Time to rejuvenate teacher wellbeing

Andrew Cowley

Andrew Cowley is a deputy headteacher in a South London primary school, co-founder and blogger of @HealthyToolkit, author of ‘The Wellbeing Toolkit’ published by Bloomsbury Education and the co-curator with Kelly Hannaghan of ‘The Weekly Wellbeing Toolkit’ published and shared free each week during the pandemic.

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Teachers and schools will need little reminding that in recent weeks they have been the subject of a number of newspaper headlines, most of which haven’t been positive about our profession. Likewise, some social media commentators have had an open season in sharing their opinions about education. This has implications for the wellbeing of our staff in these challenging times.

Wellbeing in school is a collective responsibility. In school, anyone can be a wellbeing leader; the cleaner or the head, the teaching assistants or the office manager, the teachers or the site manager. We are all impacted, positively or otherwise, by the words, thoughts and deeds of each other. In other words, the culture of and the relationships in the school determine the level of wellbeing of the staff. Good wellbeing management addresses negative occurrences within our workplace; proactive wellbeing leadership aims at ensuring they never happen. When the pressures come from outside the workplace, other considerations need to be borne in mind. As school leaders we need to be aware of the impact of external factors on the wellbeing of our colleagues. Such factors can tip the wellbeing balance in any workplace, which we need to be especially aware of in supporting our staff during this phase of the pandemic crisis. 

Schools have never closed and teachers have never stopped teaching since the 18th March announcement by the Secretary of State. Our teachers have carried on working on distanced or remote learning, many have supported the children of key workers on the school premises through the holidays but at the same time will have had to deal with levels of anxiety linked to fears for their own health and that of their loved ones. In short, a new style of working and a different range of stresses have been part of the working life of teachers over the last three months. The stress of dealing with negative coverage is not something we wish to see our colleagues additionally burdened with.

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There are a few simple steps that teachers can follow to minimise the effect of media interest on their mental wellbeing. 

  • Minimising the amount of daily news coverage which we are exposed to. One news programme a day will suffice. Learn to recognise what is factual and what is opinion, what is real and what is rumour. 
  • Avoid purchasing the newspapers and, more importantly, consider removing news apps from phones and other devices.
  • On social media, muting certain words / terms will prevent posts with these terms appearing on timelines and feeds.
  • Consider muting or blocking content and individual users, particularly online versions of newspapers who often automatically share the same content several times a day.

More specifically, school leaders can consider the following to support their staff.

  • Ensure that staff newsletters and the staff chat group on WhatsApp doesn’t share upsetting storylines. Manage and challenge the content shared.
  • Actively promote the above strategies for social media yourself and model this for younger and more vulnerable colleagues.
  • Keep sharing positive messages from parents and children widely with your colleagues. There are very few parents who are dissatisfied with their children’s schools during the COVID-19 situation. 
  • Ensure a proactively positive approach in all communication with staff, what a great job they are doing and how much they and their efforts are appreciated. Genuine thanks, from the heart, actually go a long way when we are all under pressure. 

The coronavirus crisis won’t last forever but it will change our lives and work patterns for a considerable period. By actively promoting positive practices and burying negativity, we can go a long way to protecting wellbeing in school and ensuring that it can remain strong and consistent.  

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