What next for the wellbeing of teachers?
Teacher wellbeing; for some they’ve got it good. They leave work at a reasonable time each night. The work stays in work. They’re appreciated by their school leadership and valued as an individual. They’re healthy, happy teachers.
For others, the story is not quite as rosy. There might be intense workload, regular scrutiny, faux appreciation potentially leading to burnout or breakdown.
I’m fortunate to have gone through the latter and come out the other side without leaving teaching for good. I told myself I’d give one more school a try before I left the profession; I’m so glad I did. I’ve had my passion for teaching reignited and love the job again.
Yet, not all those that reach burnout find themselves to be as fortunate.
So, what do we do to keep great teachers well, teaching?
First of all, we need a fundamental change in schools. One that puts teacher wellbeing as high as student wellbeing. One that means school leadership teams implement things based on evidence and research rather than on the whim of what “Ofsted wants to see”. One that means a cost analysis is performed before implementation, exploring the cost to teacher workload versus the benefit to student progress and their learning experiences. Most importantly though, one that consults with the teachers involved in that change, we need to listen to teachers in our schools. They’re in the classroom day in, day out. They’re the ones that must act on the processes, policies and procedures put in place. Listen to their concerns, their feedback and their suggested solutions.
Secondly, we need to feel the confidence to find our own solutions and create change from the bottom up. Some are too scared to take that leap, to move away from what they’ve always done. But if you are going to remain in the profession without reaching a point of burnout, you have to be proactive and make those changes for yourself. We simply can’t wait for others to do it for us.
How do we take control for ourselves?
Try anything to reduce your workload – I went through a period of trying out a large number of feedback strategies to find out what worked for me and my students. Once I’d trialled over 20 approaches, I reduced it down to those I found most effective (you can read more on that here https://mrshumanities.com/2017/01/31/my-marking-and-feedback-toolkit/). I’ve done the same for behaviour management, lesson planning and data analysis. Although some of the latter were trials forced upon me, they helped me to understand the methods that didn’t suit me in order to refine those that did.
Learn to say no to yourself – It’s really hard to develop this and maintain it. It can be so easy to say to yourself “oh, I’ve only got this much left, I’ll keep going until it’s done” and before you know it it’s gone 9pm and you’re still working. But we must put ourselves first in order to be the best teacher possible the next day, week or term. If we just keep going and going and do this regularly we’re not helping ourselves. When I tempted to keep going, I consider to myself “what’s the worst that could happen if I don’t do it?”. Usually I realise that that I can stop and come back to it the next day.
Don’t be afraid to offer solutions. Too often we just moan about the issues we come across. I’ve been guilty of it in the past. But do we come up with solutions? Do we discuss the challenges and opportunities for change with middle and school leaders? Often, we don’t and instead we plough on and continue to moan. That’s not helpful. If you want change, we need to be offering solutions at least. Be proactive; research, learn and suggest.
What we don’t need
The one thing we certainly do not need though are compulsory wellbeing sessions. Teachers much prefer that time to work on the tasks at hand. The day-to-day workload. Give them that time so they can enjoy it at home with family and friends; this ultimately will go towards improving their wellbeing, their ability to teach well and support retention.
Many schools are already paving the way in developing and promoting the wellbeing of their staff as well as students but there are still many out there that need that nudge, that need to stop the fickle acts of appreciation and truly implement policies and actions that work in supporting their staff to achieve an effective work-life balance. We will get there.
For more tips on ways to improve teacher wellbeing check out the free “20 ways to improve teacher wellbeing” resource on the Teach It websites or look out for my book “Making it as a Teacher” due for publication in July 2019.