Reflections On: Teacher Wellbeing

Some reflections from Maria, SAfE’s CEO about we can all support the wellbeing of teachers at work.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel

Maya Angelou 

A sense of common purpose

I am constantly struck, in my visits to schools and conversations with teachers and leaders, by the supportive and collaborative approach that the majority of schools’ show. The sense of common purpose in teaching and the purposeful learning and enjoyment in classes shines through. This chimes with a statistic from the DfE recent report Working lives of teachers and leaders: wave 2 summary report that most teachers and leaders reported enjoying classroom teaching most or all the time (79%). Most teachers and leaders also agreed that their manager and school support their wellbeing.  

Relationships

The success of a school is so frequently built on the strength of its relationships, and I see high-quality, supportive and collabortive relationships on a daily basis. There are many aspects of working in a school that are rewarding, enjoyable and at times joyful particularly when leaders and teachers can focus on the bigger picture, through the job at school or in the classroom, that they set out to do.

But let’s not pretend that everything is rosy. It’s a tough time to be in education with numerous recent research, including from the DfE themselves showing that headteacher and teacher wellbeing is at an all-time low.  

The reality is that our schools have taken on an expanding number of responsibilities in the wider context of a cost-of-living crisis and rising mental health challenges among children and young people. Whilst our profession always rises to a challenge, this has becoming increasingly unsustainable, taking its toll on teachers’ health and wellbeing as warned recently by the charity, Education Support.  

the job that teachers are currently trained for does not match the daily reality. If we continue in this way, we will burnout a generation of talented and dedicated staff, and future generations of children and young people will be even worse off for it.”

Sinead MacBreaty, Education Support

Feeling valued is central to wellbeing

The professionalism and dedication that school staff show often feels taken for granted and at worst, ignored. The DfE report shows that over three-quarters of all teachers and leaders felt that teaching was not valued by society and over 90% felt that teachers’ views were not valued by the government or policy makers.  

Later this year we will have a general election. I hope that education and schools are at the heart of the debate. Whoever wins must see the wellbeing of school leaders and their staff teams as pivotal to the success of our schools. We cannot just do more of the same, or distract via changing the goal posts (with a curriculum review for example) or ignore the dire indicators that manifest through teacher absence, sickness and turnover. 

Whilst there are so many external factors that are beyond our control that impact on wellbeing there are some ways that we can support ourselves and others. We are lucky that there are a number of teacher wellbeing support charities and organisations, including Education Support which I would highly recommend. They provide significant support through their comprehensive resources, helpline and employee assistance programmeGemma Scotcher from Education Support will be talking at the Primary Headteachers conference in July on wellbeing. Locally the support from Surrey’s Phase Councils is invaluable with teacher wellbeing a priority for all four of the councils.  

The positivity challenge

It can be hard to stay positive with such difficult challenges facing us in education. This can be compounded by what neuroscientists call our inherent negativity bias which means that our brains will always focus more on the negative aspects rather than the positive. This is built into our brains as a survival mechanism but it can also have the counter-effect of not supporting us to thrive.

Dr Barbara Fredrickson suggests ‘working to a ratio of 3:1 to counterbalance our inherent negativity bias’ to build a collaborative relationship between your survival mind and your thrive mind. This is not about removing or ignoring negativity but keeping a ratio between positive and negative experiences, emotions, and thoughts in your life to achieve the desired outcome.

There are many small ways that we can do this but I find that one simple way at the end of the day is to remind myself of three things that went well or that I am grateful for. These three positives help to get that one negative experience into perspective.  As a leader or teacher, we can also remember to notice and acknowledge any successes that our colleagues have, however small. This won’t take away our challenges but as we continue to navigate this difficult current world of education it can help a little with our mindset, resilience and wellbeing.

Thank you for everything you do every day for all our children and young people, despite the many challenges that you may be facing.

“The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”

Rick Hanson 

Recommended reading

  • Education Support www.educationsupport.org.uk  

  •  The working lives of teachers and leaders: wave 2 summary report 

  • Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3-to-1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life 

     Dr Barbara Friedrickson (2019) 

  • image: from Education Support website.

Author

Maria Dawes, CEO for SAfE & Surrey Teaching School Network

M.Dawes@schoolsallexcel.com

Schools Alliance For Excellence (SAfE) supports inclusivity and excellence

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