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Middle leaders: The key to teacher wellbeing

Adam Speight

Award-winning teacher Adam Speight is head of ICT and Computer Science at Mary Immaculate High School in South Wales. He has a Master's degree in Technology for Teaching and Learning. Qualifying as a teacher in 2011, he has since worked in both Wales and England in the state and independent sectors in a middle leadership role. He is always keen to share his ideas and is a frequent educational writer and speaker. Adam is always looking for new, innovative teaching ideas, so that no learner ever gets left behind.

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Image credit: Flickr // Hammersmith & Fulham Council. Image credit: Flickr // Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

In an ever-changing and turbulent climate of expectations in education, the demands on educators is at a premium; a premium which is quickly becoming unsustainable. Many teachers, who are good at and passionate about their jobs, feel unable to cope with the changes and demands being placed upon them. Many schools have tried to introduce various initiatives to address teacher wellbeing, such as wellbeing-centric days, meditation activities, away days, and so on. Each of these initiatives, even with the best intentions, have no real-long term impact, and that is why the key to teacher wellbeing rests with middle leaders.

Middle leaders are the key to success in schools, and this is because they are the bridge between management, educators and learners. Middle leaders engage with these individuals on a near-daily basis, and as such it is fundamental that they listen to everyone’s views, “If an educator has a good idea, why not empower them to implement that idea?”communicating them in a positive manner to whom they are directed at. This is not an easy process for middle leaders to master, nor is it a process which can be taught; it is a process which must be developed through experience alone. Said experience requires emotional empathy with staff - people being listened to is key to ensuring that their wellbeing needs are being fulfilled.

Both educators and learners alike need someone to listen to them, to show that they understand. Part of this process requires educators to be given a voice. This must, however, be a voice where views and ideas can be exchanged in a productive manner, with positive outcomes. For example, if an educator has a good idea, why not empower them to actually implement that idea? It doesn’t have to be the full proposal; it could be a revised, watered-down version. When educators are given such opportunities to take ownership, they will increase in commitment and pride due to the fact that they’ve been listened to. At the same time, educators who continually voice a genuine concern need middle leaders to act for them. Here, middle leaders can try to solve the concern by being resourceful and ensuring that the concern is listened to.

Middle leaders deal with their teams daily, and it is their role to detect when something isn’t quite right. They need to identify the problem and offer practical, realistic solutions, and also (where appropriate) seek further support with the matter if necessary. To do this, these middle managers must develop positive working relationships with their teams. This isn’t necessarily about being friends with educators, per se; it’s about developing a respectful relationship, one where both entities are aware of the pressures each of them faces.

When it comes to pressures in education, delegation between middle leaders and teachers is key. Responsibility needs to be delegated by middle leaders, so that educators can be developed and“Vision needs to be created by middle leaders.” given responsibility to grow. If educators don’t instil delegation and responsibility in their teams, their leadership can become a flawed, one-person show. This isn’t right, as it will lead to an unsustainable workload which will, eventually, filter down and affect the wellbeing of their team. Middle leaders need to instil positive energy in their educators by making them feel happy and fulfilled in their roles, by getting them to see that they’re part of a team and appreciated for the role they play.

Leading a team at any level requires vision. Vision needs to be created by middle leaders, but the workload required to fulfil that vision must be sustainable and realistic. We need to ask how productive a chosen vision is for educators’ wellbeing, or the school environment. For example, are teachers having to take work home with them, staying up until the early hours of the morning marking books? Yes, the books might look nice - with all sheets stuck in, and the correct colour pens used, etc - but how is that teacher realistically going to deliver outstanding lessons if they are constantly tired and overworked? This is where middle leaders have a role to play; they can ensure that curriculums are designed so that educators have time to deliver and implement what is being asked of them - in a realistic manner.

A school’s middle leaders hold the key to so many outcomes, and yes, placing teacher wellbeing at their door is an added pressure. However, teacher wellbeing is something all of us should think about. We need to put ourselves in each other’s shoes, and consider whether or not what we’re asking our coworkers to do is realistic. Middle leaders need to ensure that their teams feel valued and motivated. This can be done through many different methods. If you’re a middle leader reading this article, ask yourself: when did you last make a cup of tea for one of your staff and take it into their lesson? You don’t need to do it all the time, but every now and then doesn’t hurt. It can make a difference, and a difference to a teacher’s wellbeing which will ultimately have positive impact upon the learners in their care.

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