to avoid that dreaded bleed of working hours into non-work time. With teaching specifically, Alex outlines that whilst there is always more that you could be doing for work, actually the need to switch off is so great to be able to show up at school each day as a calm and positive individual (which is what the students and everyone else really benefits from) that establishing clear blocks for work and stopping as soon as they end is paramount
03. Be flexible but lose the 'f*** it* mentality
Flexibility in modern life is key - as we all know, life is unpredictable and the more people you work with on a daily basis, the higher the chances are that something unforeseen is going to crop up and before you know it, your plan is flying right out of nearest window. Accepting that is important. Being prepared is a sure way to make you feel calm and will definitely help you achieve your goals but equally, ensuring you're able to let things go that are out of your control and re-establish order in the new situation you find yourself in when life presents you with something you didn't expect is key to avoiding stress. That being said, just because 1 thing has thrown you off piste, it doesn't mean your whole day needs to be derailed (a.k.a the 'f*** it* mentality)
Remember where it is you want to take your day / your week / your month and then re-assess what it is you need to do to get there, based on the circumstances you've landed in
Here are some ways for you to do just that:
Own it and forgive yourself if your original plan didn't take into consideration what could go wrong
Never hesitate to accept the fact that 'this-plan-wasn’t meant-for-me-at-all' It won’t put a question on your ability but it will answer you that this is at least one thing you know you don’t want
Match your potential to deliver and the expectations you set for yourself. Being over ambitious is such a frequent mistake! Be honest and kind with yourself
Realise the shortcomings from your previous planning and try not to repeat the same again
Appreciate yourself for what you achieved, no matter how small or big it is
Trust your decisions!
When you have more time, also consider how you can invest time where you need to and learn what you feel you must to be the version of yourself you want to be
Big love, thank you for your support