In the annual Teacher Wellbeing Index, the wellbeing of education staff working in the UK is consistently lower than the general population. Last year was a particularly tough year for teachers for obvious reasons, with nearly two-thirds (62%) describing themselves as stressed and 31% experiencing a mental health issue.
In the 2020 report, Education Support recommended that mental health and wellbeing be put “at the heart of all education policy decisions”. But, policy aside, what practical ways can we improve teacher wellbeing?
1. Discourage an always-on culture
There will always be an element of teachers having to work after the school day is done, with it not always possible to complete marking and lesson planning in frees. However, it’s important that teachers aren’t working at all times of the day.
To guard against teachers taking on an always-on mindset, urge them to think twice before loading work email accounts on their personal phones/laptops.
Some teachers – especially those in leadership positions – might feel more comfortable knowing they’re across everything at all times. But it should be an individual choice, rather than a broad expectation.
2. Remind teachers of what they can’t control
It’s normal for teachers to feel like they aren’t doing enough and that they could be doing more. The Secret Teacher column in the Guardian touched on this mindset: “I demand a lot of myself as a teacher and the demands placed on the teaching profession – by local authorities, Whitehall, governing bodies, heads, parents – mean that I feel a failure far more often than I feel that I am of worth.”
It doesn’t need to be spelled out why this is an unhealthy mentality to have for teachers, but it’s so easily adopted. Sometimes, they might need a reminder of what they can and can’t control. Can: Demonstrating care and support for their students. Can’t: Learning outcomes.
3. Offer flexible working
Wellbeing becomes an issue when teachers are unable to balance working life with home life. Flexible working is a natural solution, but how many schools are set up to offer this arrangement?
In the DfE’s ‘Flexible working in schools’ guidance, it reports that “many schools are already implementing flexible working and responding favourably to requests”. In return, they are enjoying a number of benefits including retaining experienced staff; recruiting from a broader pool of teachers; promoting wellbeing; and improving work-life balance.
At the very least, schools should implement a trial period to test out flexible working arrangements – they might find it to be a more manageable balancing act than they imagined.
4. Introduce a mentor system
Sometimes, having a more experienced member of staff to talk to and ‘unload on’ can do wonders for wellbeing. But buddies have to be well matched, otherwise those that need the support will not feel comfortable being honest when they’re struggling.
No matter what stage of their career a teacher is in, being mentored can have fantastic results and can revitalise and re-energise their focus.
In a blog for NACE, teacher, journalist and experienced mentor Haili Hughes explains why mentoring is important at all career stages: “The relationship between a mentor and their mentee is a dynamic collegiate process, which fosters a sharing of professional and personal experiences and expertise between practitioners. It can accelerate the learning and development process, while not depriving the mentee of their own independence, autonomy or responsibility.”
5. Organise social events
Ultimately, improving wellbeing hangs on staff feeling that they can talk openly about stress and workload problems.
While social events aren’t the right place to do that, they can help to break down barriers and bring people closer so that they feel more comfortable talking about their wellbeing in the school environment.
The staff room goes from a place where teachers discuss small talk, to somewhere they can take respite and air their issues.
By finding ways to prioritise teacher wellbeing, you not only improve your chances of retaining valued members of staff, but also start to create a positive reputation outside the school which has benefits for recruitment.
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