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The Teacher Retention Crisis: What Can Middle Leaders Do To Thrive in Teaching?

At the beginning of the month, Education Support, with support from Public First, released their Commission on Teacher Retention: 1970s working conditions in the 2020s: Modernising the professional lives of teachers for the 21st Century. The report gives some stark statistics but unfortunately, few that are surprising to the education sector.

Nevertheless, one statistic, in particular, stood out: 78% of teachers said they would be likely to leave the profession if they were offered a job in another sector which promised a better work-life balance. This polled higher than better pay.

Given the current ongoing teacher strikes across the land for better pay, this is quite a terrifying statistic. Even if pay improves, the chance of a better work-life balance will still draw teachers away from the classroom.

The conditions for teachers at the moment is a sorry state of affairs. The Commission offers many valuable recommendations, particularly centring around flexible work, creating clear guidance about what is and isn’t a school’s responsibility with regards to the cost of living crisis and even a review of teachers’ contracted hours.

The Commission has been taken to Parliament and I hope they hear it loud and clear.

In the meantime, it is important to acknowledge that it isn’t just for the government to make changes to the education sector. Individuals can also make positive changes. So often in education, there can be a feeling of helplessness: this is the way the system is and I can’t change it. I know I used to say this almost daily to my partner when I was teaching!

However, there are things that you as an individual can do. They may be small in comparison to bringing about the demise of Ofsted or restructuring the whole pay structure of teaching. Yet, they will make an immediate difference to your wellbeing and work-life balance.

Here are three things you can do today.

1. Start saying no

Saying no in education can feel like a crime. You don’t want to say no to helping your students because they are literally why you are in school. You don’t like to say no to your colleagues because you want to be seen as helpful. You fear saying no to SLT in case they view you as incompetent.

Photo by Daniel Herron on Unsplash

However, no is a vitally important word because it creates a feedback loop opportunity. When you are at capacity and no longer able to take on any more tasks, how are people to know that if you don’t tell them so? How is a colleague to know that their request is not part of your job remit if you don’t say no and tell them? How is a student to know that actually, their request for help comes at the one moment of the day when you finally have time to sit for 5 minutes and maybe even pop to the loo too?

People are not mind readers (thank goodness). It is perfectly reasonable for you to let them know that you cannot or do not want to do a task that’s been requested of you. Take confidence in your professional ability to say no.

2. Create realistic expectations

In connection to saying no, it is important to have realistic expectations of both yourself and the job of teaching. As it currently stands, teaching is an impossible job. You cannot do everything. There is not enough time in the world and you will not have the energy and willpower to get it all done either.

This is not a personal failure. It’s a realistic expectation.

Acknowledge what you have the capacity for and what currently lies beyond your capacity. Learn to prioritise and say no where necessary.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

A useful exercise to try here is this: consider how you can reduce your input (your workload) by 10% without impacting your output (student attainment). What areas of your workload could you reduce, reframe or even remove?

3. Create clear boundaries

At the end of the day, teaching is a job.

You provide a service and receive financial compensation in return.

More importantly, you are a human being first and a teacher second. In order to thrive in teaching, you must put your needs and wellbeing first.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

You can achieve this by creating clear boundaries around your work-life balance and wellbeing.

Teaching, especially middle leadership, is wonderful because you are making a positive impact on your students and the wider school community. However, this can never come at the cost of your personal health and wellbeing. By creating clear boundaries, you are able to do what lies within your capacity to an excellent quality whilst also thriving as a human being first.

If you would like to find out more about how you can create clear boundaries, check out the work that I do with middle leaders on my website:

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The author

Gemma Drinkall is an Educational Wellbeing Coach dedicated to helping middle leaders in education to create clear boundaries so that they can thrive in teaching.

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