In this blog, as part of our In The Spotlight week, Nic Owen shares her passion for the development of better wellbeing practices for teachers, suggests that it is ourselves that must look prioritise our own wellbeing and considers how we can remove the barriers of fear and judgement in doing so.
Wellbeing is a big buzz word at the moment, yet if you ask anyone to define it correctly, they will struggle. I have heard many definitions ranging from "being well" which is half way there, to "It's like yoga and meditation and stuff like that". Either that, or they break into a resounding "aum" vibration complete with their thumb and index finger pressed together.
The school environment is the classic breeding ground for misconceptions surrounding wellbeing. I know. I worked in one. I was the lead for mental health and wellbeing in my last school. It wasn't an official title but I was the one shouting the most about it. My passion and keen interests firmly put me as the ideal candidate to have in place by the 2025 deadline. I have always been a wellbeing champion. It's nothing new in my world and it has been my driving force in creating a new career path for me and finally paved my way out of the teaching profession (well not completely).
As I teacher I have led many training sessions on wellbeing for staff, conducting surveys, analysing results with the SLT and creating action plans. I'm pleased to say that it never fell on deaf ears, but priorities in the SDP and the global pandemic put all suggestions of reviewing the marking policy, agendas for staff meetings, PPA and curriculum time and inputting assessment data on the back burner. All of which were causing considerable stress on staff. This frustrates me as I see staff sinking. In my opinion, wellbeing is not taken seriously enough.
So where does the buck lie? How high up do we go, to point the finger of blame? SLT? LEA? Ofsted? Government?
I've pondered this question for quite some time, and I keep getting drawn to the same answer. The finger of blame should be pointed at the person who stares at me in the mirror each day, as I dry my hair and apply my makeup. Just like every other person who works in schools up and down the country.
I am in charge of my own wellbeing. I am in charge of me and I owe it to myself to be the best version of me every day. Yes, the employer has responsibility in the workplace...but ultimately, I need to look after me. That is when I realised there are two parts to wellbeing, the self and my place in the world. Without the self speaking up and being heard, changes in the place that can affect one's wellbeing, cannot change. But how can that environment be cultivated within our schools, whereby staff feel confident in approaching SLT and one another, in speaking up about issues regarding their own wellbeing? Staff feel worried, scared even in speaking up.
How has that happened? How? How can we change it?
We change it through empathy, understanding and respect across the board. Valuing one another rather than picking holes and trying to put one another down. When I say across the board, I mean across the board, regardless of responsibilities and salary grades. Across the board. Having honest and open conversations, problem solving and working collaboratively. Listening to one another. Respecting one another. Adapting a positive environment, where toxic energy has no place. Creating a working environment where teacher autonomy is prioritised. Where all staff feel valued and appreciated, and purpose of tasks and activities required of staff, are rigorously questioned, and only rolled out to improve teaching and learning, not to just tick a box to please the ultimate governing body.
Positive wellbeing amongst staff in schools, will then improve the wellbeing amongst its pupils.
Having a happy, relaxed teacher, who has a good attendance record, feels valued in the quality of the work they deliver, who isn't afraid to think outside the box, who pushes those children with wonderful, dynamic and exciting lessons because they have self-belief, endorsed by the SLT. Having a teacher who feels supported if things get a little uncomfortable, when things go wrong. A teacher who is resilient and who is willing to learn and grow as an academic and as a whole person, gives children the greatest of gifts in the classroom. A positive role model for wellbeing. How else does a child learn best? By following a good example, we will enable our children to feel happy, valued and appreciated. They will feel empowered and have high aspirations. So, if we want that for our children, we need to want that for our staff.
By investing in our staff wellbeing, we invest in our children and future generations. We create happy learning environments, that in turn get the best out of their staff and pupils... not only in results but in nurturing the whole person. Wellbeing in our schools is a serious issue and should be treated as such. Maybe this can be the positive to come out of Covid19