So, what’s musculoskeletal health and how is it related to wellbeing in schools?
As a physiotherapist it’s something I’m incredible passionate about, simply put, it’s muscle and joint health. Something incredibly important and directly liked to mental health and “wellbeing as a whole”, but a challenge to achieve when adults are working in children’s environments and often overlooked within the education sector.
I first discovered @MartynReah and his #Teacher5aday concept in 2016. One of those “YES moments” and I have been eager to help ever since. The #Teacher5aday concept is based on the “Five Ways to Wellbeing” set out by the New Economics Foundation (yes, it’s about saving money as well as morally the correct thing to do) with areas we can all related to and use to improve our own wellbeing and that of others:
2) #Be Active
3) #Take Notice
4) #Keep Learning
I am excited to be part of the #PedagooHampshire18 and will be talking about how musculoskeletal health can contribute to your personal wellbeing and your teaching. We’ll look at practical examples, research and explain the new “Musculoskeletal Health Toolkit”, developed by Public Health England and Business in the Community. With permission I’ve been able to tailor it for the education sector. It can be taken away and used straight away but will also benefit from further input! They’ll be plenty of time for discussion and sharing ideas during the session too.
As the school holiday/work/life juggle many of us are familiar with continues, I thought I’d share a short introduction as to how I embrace the Big Five and why I fully support #teacher5aday. I hope you enjoy the read!
As an education-based physiotherapist I love to connect with proactive others, keen to learn more about musculoskeletal health, posture, ergonomics and the benefits it can offer children and staff. For example, how can pupils be seated to engage more fully in learning? how can a classroom be set up to limit back strain to teaching assistants? What support is available if staff are struggling with back health? What resources are available to teach children (and families) safe tech use from a healthy-posture point of view?
Changing lifestyles are affecting growing spines – 10 years ago it was rare to treat a teenager with back pain. They were seen individually on physiotherapy caseloads, now there are so many – back pain classes are set up at hospitals up and down the Country to cope with the growing demand. Children are on painkillers, missing school for appointments and when in pain, concentrating is more difficult.
For adults, it’s now recognised, there are clear links between Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), mental illness and work loss. For example, pain often causes reduced mobility, limitation of activities and fatigue – leading to loss of confidence, fear of pain, fear of future long-term impact, further anxiety and avoidance behaviours – this chronic pain cycle is not good for anyone.
Likewise, stress often manifests itself as MSD. Physiological changes occur in the body, for example increased heart rate, tightening of muscles and increased blood pressure. At the same time, behaviour is likely to change so individuals may not think about posture or take breaks. This leads to an increased risk of injury and feeling despondent. It may be no surprise to learn that employees with MSDs are at a higher risk of stress, anxiety and depression. Equally depression is 4 times more likely for those in persistent pain (Musculoskeletal health in the workplace: a toolkit for employers, PHE 2017). When supporting improved mental health, we must consider physical/musculoskeletal health too.
As pertinent for all believers in #teacher5aday, prevention is Key, especially when considering the impact teachers have on children’s learning.
In today’s education climate where there are significant workload challenges with retention and recruitment difficulties putting further emotional and physical pressure on existing staff, often compounded by budget constraints and further staff turnover, it’s plain to see how a vicious circle can be perpetuated – all of which will have a negative impact on children’s learning and outcomes.
There has been a 30% drop in teacher applications this year (TES 2018), with the lowest teacher entry rate in 5years. Teachers are continuing to leave faster than ever, especially after 3 years and there are a soaring number of school vacancies. Primaries with atleast one vacancy went up from 6.9% in 2015 to 8.9% last year (DfE School Workforce Census 2016).
In 2015-16, 54% of teachers had at least one sick day, with the average number of sick days 7.5 days. 2.16 million teaching days were lost due to sickness absence (Schools Week, 2017).
“In a climate where recruitment is tough and academic expectations continue to rise, governors and leaders realise that they need to move funding away from ‘stickingplaster’ interventions and into sustained support and development for their most expensive assets, the teachers and other staff who work with students every day.” David Weston CEO Teacher Development Trust (Education Business 2016)
The DfE proposed looking at issues to address teacher workload with Ofsted asking a new question this year to ensure leaders and managers take workload into account. This will create a wider picture of evidence to ensure “everything is being done to ensure that the school has motivated, respected and effective teaching staff to deliver a high-quality education for all pupils” (Tackling Workload together – a new question for staff at the point of inspection, educationinsepctorblog.gov.uk 2017). I’d be really interested to see the outcome of this on the wellbeing of our tremendously hard-working workforce.
Sean Harford, Ofsted National Director of Education believes “If we work together, we can turn a corner and improve the lives of teachers and in turn the pupils they teach.”
2. Be Active
As a physiotherapist, I will always advocate for physical activity. It has so many benefits and is essential for musculoskeletal health – a strong core of muscles and flexibility really do help you cope with the physical demands of the job. I know the pressure of finding time to “fit in exercise” but it helps to think of ways activity can be incorporated into your day. And think, even if I just start with 10minutes – make it manageable, you will enjoy it and the motivation to do more will come. I often think it would be great to have a #Teacher5aday be active 5km Park Run Day when we all run wherever we are in the country on the same day to support each other 😊. For those thinking, “I’d never be fit enough to run 5km”…take a look at the Couch to 5km NHS Plan – it’s phenomenal and YES YOU CAN!! https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/couch-to-5k-week-by-week/
3. Take Notice
With the increase in awareness about the benefits of mindfulness, I think we are more able to take notice of our surroundings, embrace nature and reflect and in the words of my dear late Gran “always take the time to smell the roses”. Give yourself those moments to stop, breath and inhale, wherever you are – you deserve it and things really do seem better afterwards!
4. Keep Learning
I am an avid believer in personal development and in the development of others. Two of the most useful questions I’ve found to help are “What went well?” and “What would I do differently next time?”. I keep learning and have read several motivational business books recently as I look to expand Jolly Back into the USA. “Productivity Ninja” has been a revelation and I would be interested to know if any teachers have read it as it’s a fantastic management resource. I really have got my inbox to zero and never thought that possible!!
And finally, to give. When working within education we all give so much as we serve others and ultimately our children. To volunteer and give time, a finite resource, is a real privilege and to work with others doing the same, really does give pleasure and momentum.
I’d urge everyone keen to improve their wellbeing and that of others to join liked-minded individuals at #PedagooHampshire on the 15th September. It really is going to be brilliant – it feels good just to think about it!
I’ll be hosting Day 5 of #SlowChat6 on Friday 31st August from 7:30am (in between going on a video making course). With that in mind, the questions I’d like to explore over the day are:
1) In what ways do you find your physical health affects your mental health and vice versa? It can be positively and/or negatively.
2) How do you feel your physical health affects your teaching?
3) What advice would you give to colleagues who are finding it difficult to start exercising?
4) Which “must read” book would you recommend to colleagues to help support wellbeing? A summer read, management, cook, craft book or anything else?
Lorna Taylor, Physiotherapist @JollyBack