The word “wellbeing” first entered the English language in the mid 16th century, coming from the Italian “benessere”, meaning “to be well”. It only took the corporate world a few hundred years to catch on, and now wellbeing is part of common parlance when we talk about work-life balance.
But the upswing of popularity in talking about wellbeing hasn’t necessarily been matched by actual wellbeing in the workplace, particularly in schools.
Why we need wellbeing
An increasing number of teachers are reporting cases of insomnia, irritability, mood swings and tearfulness according tp the Teacher Wellbeing Index, and some 31 per cent of teachers reporting a mental health issue over the past academic year.
Jaime Smith, director for the mental health and wellbeing in schools programme from the Anna Freud Centre for Children and Families, believes that wellbeing is the major issue of our time.
“Wellbeing has a spotlight on it at the moment,” she says. “We’re thinking about how to support the whole community; not just children, but also the school staff.
“It’s very clear to me that teachers cannot be expected to support the young people in their classroom if they aren’t looking after their own mental health first and foremost.”
Access to quality wellbeing resources can make all the difference, she continues.
“We work hard to ensure that we are translating research into practical, effective resources for the classroom, so teachers and school leaders are using what we know works.”
A focus on evidence is important when school leaders are buying in expensive wellbeing programmes on tight budgets.
Smith says she often sees rushed purchases taking place as a knee-jerk reaction to the attention on wellbeing.
“This happens partly because schools are overwhelmed with information, and heads are trying to make difficult decisions when they are being bombarded by different resources and programmes,” she says. “It is very hard to navigate your way through all this information out there to decide what is right for your school and your context.”
The Anna Freud Centre has put together a helpful booklet based on a consultation they ran in 2018, offering tips on practical, research-based interventions for schools to try.
It advises schools to introduce “measures to reduce workload or to limit hours spent working outside of the school day – for example, by reviewing marking policies and email protocols”.
This is something that Phil Naylor, assistant director at Blackpool Research School and adviser for the Blackpool Teacher Development Trust, has seen real success with at his school.
“As part of our drive to improve wellbeing, we have introduced marking policies that focus on the quality rather than the quantity,” explains Naylor.
“Many of our schools have adopted the recommendations in the Education Endowment Fund’s report A Marked Improvement, and this has freed staff to ensure that all marking is ‘meaningful, manageable and motivating’.
"The three coloured pens, triple marking and the boot full of exercise books are hopefully becoming less prevalent sights around schools.”
Five a day of wellbeing
Naylor has also found that wellbeing initiatives on social media can have a positive impact on staff, leading to healthy lifestyle changes and new hobbies.
“Wellbing has been really positively impacted by #teacher5aday. It has created an online community of teachers and has increased participation in exercise, particularly through popular movements such as parkrun,” he explains. “It has encouraged staff to take up new pursuits and ensure these changes become a part of their routine and life.”
Both Naylor and Smith agree that wellbeing shouldn’t a bolt-on but an integral part of a school’s running.
“We don’t see wellbeing as an initiative,” says Naylor. “I believe wellbeing is a way of working to ensure that all staff feel comfortable, healthy and happy.”
The idea of prioritising staff is echoed by Smith.
“Something we at Anna Freud champion is being a wellbeing school,” she says. “It shouldn’t be a one-off, it should be woven into the school and led from the top down, not just some discrete PSHE programme.”