Teacher Wellbeing Isn’t Just Staff Yoga
There probably isn’t a bigger topic in teaching right now than the recruitment and retention crisis. NQTs and experienced teachers alike are leaving in droves, largely down to one of two main issues, as cited by teaching unions: pay and excessive workload. In this article, I’m going to try to explain what I think could be a solution to the teacher wellbeing issue.
It’s not a set of “sticking plasters” (thanks go to @mrbakerphysics, @Mr_JTyers and @JamesTheo, amongst others, for your input on Twitter), but it’s more a holistic way of addressing what it’s like to be a teacher in your school. It encompasses everything that a school can (or should) ‘control’ and hopefully will provide a blueprint to start useful discussions about how to improve and maintain teacher so that our schools can attract and recruit like we used to do in the not-so-distant past.
Simply having an extra couple of staff nights out, free biscuits or a staff yoga session isn’t enough (even if they do add some fun to week).
Seriously though, we have to think bigger and confront the main reason for the reduction in teacher wellbeing: workload and the unnecessary and excessive pressure that comes with it. I’ve written about aspects of it before. You can read them here and here.
What’s Really Important…
The main reason I wanted to write this piece was not to help recruit and retain staff.
My concern is that many colleagues across schools throughout the UK are now starting to crack. A brief look through my Twitter timeline regularly shows people taking to the internet to share their fragile emotional states, whereas a few years ago they were just sharing selfies and photos of their dinner. Things have gotten worse and for the sake of peoples’ physical and mental health, we can’t afford to spend any more time navel-gazing before putting it right.
Within 5 years of being a teacher I felt this way. Whether you’ve been teaching for 1 or 20 years, no one should ever be made to feel like this because of work. @BBCNews – A teacher’s story: Eat. Sleep. Teach. Repeat. #breakthroughNotBreakdown https://t.co/BITxjHgK9N— 𝕄𝕣𝕤 ℍ𝕦𝕞𝕒𝕟𝕚𝕥𝕚𝕖𝕤 (@MrsHumanities) 4 January 2019
I have to say though, I’m not an expert. My own work-life balance is often less than optimal, despite what I try to implement. But that’s precisely the issue. I, as an individual teacher, can’t do this on my own. Many of the workload problems that I face are beyond my control. They are systemic or boil down to decisions that others have taken.
So, what can we do then?
Successful Teacher Wellbeing Ideas
In all the conversations I’ve had with teachers, these are by far the most popular responses:
- Time to share departmental planning
- Reduced number of data drops
- No more written reports
- A clear and consistently followed behaviour policy
- Centralised detentions
- Replace morning briefings or lunchtime meetings with an email bulletin or an online noticeboard
- Email ban between and
- Social activities, eg fitness classes, nights out, ‘secret friends’ gift giving, etc
- Supportive SLT, who take the pressure off at least as often as they put pressure on
What do these ideas have in common? Well, most of them reduce workload. However, these decisions tend to be outside of a typical teacher’s control. They are policy decisions that are either put in place or rejected/ignored by school leaders. Fortunately, school leaders (as far as I can see) are beginning to implement such ideas and share their positive experiences with others. With any luck (and by sharing this with school leaders yourself) the tide should turn a little quicker.
Ultimately, it has to be prioritised by senior leaders and headteachers. Not everyone is fortunate to work somewhere that takes notice of such things. The results are predictable. Staff sickness levels increase and those staff eventually leave, often with a view to ruining the school’s reputation on the way out, making it difficult to recruit. It’s also a false economy to put teachers under this stress, in order to save money. A multiple of the money saved is then spent on external cover agencies. It’s unnecessary, ludicrous and potentially even illegal in some cases.
Successful Schools Who Address Teacher Wellbeing: What Do You Do?
As teacher wellbeing is still quite a fledgeling concept, there isn’t yet a lot of data to draw upon, beyond the odd anecdote. So, send me your anecdotes! I’d love to know what teacher wellbeing ideas your school has implemented successfully (you can stay anonymous if you like). The more we share these ideas, the more they will become a prominent feature of the education system and the less we will have to rely on “luck”, when moving between schools.
What Can Teachers Do Themselves To Improve Their Own Wellbeing?
The video below gives some interesting insights into how we as professionals can look after ourselves. What do you think?
Teacher Wellbeing Resources
Where To Go For Help…
Sometimes, reading a blog article isn’t enough. If you have reached a point where you feel as though you need to speak to someone about your mental wellbeing then do not hesitate.
Teachers tend to put themselves through hell before seeking help, out of embarrassment, fear or any number of rational or irrational reasons. Below are the numbers of two organisations who CAN help.
0300 123 3393
Education Support Partnership:
08000 562 561
Teacher wellbeing is such a crucial problem to solve. We owe it to ourselves to do all we can. Please share this. Or share something. Just keep spreading good ideas.
You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hello!