Until very recently I didn’t really believe in stress. Stress was something that other people let happen to them. I am by default a positive person (to some, annoyingly so!) and as such have always been able to manage situations that others refer to as stressful by compartmentalising them, putting a positive spin on them or ‘parking them’ completely. This doesn’t mean that I never got cross and miserable whilst marking 30 writing books only to find that not one child had used an adverbial starter even though we had practised using them every day for a week – I did (my wife will bear testament to this).
It certainly doesn’t mean that there weren’t occasions that made me consider whether I was good at my job, whether I enjoyed my job; when the dreaded call came through I panicked like everyone else and overthought my lesson plans, stayed up all night ‘catching up’ on marking and was in first thing the next day to finish off the displays that I had meant to get round to weeks ago. It isn’t to say that I don’t get angry with the system or frustrated that my ‘to do list’ never seems to get any shorter; I do but I don’t let negativity hang around for long and have never really understood why others do!
If a day has been particularly challenging, I can pull on my trainers and run my bothers away. A hug from my daughters as I walk through the door is enough to brighten the darkest mood. I have a good support team of family, friends and colleagues who I know will be able to do or say just the right thing, just when I need them to. Naively, I guess I always thought everyone else should be able to fall back on their support team as I did – if I wasn’t stressed, why were they?
I couldn’t ignore it any longer – stress was real!
My view on stress (particularly stress in the teaching profession) has changed throughout my career. As an NQT/ITT mentor I began to recognise the pressures placed on teachers even at the very start of their careers; not only are these teachers and student teachers planning, marking, assessing and running a classroom on a daily basis, they are also putting up with regular observations, mentor visits, meetings and collecting evidence for files that will soon be sitting gathering dust in an attic. I have seen a number of student teachers drop out of placements halfway through and know of a number of NQTs who left the profession without completing their first year – this is an ever-increasing issue, in 2015 40% of teachers who began their initial training were not in a state school job five years later. That means of 35,000 or so individuals training to become teachers each year some 14,000 are not teaching five years later – most put this down to the stress of the job, the workload, the poor work-life balance and the endless hours.
As I moved into Middle Leadership I took on more pastoral roles. I worked closely with colleagues as a coach, a friend – someone to rely on for both professional and personal matters. For the first time, I truly gained an insight into my colleagues’ practice, their classrooms and their lives outside of school; I saw far more experienced teachers, teachers I perceived to be ‘better’ than me, struggling to keep on top of their work, deal with behaviour, achieve a healthy work-life balance – I saw stress taking hold and affecting every part of their lives. I couldn’t ignore it any longer – the stress was real! It was tangible. I saw it in my workplace, affecting the people I was closest to, and I was unable to do anything about it. I watched experienced, ‘outstanding’ teachers leave the profession because the stress was too much – a profession with a staffing crisis was losing its biggest assets to stress!
Making the move into Senior Leadership only opened my eyes further; I found myself privy to more information, I saw how safeguarding issues and child protection cases played on the minds of my colleagues (not just at school but constantly – you can’t just leave those thoughts behind at 3.10) and how Vice Principals, Principals and CEOs of MATs make hundreds of decisions on a daily basis, each one affecting the lives of colleagues, pupils and families in our care. From top to bottom stress affects those in the teaching profession!
I have to make it clear that not all teachers are being brought to their knees by stress and it has to be said that the profession is often only part of the problem (historic and deeper lying issues, home life and health also play their part) but I can no longer ignore stress for what it is!
We need to model well-being and self care to our pupils!
Accepting then that stress is real and that it affects every part of the teaching profession, that it is at least partly responsible for the staffing crisis and for NQTs and ITT students dropping out before their careers have really got going and that teachers can’t be truly effective if they are stressed, the question has to be – what are we going to do?
I believe that changes need to be made on three levels:
- During Initial Teacher Training
- At a whole school level
- On a personal level – self care
Initial Teacher Training
I firmly believe that there should be a statutory module in every ITT course covering the importance and benefits of teacher wellbeing and self care; it seems to be becoming more popular but is by no means a standard feature of these courses. Similarly, I believe that NQTs should receive training on identifying the early signs of burnout/stress and ways which they can manage it.
Whole school approach
Schools should put a greater emphasis on staff well-being – they will not and indeed can not find the perfect solution for every teacher but they must at least try! This should start at the very top where leaders should seek training to develop emotional intelligence to understand how they come across to their colleagues, how their words and action may be perceived by others. As we have all said to our pupils at one time or another, we must treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.
I worry that some school leaders feel that staff well-being needs major system overhauls, great expense and huge time commitments – this needn’t be the case. Staff want to feel valued; celebrating successes and achievements (inside and outside school) goes a long way! As leaders we need to seek out our colleagues on a regular basis to thank them, praise them and congratulate them!
Free tea and coffee, biscuits and cakes, even some fizz to thank everyone for their efforts at the end of term, flowers sent to recognise ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’- all small gestures which can go along way.
Whilst teaching staff often pour endless hours into ensuring assemblies, parents evenings, sports days and plays are perfect for the families of the children in their class – they often have to miss out on their own children’s first day at school, first nativity, sports day or graduation. Those without children or who’s children have grown up may have parents or elderly family who are dependent on them – could schools be more flexible with the way appointments and special events are managed? A little give and take in these situations would surely foster a happier, more cohesive staff.
Schools should invest in CPD – people love ‘bettering’ themselves, improving their practice and by investing in CPD schools are showing that they believe in their teachers, that they see their teachers as part of a bigger longer-term picture – who doesn’t like that feeling of security and being wanted?
An unofficial ‘well-being committee’ recently started at my school; a group of teachers took it upon themselves to organise fun challenges for staff after school (I proudly held the Friday challenge trophy for holding cinnamon powder on my tongue for the longest amount of time. I subsequently lost the trophy because I wasn’t able to fit as many marshmallows in my mouth as my colleague from Year 6!) or regular ‘Pub Club’ sessions – these simple all inclusive activities have really helped to bring staff of all ages and levels of experience together.
Teaching is tough: balancing the needs of individuals and the whole class, meeting the curriculum objectives, preparing for end of Key Stage tests, dealing with parents, carers and the demands of those running the school is an endless task. We are very good at looking after the well-being of pupils but rarely make time for ourselves; we need to model well-being and self care to our pupils!
- ‘Control the controllables’ – focus on the things that you can affect.
- Instead of trying harder, work smarter – try something different
- Notice energisers and drainers – Think about which of your colleagues you need to spend most time around. Who brightens your day? Who inspires you and gives you new ideas? Who are the ‘mood hoovers’? Who dampens your spirits?
- Spend time with family, friends and loved ones.
- Get outdoors – run, walk, sit and take in the beauty around you.
- Allow yourself some ‘you time’ to indulge in that little guilty pleasure – watch trashy TV, read, bake, dance, sing. Be you!!
- Be positive – make a conscious effort to see the good in every situation. There is something positive in everyday!
- Learn to say no – sometimes you just don’t need anymore plates to spin!
Remember if everything gets too much, you must speak to someone!
The senior leaders in your school are there to support you and they will! If you feel that you can’t speak to someone at school try your family and friends – they love you, they want you to be well – they will support you! If you feel that you need something more, speak to a medical professional!
Finally…remember how important and inspiring you are to every child in your care.
Teachers change lives but can only do so if they are fit, healthy and positive!
This is a re-blog post originally posted by @BloggingAP and published with kind permission.
The original post can be found here.