Currently, I’m the Deputy Head, Special Education Needs Coordinator, Music Specialist and Pre-Nursery teacher at a British school in Madrid. In my 11 years career as a teacher, I have worked as Year Group Leader, PSHE Coordinator, NQT Mentor, SENCO, PGCE Mentor and Designated Safeguarding Lead. So I have had my own wellbeing tried and tested a number of times in my career and that is even without a COVID-19 pandemic!
I believe as a leader we need to talk about staff wellbeing and we need to take it seriously. It is important that we ensure staff success and reach their full potential. If they don’t, then our children won’t. What should we do then? Where do we start? Here are some ideas I have been able to implement thanks to a wonderful school and leadership team and I can tell you for one thing…yoga doesn’t feature in this.
In just 2 minutes of searching for teacher memes I am inundated with memes about burnt-out, overworked and tired teachers who clearly need something strong to get them through the day!!!!
This is exactly why we should bother. Look at these memes and put yourself in the role of the child. You have a teacher standing in front of you who is tired and stressed. What does your learning look like? What does it feel like to be in the classroom day in and day out? We know what it would be like because we feel it in the staff rooms when we go on our breaks or we pass our colleagues in the hallway and they don’t even lift their heads to say hello or have enough time to stop and ask how your sick mum is doing these days. If you can feel it as an adult, the children will feel it tenfold.
This model was produced from a research paper by Kyong-Ah Kwon in 2019 in the paper: ‘Happy Teacher Project: Early Childhood Teacher Well-Being’
Wellbeing is very much intersectional and we can’t improve one without the other. We need to have a balance in wellbeing and where we don’t we look to improve this.
I think that physical wellbeing is one that schools really tried to hit when we started talking about wellbeing. It was easy to do, have yoga sessions, pilates, etc but we have to remember not to be tokenistic. These things are great if you have ensured the other areas of wellbeing are covered too. Staff will not enjoy a yoga session if they have a mountain of tests to mark for the next day or a data drop to complete by the end of the week as per the urgent email sent out that morning.
We as leaders need to practice what we preach, take the stairs, or simply leave the building for a walk on a regular basis. Encourage staff to get out for lunch, especially if they’re having a bad day or seem particularly on edge. Offer to go with them for some company and make it part of what you do.
I would love to have the budget for a gym in the school as I think this is an excellent idea since it’s fixed and there’s no set ‘class’ to attend. People can use it as and when they like, just remember to have showering facilities on-site for them of course!
You have to look at your school’s budget and what you can afford. We offer a School Psychologist weekly and free of charge for staff. It is a cost we are willing to make. Having a specialist there to support the staff is a crucial and worthwhile investment.
Holding weekly One-To-Ones with the Core Leadership Team (CLT) allows you to check-in with how they are doing in general as well as ways to help them to develop professionally. These check-ins are crucial to see how your staff are feeling week to week and catch any issues or concerns early and intervene quickly. If you are in a school where you have too many staff and doing this weekly wouldn’t be possible then do it with your (CLT) who can then hold them with their own teams. What this does is continue the coaching culture established with the leadership team and it raises one another as leaders as we hold each other accountable.
Everyone matters – this comes down to the culture and background of each and every single member of staff and the languages they speak. If they speak another language then ensure that you learn their language in whatever small way you can in order to communicate with them better and support them in their learning of English. Be respectful of who they are, the background they have and represent them in your curriculum. Ensure your staff are seen around the school with each person having their place at the table. Have each others’ back! Stand up for each other and shine the light on one another.
We have to look at what we have and what matters to our staff. If what we have is causing our staff to be unhappy, be anxious or stressed then we have to stop it, immediately. In education, this will more than likely be the policies we have and more specifically, your marking and feedback policy. It’s the one thing that stops teachers from being free at the weekend or being able to enjoy their long weekend. Teachers are forever saying they have a massive pile of marking to get through and if it’s not that then it’s planning and, dare I say the word, reports! We have to stand back as leaders and remember what it was like when we were classroom teachers. Remember those weekends when we had to mark the books because we received an email on Friday with a ‘friendly reminder’ about the surprise book scrutiny on Monday morning.
Reduce your policies, review their content and ask the staff what they think about it. Are they involved at all in the structure of the policies? Are they ever consulted? If not, why not? There’s also a high chance that your staff haven’t read any of your policies…at all. If they have then it’s because they have been made to or because they are actually useful.
In current times, we also have to look at the climate we are living in. We are living in the middle of a pandemic and with this comes increased anxiety of being safe travelling to and from school as well as being in school. If you have the space to offer staff parking spaces then please do it, this will mean that they don’t have to take public transport to work. If you can’t offer this could you offer flexible working so they can come in a little later to avoid the rush hour? This should and must be considered for your most vulnerable staff, especially those who have to look after elderly parents/grandparents, etc. Have part-time as an option for staff and cover them as and when needed. These are difficult times and we can make it much easier by being kind.
There are many things we can do as leaders to ensure that we are taking care of our staff’s professional wellbeing. For one, we need to allow the staff to take ownership of their own CPD and by giving them back the power to be able to be the teacher they dream to be. We have to trust them enough to be able to do this. We as leaders are there to support them and of course, work for the benefit of the students.
To support them we need to create a culture of coaching, mentoring and support and this can be achieved quite easily. Be more visible as a leader and carry out a wide range of learning walks and learning talks. Walk around the school and see learning happening and see your teachers in their best light. They will not show their best if they are stressed out, overworked and anxious about being there. Not only will they not show their best but the children won’t receive the best and that’s worth thinking about.
As I sit down each Sunday evening, I can 100% say for certain I have not felt the Sunday dread in a long time! Go on, challenge the system and make it work for you!
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