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We couldn’t be more grateful for the continual support of teachers and the amazing work and effort they have provided. But as we all know the work doesn’t stop just because it’s the holidays, that is why we have put together this overview of teacher wellbeing in 2021 with some extra wellbeing tips for the festive season. As teachers deserve this time off.
Over recent years we have seen the rise in the number of teachers that claim they are feeling low, stressed or have experienced symptoms of poor mental health due to work rise dramatically.
According to the Education Support Survey, out of 3,000 education staff, 77% have experienced symptoms of poor mental health due to their work, this is a 20% increase from the survey records from last year, 2020. With such a high number of educators feeling this way, it is worrying to think about what will become of the education sector as a whole, as 84% of senior leaders are stressed and 54% have considered leaving the sector in the past two years due to pressures on their mental health.
If we do not act on the premise of these figures as they continue to rise at an alarming rate, “we can become complicit in the damage to the lives and opportunities of those responsible for teaching, guiding and inspiring our nation’s next generation.” SINEAD MC BREARTY – CEO EDUCATION SUPPORT
Over the past 5 years
- Levels of stress and anxiety remain unsustainably high
- Excessive workload and lack of work-life balance remain key drivers for poor mental health
- Covid-19 has had a significant impact on wellbeing
- A consistently high percentage of staff consider leaving the profession
- Staff are concerned they will be perceived negatively if seeking support for mental health issues
- Organisations have improved staff awareness of wellbeing policies, as well as their implementation
Teacher Workload & Stress
When looking at improving teacher wellbeing, we therefore first need to explore the different parts of it. As wellbeing includes so much more than happiness, it’s not at all surprising a lot of people including educators/teachers are struggling with this given the current circumstances.
Effects of Teacher Stress on Pupils
It is also important to consider the impact this is having on pupils. For example, one study from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands interviewed a small pool of new teachers (143 teachers) over the course of a year. It was discovered that those who showed higher levels of stress at the beginning of the year displayed fewer effective strategies over the rest of the academic year, including clear instruction, effective classroom management, and creation of a safe and stimulating classroom climate for their students than the teachers with lower initial stress levels.
A group of researchers from the University of British Columbia tracked the levels of stress hormones of more than 400 elementary pupils in different classes. They found that teachers who reported higher levels of burnout had pupils with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol each morning, suggesting classroom tensions could be “contagious”.
Root Causes of Poor Teacher Wellbeing
When looking at ways to improve the well-being of your school staff, it is important to not jump into searching for solutions too quickly, and rather take time to listen carefully to your teachers’/staff concerns and analyse the source of their challenges. For example, we know that the workload for teachers is extremely high, and we should try and reduce it wherever possible, the sheer amount of work itself, is rarely the actual root cause for the experienced level of stress.
Depending on each teachers’ personality, they might not feel so stressed because of the work itself, but because of missing or inefficient processes that could help them better cope with it. On the other extreme, a teacher with a different personality type might feel stressed because too many existing rules and top-down leadership makes them feel tied in, not leaving enough room for autonomy.
A newly qualified teacher might feel stressed because of their inexperience, having not yet figured out the smartest ways to deal with demanding tasks or indeed perhaps the lack of certain skills or knowledge. One might feel a lot of pressure about living up to the expectations of their SLT, peers or pupils. Another one might feel stressed because they are not given enough resources, and feel left alone and not well-supported.
- All of these causes can lead to the same outcome and take a toll on your staff’s mental health. But all of these causes demand a different solution to enable sustainably improved teacher wellbeing.
- It is not possible to always be happy and be in perfect balance. People with great well-being still experience stressful times, and the feeling of frustration, but they also have the physical and emotional resources to face the challenges they are confronted with and once they have managed to overcome them, can feel proud, rewarded and fulfilled.
Key Sustainable Teacher Wellbeing in Schools
The starting point for sustainability in improving staff wellbeing in your school is a more open culture. 58% of Education professionals surveyed in Spring Term 2020 stated that they were more inclined to turn to friends and family for support, with only 10% saying that they went to their line manager, senior leader or senior member of staff.
