Looking forward to spring term 2022

The coming spring term seems as uncertain as that of 2021. The Omicron variant has created a spike in Covid-19 cases, including many teachers. At the time of writing, the government has stated that it wants schools open, but, beyond mask wearing, has announced no new mitigations. The controversial DfE call for ex-teachers to return to the classroom has not been met with enthusiasm. It looks as though teaching will be remote, at least in part because of staff and student absence, as it was for many schools before the Christmas break.

Despite these uncertainties, there is still plenty to look forward to this term. As last year, perhaps the regular routine of the school calendar and observance of familiar events may help us look towards a brighter future.

January

The first half of this term is time to take part in the annual RSPB Big Schools Bird Watch 2022. Get your pupils involved in some citizen science by surveying the birds visiting your school site. You can find out more and get class resources from the RSPB website. Registration is open now and you should submit your results online by 21 February.

Registration for the Show Racism the Red Card Schools Competition 2022 is open from the start of January until 4 March. Young people can enter work about fighting racism in any medium – art work, creative writing, song, film, and T-shirt designs. You can find out more on the competition pages of the SRtRC website. The deadline for entries is 18 March.

Thursday 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, an occasion many schools mark or build into their teaching. This year, the theme is One Day which can be interpreted as one day to mark the Holocaust, one day when there will be no more genocide, one day in history, or the struggle some face to live one day at a time. You can find more information for schools on the HMDT website.

February

Tuesday 8 February is Safer Internet Day when many UK schools will focus on cyber safety. The theme this year is Together for a better internet which aims to make the internet a better and safer place for all, especially children. You can find out more, and download resources for different age groups on the Safer Internet Centre website.

Tuesday 1 February is Chinese New Year, celebrated by Chinese communities throughout the world, which in 2022 ushers in the Year of the Tiger.

Monday 21 February is the start of Fairtrade Fortnight which runs until 6 March. The focus for 2022 is the Choose the world you want festival. You can find out more, order school resources, or request a virtual school visit from a speaker, from the Fairtrade Foundation website.

March

1 March is Shrove Tuesday (or ‘Pancake Day’) when, in the UK pancakes are traditionally made to use up eggs and sugar before the start of Lent, in the Christian calendar, on the next day, Ash Wednesday.

1 March is also St David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales. While not an official Bank Holiday in Wales, some schools may have a half-day holiday.

Thursday 3 March is World Book Day in the UK, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary (I know, I can’t believe it either!) You can find out more about this day, events throughout the year, and resources for different ages from the WBD website. As usual, a selection of £1 books will be available for purchase with WBD tokens.

British Science Week, the ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths, runs from 11 to 20 March. The theme this year is Growth and includes a schools poster competition. You can find out more from the British Science Week website.

Wednesday 16 March is Young Carers Action Day. Championing the needs of Young Carers, the theme this year focuses on Tackling Isolation. You can find out more and download resources from the Carers Trust website.

Thursday 17 March (starts on the evening of the 16th) is the Jewish festival of deliverance, Purim, marked by shared food and gift-giving.

17 March is also St Patrick’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland, celebrated there and by the Irish diaspora world wide. It’s a bank holiday in Eire and Northern Ireland.

Friday 18 March is the Hindu and Sikh festival of Holi, or ‘festival of colours’ celebrating the coming of spring.

By now we will all be noticing the hours of daylight lengthening and the clocks go forward by an hour at 2am on Sunday 27 March, marking the start of British Summer Time.

27 March is also the date for Mothering Sunday in the UK and Ireland, although the date varies internationally.

World Autism Acceptance Week (note the change of name from ‘awareness week’) runs from 28 March until 3 April. You can find out more and register for the schools’ newsletter from the National Autistic Society website.

April

Thursday 1st April is April Fool’s Day, which will make for an interesting last day of term for some schools, so watch out for practical jokes!

The Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover) begins at sundown on Friday 15 April and ends at nightfall on Saturday 23 April.

The Good Friday bank holiday is on 15 April this year, with Easter Sunday on 17 April, and the bank holiday on the Monday. Let’s hope that by this point in the year, a successful booster vaccination programme will enable us all to share the holiday with friends and family.

Hopefully, this list contains something for everyone and plenty to look forward to. Please let me know if I have missed any important dates and I’ll add them.

Why do we get sick in our holiday?

It’s the half term break and my Twitter feed is full of the usual story: teachers falling ill as their long awaited holiday starts. Is this just coincidence, people get sick all the time, so some will in their holiday, or is this a real effect? Are teachers actually more likely to become ill during the break from school? More importantly, if it is real, what can we do to prevent it?

Leisure Sickness

This term ‘leisure sickness’ has been coined by Dutch psychologist Ad Vingerhoets to describe the widespread anecdotal experience of becoming ill when we have a holiday. This isn’t a condition formally recognised in medicine but while there isn’t a straightforward mechanism to explain a link, we do know that illness can be induced by the effects of stress. It’s not the holiday itself that makes us ill, but the impact of stress in the run up to the holiday on our immune system.

Stress and Illness

In 1984 Janice Keicolt-Glaser demonstrated a link between exam-related stress in medical students and reduced immune function. Sheldon Cohen then demonstrated that people who reported stressful events in their life were more likely to become infected when intentionally exposed to cold viruses using nasal drops and were also more likely to develop clinical cold symptoms. Cohen’s research later showed that a range of chronic stressors (ie persisting for a month or more) increased our susceptibility to the common cold. The most significant stressors investigated in this study were those related to work.

So there is good evidence that chronic stress can impair immune function and increase susceptibility to infectious disease, but what about teaching? In a study of almost 300 US teachers, Dworkin et al (1990) found that illness increased proportionally to job stress. This supports the idea that workplace stress in schools contributes to teachers becoming ill.

Since a half-term is typically 6-8 weeks, workplace stress for teachers typically persists for over a month at a time, falling into Cohen’s definition of ‘chronic’. This is enough time for our immune system to become impaired do that we become more susceptible to infection. Add to this the incubation period for most cold viruses, and that’s the right timescale for teachers to begin coughing and sneezing just as their holiday starts!

What can we do?

The good news is that research indicates that there are several things we can do to reduce our chances of becoming ill.

1. Looking after our work-life balance during term-time rather than waiting for down-time in the holiday. We need to balance the demands of work with our health needs all the time. Easier said than done! Significant steps include being able to switch off from work and getting enough quality sleep.

2. Looking after our health. This includes making time for exercise, eating healthily, and avoiding things which have an adverse impact on our ability such as smoking. Cohen’s research shows that all these have a protective function. Initiatives like Teacher 5 a day can be a big help here.

3. Looking after each other. There is good research evidence that social support can provide protection against the effects of stress. If we all take some time to look out for each other, perhaps especially towards the end of term, we will all fare better. Those in leadership positions may have a special role to play: Dworkin’s study found that there was significantly less stress-related illness among teachers with a supportive School Principal.

You might also be interested in my posts on holidays and health which explore differences in resting heart rate during term-time and holidays.

Image: Pixabay