In April, sat in a lodge just outside Kruger National Park in South Africa, I wrote about my journey reclaiming my love of teaching and my personal wellbeing for Teachwire. Through rethinking my priorities when I moved schools in January 2016, I feel I gained a better sense of balance in my life and found space to do more of what I love, both in school and out of school through adopting a new motto for life: Work. Save. Travel. Repeat. The response I got from sharing my story was overwhelming and it was good to be able to show those who had seen me struggle there had been light at the end of the tunnel.
Staff wellbeing is such a big thing at the moment. Workload discussions dominate as the ‘to do’ list seems never ending. Teacher attrition rates are too high and targets for recruitment into teacher training have been missed in many subjects. It doesn’t feel like teaching is the attractive career it was when I joined the profession 12 years ago. It takes focus and effort to maintain your wellbeing while teaching.
This term I’ve been sharing my approach to wellbeing through our CPD programme; first through a session on INSET day in September and followed up through information and activities throughout the term. Here are some of the ideas I’ve been sharing:
Being a teacher is hard. It drains you physically and mentally. So finding the right school and the right job that fits you is vital.
A school approach to wellbeing is more than a tick list of items SLG have done to positively impact workload or a quick fix. It takes time and needs to be sustained to make a difference.
“Good mental wellbeing – some people call it happiness – is about more than avoiding mental health problems. It means feeling good and functioning well.” NHS
For me the phrase “functioning well” is key. It is important to consider carefully the things we have control over and the things we don’t. Spending time and energy on what Covey (2004) calls our circle of concern (the things we have no power or control over) drains us. We should instead concentrate on making sure we control as much of what is in our circle of influence (the things we have power over) as far as possible so we can cope when the things out of our control try to send us off balance.
Part of dealing with the things we can’t control at work is about remembering why we go to school everyday so my first activity for staff in the session in September was to write their own #whyiteach statement on a piece of card. Some days in school are hard and things do not always go to plan but by having a constant reminder of #whyiteach stuck in the front of your planner or in your desk drawer it should help you put these hurdles into context of the bigger, positive picture of why we do our jobs.
This term I’ve also shared some tips for dealing with the things that are in our control:
1. Collaborative planning – not only does this reduce everyone’s individual workload but it offers an opportunity to share, discuss and debate the most effective way of teaching the next bit of content and develop a shared understanding of what students need to be successful.
2. Feedback not marking – Dylan William has said teacher feedback on 25% of what a student does is effective but any more loses its effectiveness. Planning carefully where to give feedback to have maximum effectiveness reduces time spent ‘marking’ and supports student progress.
1. Share the positives – we are really good at sharing best practice across school but we haven’t necessarily celebrated and thanked staff as much as we should have done. We need to do this even more.
2. Gift your mistakes – we have all gone home and replayed a conversation or lesson over and over in our heads to try and work out where it went wrong or what to do better next time. Rather than going home and mulling things over, this year we are encouraging people to ‘gift their mistakes’ so that everyone can learn from them and they do not become something hidden that grinds people down.
Being a teacher is hard. It drains you physically and mentally. So making time foryouis vital.
Teaching is physically demanding. It can sap your energy and we are all guilty of not taking the time to re-energise. We try really hard at school to make sure every member of staff can have an undisturbed 30 minute break for lunch. It is a small thing but by making the staff room door a ‘no go’ area for students at lunch time and no phone calls being transferred means that everyone can escape if they wish too.
We need to make sure we have a proper ‘switching off’ routine so work doesn’t take over our lives. To help people to do this it is often advocated that schools introduce ‘out of hours restrictions’ on emails and network access. However, we have made the deliberate decision not to do this to support staff wellbeing. We have staff who leave straight after the bell to pick up their children and then decide to work later in the evening having spent time with their families. We have staff who choose to stay until 6pm and do not work outside of school. We have staff who like working on Sunday mornings. We have staff who are in at 7am everyday. In other words, if we were to restrict email and network access we would be forcing people to work at times that does not support their own life-work balance. This would not improve their wellbeing but could add to stress and anxiety. Instead we say nobody is expected to read and reply to emails until the next working day; we know our staff are professionals and manage their work outside of the school day along with their rest of their lives.
Another important, yet often overlooked, aspect of #save to look after wellbeing is looking after your voice. It’s the most important tool we have as teachers and we lose a significant number of ‘teaching’ days to staff absences because teachers have lost their voice. We rarely talk about looking after our voices and the muscles that are involved in talking – if a sportsperson did not stretch we would expect them to end up with injuries so why do we not treat our voices the same way? Youtube is full of videos, aimed at singers, demonstrating vocal exercises and the TES has an online CPD course focusing on breathing, posture and vocal training that are all worth checking out.
Being a teacher is hard. It drains you physically and mentally. So knowing what makes you happy in life and prioritising this is vital.
Now I have to admit here I have changed #travel for #learn but the sentiment is the same. I travel to feed my natural desire to learn more about the world around me and by feeding my own enthusiasm for learning I can pass this enthusiasm for learning onto my students. However, I realise not everyone is as enthusiastic about travel as me! The important thing here is to find what you feeds your enthusiasm for learning. Twitter, blogs, online magazines, books and journals are just some of the resources you can tap into for inspiring teaching ideas while the list of ways you can learn a new hobby or skill or sport are endless.
Being a teacher is hard. It drains you physically and mentally. But it is possible to do the job well and be happy and healthy. You just need to make sure you prioritise what makesyouyou.
Wellbeing is for everyday. There is no quick fix or tick list to ensure it happens. It’s about rethinking what you prioritise and making sure you are using your ‘work’ time effectively – we need to be happy and healthy to teach well to enable our students to be the best they can be.