80% of teachers say their workload is ‘unmanageable’. A third are leaving the profession within five years and the number of new recruits is falling. Nearly 30% of teachers now have a diagnosed mental health condition. And our children are among the most unhappy in the world. There is a crisis of morale in our profession, and it’s getting worse.
Stop! Put a brake on the doom and gloom! Yes, there is a problem, but isn’t problem-solving what we do every day? Our industry is based on the idea of dramatic improvement: after all, we take in toddlers who can’t speak and send out pre-teens who can write books. We can think about wellbeing like we would any Curriculum area: it has its own subject knowledge, skills and learning behaviours. Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, from the University of Warwick, says,
“It can help to think about "being well" as something you do, rather than something you are. The more you put in, the more you are likely to get out. No-one can give wellbeing to you. It's you who has to take action.”
So what might the learning objectives be in a proactive wellbeing programme? A good starting point is our ‘Path to Success’ model, which underpins everything we do at TT Education. Think about each of the five areas in the light blue circle and ask: what ideas do they suggest for taking control of mental and physical health?
First, we need to ensure our staff and pupils have positive experiences. We cannot expect a child to be polite or kind if their experience of adults is generally passive (television), aggressive (shouting), emotional unavailability (parent on a phone) or impatience (busy teacher unwilling to answer properly with good eye contact). We cannot expect staff to improve if their experience of performance management is heavy-handed and one-directional observation and scrutiny. Teachers won’t show much initiative if their only experience is that of ideas being ignored, or of policies being imposed from above.
Secondly, allow opportunities to play with ideas. Allow your teachers to try out ‘tweaks’ to their practice before you introduce a new policy or initiative; in fact, ask them to share their playful experiences and use those to inform your approach. Role-play bad observation feedback with a friend (or a mirror!) before you approach the teacher. Allow children to role-play conversations for ‘restorative justice’, or how to say ‘no’ or ’stop’ in the middle of rough games like tag or football. ‘Play With It’ is also about activities and games that practise and develop our understanding of wellbeing, for instance with emotions and their triggers. We provide dozens of these games on our Improving Wellbeing for Pupils and Teachers course.
'Use It’ is about embedding wellbeing in all aspects of the school. Introduce non-negotiables for behavior, language and obligations - and make these explicit. A useful resource is the UN’s Rights of the Child, which promotes open discussion with children. For adults, too, wellbeing should be top of the agenda - and visibly so. Do you have an official Work-Life Balance Policy? Is your procedure for calling in sick actually quite traumatic for staff? What impact does your scrutiny programme have on morale and professional development? Our Effective Performance Management and Developing Outstanding Middle Leaders courses suggest dozens of effective monitoring strategies that aren’t heavy-handed for those on the receiving end.
Any mastery curriculum must provide opportunities for students to develop their own learning through collaboration, investigation and explanation. Can staff collaborate to amend whole-school policies, or develop their own creative projects? Do you have opportunities in place for team planning, team teaching, lesson study and peer mentoring? Is there a ‘safe space’ in your school for staff to voice their concerns? A well-thought-out mechanism will turn these concerns into constructive ideas, empowering your staff by making them feel ‘part of the team’. Conversely, a laissez-faire approach will turn these concerns into ‘whines’ behind closed doors: the negative energy will sap enthusiasm from your school and perhaps end in long-term sick leave, official complaints or even tribunals.
Finally, we need to make sure we connect everything together. Do your topics and subject content relate to ‘real life’ issues for the children, for instance linking inequality and violence in History to attitudes and mistreatment in the present day? Do you use the same phrases verbatim in different areas, for instance your school vision, SDP, and well-being policy? Do you have unofficial practices and official policies that damage mental or physical health, for instance school dinners/packed lunches, behavior management approaches, intervention timetables where some children miss lots of assemblies, PSHE and art/music lessons? What about for staff, with duplication in assessment and data-collection, onerous marking and feedback policies, late-night twilights instead of day-time insets? Is wellbeing a factor in everything you do, for instance when considering incentives for reading at home, or for improving attendance, or your willingness to drop an old programme when you introduce a new one? Even apparently innocuous things like seating plans and line orders can have huge wellbeing implications: does that quiet, well-behaved child always go next to the class bully?
Obviously not everything is in our hands. Children have school rules to follow that may stop them taking control of their wellbeing; besides, they have not yet developed many of the neural pathways that allow them to understand their emotions properly, or those of their friends and peers. Teachers have progress to prove, paperwork and data to create, parents to appease. Leaders are accountable for the results in their school and the performance of their staff. MATs and local authorities are constrained by the policies of politicians, who in turn are slaves to the whims of the electorate and media. It takes a brave person to ‘break rank’ in any part of that chain, to challenge orthodoxies that are actually unnecessary and might even be harmful. We are not powerless, though, and with that in mind I’ll leave you with TT Education’s twelve-point plan for taking control of your own well-being - in a way that doesn’t rock the boat!
Try not to:
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At TT Education, we want to help schools support the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils AND teachers and turn these worrying statistics around. That is why we have created Improving Wellbeing for Pupils and Teachers. This one-day CPD course provides primary leaders, class teachers and teaching assistants with practical, insightful and proven strategies to monitor, maintain and grow wellbeing for staff and pupils. It aims to encourage all individuals to be more self-aware and engage them in activities that will benefit them and the whole school community.
To find out more about this course, or to book a place, call our friendly team on 01206 625 626 or click here.
Published on 19 February 2020