I first spoke to Alison and Beth in October last year. Between them — as Lead Teacher and Associate Assistant Head — they take a lead on wellbeing in a large multi-cultural secondary school in Lancashire.
They needed to raise awareness of menopause in their school, as well as support some members of staff who were finding menopause tricky — and put plans in place to help support their menopausal staff long term.
We agreed a plan of action with three elements — an all staff session on Menopause, a workshop for affected staff and training for three Menopause Champions, with some elements delivered face to face and some online.
I went up there earlier this year to deliver a presentation to all staff — in a packed dining room. I gave some information on menopause and perimenopause and then talked the particular ways in which perimenopause and menopause impact on those working in schools. Of course that’s something which some of them know only too well — but it’s really useful for other stuff to consider the unique overlap between the particular challenges of school life.
We talked about the ways we can help ourselves cope in the classroom, the things schools can offer which help, and the way staff can support each other. We had a lively question and answer session and then I hung around for a while as I always do in case anyone wants a more private conversation with me.
Afterwards both Beth and Alison received lots of feedback from across all the adult demographics in the school, who all found it helpful and informative in whatever role they have in school.
A few weeks ago I ran an online workshop for staff who needed support dealing with their own menopause. We were able to talk about the particular ways in which perimenopause and menopause were affecting their working lives and look for solutions. We talked about difficulties getting to the loos, dealing with brain fog and stress and ways to improve their overall health as they went through the menopausal transition.
One of the things we were able to do was look at their working week and look at where the pressure points were more likely to occur around getting to the loo regularly. What often happens on those very busy days is that teachers avoid drinking because they’re worried about getting to the loo. That can increase problems with fatigue and temperature control — and because your urine is so concentrated it can make those discomforts worse.
But if you know where those pressure points occur you can think about sorting out a bit of support when you might need it — whether it’s from a colleague who has non-contact time during that day, or a member of senior staff whose likely to be walking the corridors at those times.
We talked about those most stressful days — and acknowledged that it’s not always stress that’s the problem, it is the lack of opportunity to de-stress and we looked at ways to help that happen.
One of the things they agreed to do was set up a WhatsApp group so that they could chat menopause when they needed to and make arrangements to meet and talk when they could. That’s a small action that can make a big difference. And usually I find that once people start talking about menopause they carry on!
After the workshop I sent them a resource pack with information and tools which they’d asked for to help them learn more and manage their menopause.
Three of those members of staff are now going to train as Menopause Champions. They’ll do an online training which takes them through what how they can offer support for staff in menopause, raise awareness of menopause in schools, signpost staff to reliable information and vital resources and advocate for menopausal staff as they work out adjustments with the school leadership. Then they’ll have a final session with me to make sure they have everything they need.
And I’ll check in on them after that just to make sure they’re doing ok. And I’ll be there if they have any members of staff who need some additional support.
But like all of us who work in schools, particularly at this time of year, I say a lot of goodbyes. My aim, like yours, is to give the people I work with everything they need to ‘run with it’ and make what they’ve learned work for them.