As I begin life as a Deputy Headteacher in my new school, it is understandably a learning curve and one that I am thoroughly enjoying. Of the many facets of my new role, one significant aspect that absolutely goes hand in hand with teaching and learning is teacher wellbeing. This makes total sense, as I truly believe that poor, ruthlessly judgemental leadership of teaching and learning will damage morale, unnecessarily increase workload and therefore create avoidable anxieties that inevitably damage teacher wellbeing. On the flip side, and what I feel this blog is all about, is how we can enhance wellbeing through effective leadership of teaching and learning throughout our schools.
“I truly believe that poor, ruthlessly judgemental leadership of teaching and learning will damage morale, unnecessarily increase workload and therefore create avoidable anxieties that inevitably damage teacher wellbeing.”
On the first training day of this academic year I asked all teachers to share ideas and concerns around their wellbeing. This, of course, focused heavily on the ‘extra curricular’ aspects, those that are the more obvious elements and common in many schools, such as; staff go-karting, art therapy, staff picnic, team building time and numerous leisure activities. All VERY important and essential to implement. Teacher wellbeing has been talked about for a long time and is becoming a growing topic in many schools up and down the country, and rightly so. However, having the intention is one thing and actually embedding wellbeing as a culture is another. One significant aspect that often gets over looked is the ‘day-to-day’; the demands placed upon teachers both intentionally or unintentionally. For example;
- Pointless marking expectations that see teachers being told how to mark and how often
- Fads that are implemented and serve only as a distraction from quality first teaching
- Judgemental lesson observations/’clip board’ learning walks
- Last minute calendar entries
- Blanket emails
- Excessive perceived pressures that working late is a measure of how ‘good’ you are
This is where the leadership overview and strategy for teaching and learning has a significant impact. Ultimately, as teachers, we are accountable for student progress and accountable to the teacher standards. These are the shared constants for us all as a profession, everything else varies from school to school. So why, in some cases, does teaching and learning become over bureaucratic, judgemental, unnecessarily workload intensive and for some, a box ticking exercise? I believe it’s time for schools to take a long hard look at the big picture and address teacher wellbeing through the leadership of teaching and learning. And it’s this day-to-day understanding and appreciation of how hard teachers work that mean school leaders can enhance or destroy teacher wellbeing. Simply by adding superficial ‘bolt on’ wellbeing sessions without addressing the day-to-day practice are merely token gestures and will not create a true culture of high morale and teacher effectiveness. The visual above was created from discussions at our wellbeing steering group, a voluntary body of staff who want to drive wellbeing deep into our culture and ethos.
“It’s time for schools to take a long hard look at the big picture and address teacher wellbeing through the leadership of teaching and learning.”
Recommendations to enhance day-to-day wellbeing
Our wider wellbeing strategy seeks to reduce workload and includes but is not exclusively limited to:
- Creating Academy marking guidelines (downloadable here feedback-guidelines-2016) and giving departments the freedom to create their own specific marking policy
- Wellbeing Wednesday; no emails, finish by 4pm at the latest and an optional staff led session for those who wish to attend, here’s an example from this week:
- Fika Friday; a chance for teachers to unwind with a cup of coffee or tea and cake in our wonderful atrium area before they leave for a relaxing weekend.
- When considering a new strategy, initiative or potential ‘fad’ (which could be avoided!) there is a wellbeing impact statement/audit to undertake before this is put to trial and implemented. We have created a teaching and learning ‘Think Tank’ to work on this extremely important aspect (blog coming soon)
- Academy leadership ‘check in’ with teachers every day (I personally walk the school every day and speak to every teacher in lesson time to ensure all is well).
Finally, as a profession we are never fully in control of what the next Government driven initiative or policy may be, that will inevitably be thrust upon us at some point, however, we have to control the controllables. At Isca Academy we offer this wellbeing planner to all our staff should they wish to use it in order to be in control of their work/life balance:
You can download this planner as a PDF for your school here: wellbeing-plan. It’s early days but already our approach to wellbeing is having a significant impact. It will take time to embed and become ingrained in our culture, however, exciting times lay ahead. After all, we are all in this together.Follow @gary_s_king