Writing in the Guardian, Adams observed that workload for teachers is leading to a recruitment and retention crisis (Adams, 2018). In recent years staff wellbeing has come sharply into focus and staff mental health is as important as student mental health, with a recent Guardian article citing that ‘the number of teachers seeking mental health support has risen by 35% in the past 12 months’ (Stanley, 2018).
This statistic was bleak enough in 2018 but the impact of the COVID pandemic has meant nearly half of teachers have experienced one symptom of work-related burn out (Speck, 2021). Staff have worked tirelessly to transition to online learning, then to blended learning, then to in class but distanced learning. In recent months they have had the mammoth task of becoming examiners to provide Teacher Assessed Grades. So why isn’t a wellbeing breakfast enough?
Below I outline some of the basic requirements schools should be focusing on to support their staff.
Ask Staff What They Need
The starting point for this should be a staff survey, carried out at least once a year. Once you have collected the initial data, dive deeply into it. Get a working party together and make teachers part of the solution. Be flexible in how you do this – ask them what time and when to meet and hold it online to allow staff who have to go home for childcare to dial in.
A Healthy and Efficient Calendar
A healthy and efficient calendar is a vital tool which SLT can use to boost staff wellbeing. SLT can take a holistic approach to ensure they don’t put too many meetings in a week; allow staff an input on the location of inset days; plan when data inputs best benefit teachers and line up with assessment points; and moving parents’ evenings to a Thursday (so there is only one day to get through before the weekend). This ensures the focus on staff wellbeing is not transitory: it is embedded in the culture of your school.
Let Teachers Teach
Where possible remove additional pressures from teachers. Ross Morrision McGill, in his influential book ‘Mark, Plan, Teach’, advocates a move away from onerous lesson planning and observation cycles and rather on developing a culture of mutual development (McGill, 2016). As such, remove lesson observations, as this is reported by staff to cause stress and anxiety. Rather, use a Teacher Development Programme where staff work collaboratively to improve their practice.
This is an approach advocated by Chris Moyse who discusses how schools should focus on growing and developing teachers, not threatening them. This, he believes, can have the biggest impact on staff wellbeing (Moyse, 2018). Make the behaviour system as simple as possible for staff; a behaviour system should be a deterrent for students, not a punishment for staff. If possible, remove teachers from doing break, lunch or after school detentions.
In fact, where possible limit their duties all together. This will allow them the time to focus on teaching properly. To be clear, this does not mean teachers should not be held to account. Rather you are removing all barriers to allow them to succeed and they you can, appropriately, challenge and support any underperformance.
Introduce a Communication Policy
Introduce a communication policy which means no emails can be sent before 7 in the morning or after 7 at night (or whatever timings work for your school and your staff). Make it the norm that they switch their computers off and focus on their home lives, their families and their loved one. If you’re sending communications before or after that time put a delay on when the email is sent; you can click on the ‘Send Later’ button and schedule for it to go out after 7am the next morning.
Introduce Staff Wellbeing Ambassadors
Cooper identified that one of the most effective ways of supporting staff is through educating staff to support students and each other (Cooper, 2009). However, time pressures mean this it is difficult to educate all staff in depth around mental health. Therefore, try to train a few staff every year. Take them off timetable if possible and educate them around mental wellbeing (in my own setting we did three days in the year with 20 staff). We placed the days where cover was available to minimise impact or SLT led year group assemblies at the end of the day to free staff up. The year after we then asked some of the first cohort to train the second cohort. This peer training is more impactful and empowers staff.
Staff Wellbeing Inset Day
Make one of your inset days about wellbeing. This doesn’t mean a day off, rather activities in school to bring staff together. It might be a cooking lesson, a singing class, a knit and natter, a football game, an exercise class or a staff quiz (or all of the above and more). Come together at lunch and eat together. Celebrate staff achievement. Do a bake off. And make all of it optional. If staff want to spend the day marking, and that means they get the weekend with their kids, drop them a coffee and a cake off and allow them to (although I would encourage everyone to come together at lunch). Finish at 1pm and let them get off for the weekend.
A wellbeing breakfast is still a nice thing to do. Just don’t let it be the only thing you do.
What else can we do to support teacher wellbeing in schools and colleges?
At Minds Ahead, we believe that strategies to improve the wellbeing of education professionals must acknowledge the links between policy decisions, workplace culture and individual staff wellbeing. Mental health support needs to address and respond to the struggles teachers and education staff face at the workplace.
Work with us to deepen impact across the wider education system, bringing back learning to your own setting.
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Cooper, M. (2009) Counselling in UK secondary schools: a comprehensive review of audit and evaluation studies. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 9 (3), pp. 137-150.
McGill, R M (2016) Mark. Plan. Teach.: Save time. Reduce workload. Impact learning. London, Bloomsbury Education.