Supporting Teacher Well-Being
Teachers are at the front line of both teaching and pastoral care for students, but what can you do as a school business professional to support them?
Teachers mental wellbeing has been poor
According to NASWT's Teacher Wellbeing Survey, 91% of teachers say their job has negatively affected their mental health and 64% say that it has impacted on their physical health in the last 12 months. Workload has been the major factor in the majority of these cases (52%), although worries about the pandemic (34%) and pupil wellbeing (24%) are also cited.
Research by Education Support shows that 42% of school staff believe that their organisation's culture has a negative impact on their wellbeing. Only 22% of teachers report that their schools provide staff with workspaces that 'promote wellbeing'. 66% say that their school does not have procedures in place to manage burnout and 53% say that their school does not prioritise mental health.
It may be easy to think that this is a problem that has arisen purely as a result of the pandemic, but the evidence from Education Support shows that this has consistently been an issue for at least 5 years.
The cost of poor mental health
As school business leaders, it is important to ensure that all members of staff have adequate access to mental health services. Not only does poor mental health impact on student outcomes, but it also leads to rising costs due to staff cover costs. Due to the pandemic, the latest staff absence figures come from 2019 when teachers took an average of just 4.1 days of sick leave. 46% of staff go into work, every time that they are unwell. The high cost of supply teachers can cause major disruption to even the most robust of budgets. Even in 2019, it cost schools £75 million a year.
How school business leaders can create improved well being
Be open and available
Education staff are increasingly more likely to turn to their colleagues (27% - 31%) or their line manager (8% - 18%). Thankfully, this has also corresponded with a decrease in staff who do not speak to anyone about their mental health (24% - 15%). Despite this, almost 60% of staff do not feel that they would be comfortable in telling their employers about their mental health problems.
Sometimes the best thing that you can do is to leave your door open and let teachers know that you are available to talk. 50% of staff said speaking to someone helped them to realise that they are not alone.
Not only does listening to your teachers help them to feel seen and heard, but it can inform you of issues going on within your organisation. Whether this is bullying, unachievable workloads or worries about their pupils. Although this may lead to changes in the way that you do things and a short-term increase in the school leaders' workload, isn't it worth it to have a more harmonious workplace with fewer staff absences and lower turnover?
Reiterate the importance of self-care
Self-care can take many forms and can occur in- and outside of the school gates.
Many teachers are chronically dehydrated. Not having enough time between classes means that many teachers and teaching assistants are not able to take a drink between the day starting and lunchtime. Losing 2% of your body weight in fluid can lead to a significant reduction in coordination, attention and brain function. This is just 1.4 kg in a 68kg person – around 6 glasses of water. Women are more vulnerable to the effects of dehydration than men.
There is also an additional disincentive to drink as this leads to trips to the bathroom. There is absolutely nothing worse than trying to teach a difficult class while also needing the toilet! Not only is this a distraction that affects the quality of schooling, but can lead to physical side effects including kidney stones, infections, bladder stretching and damage to the pelvic floor.
It's not uncommon to sit in the staff room and see teachers hurriedly eat a Pot Noodle or a few spoonful's of reheated leftovers. Skipping a meal or not eating enough signals to your body to produce cortisol which is the 'stress' hormone. This has a direct effect on your mood including feelings of anxiety, depression and irritability.
Try to ensure that each of your staff have enough time between classes to have a cup of tea and a toilet break. Enshrine a real lunch break during the school day so that teachers can sit down and unwind for at least 10 minutes while they refuel for the afternoon.
Assessing work is a huge part of being a teacher, however excessive marking has a direct impact on work-life balance. The majority of teachers spend 3 hours a week marking with some spending up to 15 hours marking!
Ask your teachers to fill out an anonymous survey to get representation of how much time is spent marking. Perhaps you need to look at your school's marking policy to make it easier for teachers to finish on time. This could be increasing the number of group assignments, peer-marked assessments or online submissions.
A Whole School Approach
Teaching is a vocational job with many people who go into it wanting to do so to make a difference, rather than for the salary. As such, it can be so hard to let go. Pay special attention to the teachers who are the first to arrive and the last to leave as they may feel that they have to put in too many extra hours for the sake of their students.
Although this blog mainly focusses on teachers due to the nature of the Teacher Wellbeing Survey, the above is true of many people who work in schools, including the senior leadership team and the cleaners, and a whole school approach to wellbeing will benefit everyone, both staff and pupils.
The events of the last couple of years have provided schools with challenges, but also the opportunity to make changes to the way in which tasks are carried out. Often this has been out of necessity from the situation that schools found themselves in, but many schools have now adopted new practices that were put in place during Covid lockdowns.
Taking the opportunity to look at how and why tasks are carried out school-wide can be beneficial. Looking into why things are done often leads to a reduction in the number of tasks and a consolidation that leads to greater efficiencies, lessening number of tasks for each person. As in the example of the marking policy, this reduces pressure on individuals and benefits wellbeing without being detrimental to the quality of education you are providing.
Looking at how your team is structured and individual job roles may also benefit staff wellbeing. For example, are TA's being utilised to their full skillset? A good TA is not only administrative help but should be helping in class with interventions, feedback on learning and pupil support, lessening the burden on teachers.
Consider working alongside your HR team to create a support plan for mental health. A support plan is a wellbeing tool that can work alongside stress risk assessment and stress management support. A mental health support plan should be a compassionate document, designed to help teachers with their mental health.
If you would like help with creating a more open workplace that encourages positive wellbeing amongst your whole staff, Keystone's HR retainer service can offer fantastic value and long-term support.