The importance of (well)being earnest

Ben James Connor

Ben Connor is a Primary school teacher in Lancashire. Teaching since 2010, Ben has taught from Year 2 to Year 5. Since September 2018 he has been English subject leader and SLT at a school in Bolton. In his spare time he writes articles, and leads workshops mainly focussing on Music and English, sometimes a combination of the two.

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Image credit: Bad Teacher // Radar Pictures. Image credit: Bad Teacher // Radar Pictures.

'Wellbeing' is a word that has been bandied around for a while with regard to teaching as a profession. It generally stems from the issues that come from teaching being a stressful job. I imagine it has always been so: taking 30 young minds and guiding them (sometimes unwillingly) towards educational enlightenment is stressful. However, when you add the current climate in teaching in our country, “stressful” isn't a strong enough word.

No one, even the DfE, can argue that our profession isn't in a crisis. Teacher numbers are dropping, numbers of trainees are dropping, numbers of pupils are rocketing. We are heading for a meltdown.

The government's response over the past seven years of my career seems to have been to make the job harder. Every new idea, modified “Find what needs to be done, and do that.”curriculum or change to assessment seems to add to our load, not take away from it. ‘Consultations' that have taken place seem to have been firmly brushed under the carpet.

So if the government are not going to take care of teachers, then it falls to senior leaders and governing bodies to care for their colleagues, colleagues to care for each other, but more importantly, for teachers to care for themselves.

But how does that work? I've always said that teaching is a never-ending job. You could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and still find something that needs doing. Let’s discuss what we can do this year to improve on teacher wellbeing.

The first step towards ensuring your own wellbeing is to ensure you carry out your job, but in the healthiest way possible. Moves have been made to change marking policies and expectations, and some schools have taken these on board. Marking is the single biggest cause of workload for teachers. Pupils must be given feedback on their work, but can it be done in a way that causes less work for the teacher?

At the Primary Rocks Live conference in March, Michael Tidd discussed marking and workload, sharing lots of good ideas to reduce marking effectively. However, the lesson that stuck with me the most was this: If marking was completely banned in your school, there is some marking you would still do, if surreptitiously. Find what needs to be done, and do that. I was really taken with the idea of teachers hiding marking from their SLT. I get the idea - mark what needs to be marked. Remember who the marking is for: children benefit as much from verbal feedback as written feedback, especially if no time is set aside for them to read said feedback.

The second thing we can do is look out for each other: both by being vigilant for those colleagues who are struggling, as well as not creating untenable expectations within our workplace. The first point most of my colleagues do really well. We are friends, we know each other “Staff in a position of power are also in a position of responsibility.”well enough to spot signs of tiredness or stress. We rally round those who are struggling, even if those people are too 'British' to confess (the latter is something I especially experienced as an NQT). Entering a school is daunting enough, but some of my colleagues would mark to the nth degree - sometimes writing more than their pupils. The extent that work was marked, and the time it took to do so, was extraordinary. But this should NOT be held up as the ideal. Marking needs to have impact, regardless of how lightly work is marked. Do your colleagues a favour: work as a team to create an achievable working atmosphere in your school.

Finally, SLT members have a large role to play in teacher wellbeing. Everyone is under pressure to perform, schools are rigorously investigated to ensure that data shows progress throughout the school, and most of this pressure falls on the headteacher and the other SLT members. Those people cannot carry the burden for the whole school, they need to be aware of their own wellbeing. However, they cannot pass the burden solely onto the colleagues they manage. Staff in a position of power are also in a position of responsibility to care for their colleagues. The burden and pressure of ensuring a school is moving forward should be shared equally between ALL staff, but the nature of being part of a leadership team is that those people will undoubtedly carry more of the burden. Schools that work well involve all staff buying into the school's drive towards progress, all members supporting one another and the burden of the work involved being shared fairly between all parties.

Take care of yourself, take care of your colleagues, take care of the staff you have responsibility for. A difficult task in the current climate, but an ideal that we need to strive for as a profession.

How will your school promote wellbeing this year? Share your tips below.

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