‘Wellbeing is not about fluffy, bolt-on things. At the heart of teacher wellbeing is a sense of professional integrity and trust.’
Adrian Bethune and Emma Kell
Over the last year the well-being of education professionals has been brought to the fore as schools and early years settings have found themselves on the frontline.
However, with COVID restrictions being lifted, more of us being vaccinated and schools, from an outsiders perspective at least, increasingly looking more ‘normal’ – it could be easy to forget the relentless challenges and stress that our profession has been and continues to be under.
As the NAHT survey in March showed, many headteachers and teachers are on their knees. Four in ten teachers say they have experienced all components associated with burnout since September, according to analysis of the latest survey for education Support.
Our education professionals need to be well equipped if we are to support our children and young people to successfully recover from the impact of this global crisis.
This, at least, has been acknowledged by the DfE who have pledged to spend £800,000 on “tailored mental health and wellbeing support” to school leaders across England. But this is also everyone’s responsibility, including governors. Is everyone in our schools and settings continuing to take this seriously?
What is wellbeing?
There are many factors that influence health and wellbeing. Each setting is different and each person has a unique set of situations in their life – these two factors together mean that the context for someone’s wellbeing is personal and relative to their own circumstances.
The most effective schools value and protect wellbeing, and instil an ethos of responsibility for one’s own wellbeing as well as a responsibility to the wellbeing of all others. Effective schools value relationships highly. They promote a culture of getting the best from every individual and support individuals to get the best from themselves, so they can in turn achieve the best from their children, young people, staff and local community.
This is more than policies and wellbeing strategies.
Wellbeing is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’. However, it is broader than this – it also includes other things, such as how satisfied people are with their life as a whole, their sense of purpose, and how in control they feel. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) describe it in this way: ‘Wellbeing can be understood as how people feel and how they function, both on a personal and a social level, and how they evaluate their lives as a whole’.
We all need a holistic approach to looking after our own emotional and mental wellbeing.
It is incredibly easy for teachers and education leaders to accept tiredness, emotional overload and irritability as the norm. For those colleagues who are already experiencing burnout; accepting and seeking appropriate support can be hugely challenging with the myriad of pressures upon them. Cultivating a supportive environment where we feel comfortable discussing wellbeing and can be responsive to the signs of burnout in others is an important part of delivering on real, practical support.
This support is crucial, but so is taking personal responsibility for managing our own stress, recognising the signs of burnout, and taking appropriate steps to look after ourselves.
Research shows there are five simple things we can do as part of daily work or home life to build resilience, boost our wellbeing and lower the risk of developing mental health problems. These simple actions are known internationally as the Five Ways to Wellbeing (developed by the NEF on behalf of the Foresight Commission in the UK). They have subsequently become the NHS Five steps to mental wellbeing.
Step 1 – Connect: strong relationships with others are an essential part of building resilience and boosting wellbeing
- Talk to someone instead of sending an email
- Speak to someone new
- Ask how someone’s weekend was and really listen when they tell you
- Join the pupils in an activity
- Give a colleague a lift to work or share the journey home with them
Step 2 – Keep Learning: being curious and seeking out new experiences positively stimulates the brain
- Find out something about your colleagues
- Undertake reading or learning about an aspect of education that you are particularly interested in
- Read the news or a book
- Set up a book club
- Organise a lunchtime workshop
Step 3 – Be Active: being physically active every day is great for our bodies and minds
- Go for a walk at lunchtime
- Walk into work – perhaps with a colleague – so you can ‘connect’ as well
- Get off the bus one stop earlier than usual and walk the final part of your journey to work
- Organise a work sporting activity
- Do some ‘easy exercise’, like stretching, before you leave for work in the morning
Step 4 – Give: giving makes us feel good. Carrying out acts of kindness, whether small or large, can increase happiness, life satisfaction and general sense of wellbeing.
- Compliment someone
- Help a colleague with their work
- Express gratitude – thank someone
- Make someone a cup of tea
- Perform a random act of kindness for a colleague, friend or even a stranger
Step 5 – Take Notice: paying more attention to the present moment, to thoughts and feelings and to the world around us can boost our wellbeing
- Get a plant for your workspace
- Have a ‘clear the clutter’ day
- Take notice of how your colleagues are feeling or acting
- Take a different route on your journey to or from work
- Visit a new place for lunch
Focus on what you can control
Focusing on what we can control is key to wellbeing. We can’t control everything around us, but we can control how we look after ourselves.
Do you spend enough time reflecting on how you feel? Or what you might prioritise this week / month in order to give the optimal chance of feeling well, and thriving, at work?
Can you name things you do already to help promote positivity and wellness in your work?
Think about what causes you stress at work; which factors are organisation-related? Of those, which could you influence or improve? And then, which factors come from within yourself? And again, can they be improved?
And finally you might find this little concise, practical guidebook for teachers refreshing: A Little Guide for Teachers: Teacher Wellbeing and Self-Care
Maria Dawes, SAfE CEO