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Are we too quick to kick wellbeing ideas into the 'long grass'?

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

In this blog Catherine Carden suggests that wellbeing practices adopted in the private and business sectors are all too often dismissed by education establishments as being unachievable. She invites you to consider how these approaches and practices can be adapted to improve the wellbeing of teachers before being kicked into the 'long grass'.

At the outset of the new academic year, we vowed that we will balance our workloads better and improve our wellbeing acknowledging that we cannot do another year like the last…we bought new stationary, organised cupboards, classrooms and offices in the hope that this will help us remain on top of things.

A familiar feeling?

A feeling of hope that this year you will achieve better wellbeing and not become swamped and overwhelmed by the workload. Deep down fearing that this year will most likely be like the last; term times filled with endless to do lists with evening and weekend working being the norm.

Why does this happen? Why have we not managed to crack the issues of workload and wellbeing in education?

During a busy term you would not be short of responses such as; Covid regulations, pending Ofsted inspections, new frameworks, ever increasing demands on teachers and leaders, bureaucracy of systems, staffing challenges…

But, what if I suggested a reason that could be hindering improvements in wellbeing and workload is one that we perpetuate? What if I suggested that we are far too quick to kick potential solutions used in organisations outside of education into the long grass claiming they ‘would not work in school’.

I acknowledge that schools are unique and do not have the flexibility of some other organisations but even so, we are far too quick to discount many ideas, kicking them into the long grass without due consideration and creative thought.

Perhaps education is far more flexible than we think. If we took wellbeing and workload ideas from beyond education, stepped back and re-conceptualised these in a creative way they could in fact work in our schools, albeit in a differing form.

Here’s an example of an approach re-conceptualised by a school:

To maintain positive wellbeing and a balance between work and life commitments, former CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos claimed that he rarely set a morning alarm, choosing to wake up when he was ready and to spend the morning having breakfast with his family. He claimed that this made him more productive both at work and at home.

Before you kick the idea into the long grass, stop and think creatively about how it could be re-conceptualised and re-shaped. Posing the scenario to its staff and leaders a range of innovative and pragmatic responses were gathered and put into action as part of a wider solution to staff wellbeing and workload.

The results were:

· A review of directed time led to an additional 15 minutes lunchtime and an early finish on a Friday

· The school closing at 4pm on a Friday meaning all staff are off site by this time

· PPA time was set at the beginning or end of a day and staff invited to take this at home

· A culture of productivity over time spent in school has been encouraged so those who prefer to work at home are not frowned upon for leaving earlier than others

· An out of hours email policy was adopted discouraging emails after 5pm and at the weekends and whereby it suits staff to work during these hours that they use the delay send function so as not to impact on other staff out of hours.

If creative and flexible ideas around tackling wellbeing and a better balance between work life and home life being adopted in organisations outside of education were explored and re-shaped before being kicked into the long grass then perhaps we might begin to make some progress in addressing this perennial problem of teachers’ and leaders’ wellbeing. Each time making small steps to creating a working culture whereby both leaders and staff have the structures to ensure positive wellbeing whilst being productive and performing well.

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