It is safe to say that you are likely feeling under pressure at the moment, however, it is important to support teachers to perform their best and inspire the pupils they teach.
- If your staff feel supported it will not doubt make your job easier to do.
Ways that Leaders can Support their Teacher’s Wellbeing
Depending on the root causes of your staff’s poor wellbeing, here are some tips/ideas to substantially support them.
1. Show staff your appreciation
The easiest of the four tips, and yet it can go a long way. There is a lot we can do to retain staff, but nothing works as well as letting them know they are respected and the feeling of being supported. It is important to say simple thank you and praise as this goes a long way, showing staff and others that they are recognised for their great work… The rest of the philosophy comes from showing that you clearly care about your staff and that you know how hard they work.
Staff Development should focus on looking at ways of observing as many teachers as possible as absolutely key areas of great teaching. The need for resources of teachers showing a great explanation of a tricky topic and staff whose modelling enables light bulbs to go off around the classroom.
We need to share the best practice of those staff with successful outcomes and a successful work-life balance. We need to look closely at those who may be getting great outcomes but are burning themselves out by pairing staff to look at shortcuts to their workload.
- It is up to school leaders to protect staff from the constant change within the education sector. Here is a philosophy from Roland S Barth’s to help:
2. Provide Opportunities for Peer Coaching & Mentoring
Whether an ECT could use the support or a more experienced colleague, two teachers of similar or equal stature set out to improve their skills or perhaps a quite experienced teacher might have difficulties due to needing to adapt to online or blended teaching and learning environment, peer coaching and mentoring can be a great response.
Not only does this factually help to solve your teachers’ questions, but it also strengthens positive working relationships, giving your teachers more reassurance that there is a support network that they can rely on.
3. Encourage Sharing & Collaboration (Even Over Distance)
Teachers using collaborative practices have proved to be more innovative in the classroom, hold stronger self-efficacy beliefs, and have higher job satisfaction.
- Some teachers may have solved problems with access to the same resources in the same context as others who haven’t been able to solve them yet. Sharing each other’s experiences can help to rediscover successful behaviour and strategies and promote healthier wellbeing in the long term.
- It helps the recipients of the shared knowledge to progress, feel supported and accomplish their desired results in a much quicker fashion, and at the same time greatly benefit the teacher who is sharing their knowledge.
- Nothing helps to effectively acknowledge how knowledgeable someone is on certain topics like sharing does. Sharing expertise means having new conversations that open up what they have learnt to a new perspective, helping them and others to grow. Sharing good practice builds a teacher’s reputation as a leader in your school and increases their professional value. Rather than telling people, they’re an expert, sharing lets other teachers discover it for themselves in a way that helps them to raise their own level of expertise.
- A great way to encourage teacher collaboration and the sharing of good practice is by providing them with opportunities to record their teaching on video (whether that’s delivered in-classroom or online) and making it easy for them to share with colleagues and build libraries of good practice.
“We need to share the best practice of those staff with successful outcomes and a successful work-life balance. We need to look closely at those who may be getting great outcomes but are burning themselves out by pairing staff to look at short-cuts to their workload” Liam Collins.
4. Invest in Staff Development
High-quality CPD supports teachers to overcome the challenges that contribute to a low sense of wellbeing and gives them responsibility for their own professional development.
Traditionally, delivering CPD uses a “top-down” approach. It is the opposite of what is recommended in the government standard for teachers’ professional development. The standard promotes the need for teachers and other educational staff to take control of their own professional learning.
Giving your staff autonomy over their own CPD- When teachers research teaching methods, whether individually or in collaboration with others, it is empowering. It helps to refine practice, provides motivation, can be time-efficient, build collective professional efficacy and defines further professional learning. Ultimately tweaking CPD provisions to give teachers the time, support and resources to overcome the challenges they face can help alleviate stress, enable career development and encourage job satisfaction.