4 wellbeing ideas that would actually make a difference

Jo Steer says that while free cake is all well and good, more fundamental changes are needed if teacher wellbeing is to be taken seriously

Jo Steer

Man holding cake and looking disappointed

Nobody likes going back to work after a holiday.

But this September, I wonder just how many teachers spent the last few days, or even weeks, dreading a return to school and the anxiety this brings.

It’s no secret that teachers aren’t happy. In fact, many of us show the symptoms of being clinically "unhappy". As such, school leaders are implementing staff wellbeing policies, enforcing mandatory meditation workshops and throwing free cake at staff Inset.

Quick read: 7 things not to say when you start at a new school

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Now…I think you’d be hard pushed to find someone who loves free cake, yoga and mindfulness as much as I do. It’s kind of my thing. And yet, even I can see that when these things are used as a box-ticking exercise, nothing really changes.

So how can schools support our wellbeing, in a meaningful and effective way?

1. Be organised

Teachers manage their hefty and varied workload by planning ahead. We’re organised people and we need our employers to follow suit.

This means coming into school on a Monday morning, with a good idea of what’s happening that week and when. It doesn’t mean surprise meetings, scrutinies, report deadlines and an email at 9pm that tells you you’re being observed the next day.

One-off changes are of course to be expected, but where unpredictability is the norm, staff are much more likely to succumb to stress.

2. Communicate well

Equally frustrating for all staff is when methods of communication fail to hit the mark or happen at all. Forcing us to sit through meetings that could have been delivered in half the time – or summarised in an email – feels like time-wasting. Bombarding us with 30 emails a day feels like an assault on our attention span and results in things being missed.

School leaders should aim to communicate in a way that leaves staff feeling informed, valued and included, striking a balance between meetings and email that is appropriate to the subject in question. 

Granted, this isn’t always easy, but it’s key to job satisfaction.

3. Factor wellbeing into workload

School policies and procedures should promote work-life balance, not hinder it. In general, low-effort and high-reward – not the opposite as is so often the case (marking and feedback policy, we’re looking at you).

Changes to said processes should also be carefully considered. Rather than responding to the whims of politicians, as many school leaders feel pressured to do, we need our school leaders to act and react slowly, weighing up the potential benefits of a new initiative with the negative impact on staff workload and morale.

Realistically, how much time are we asking staff to put in here? Is it worth it? Can we approach this in another way? Can we alleviate stress elsewhere? Are we asking staff to fix something that’s already working? If nothing else, impact on workload and staff mental health needs to become part of the conversation.

4. Foster an atmosphere of care and openness

We wouldn’t expect kids to succeed in a climate of fear, shame and judgement, and we’re no different ourselves. Just like our students, we need to feel safe – safe to speak out, to ask for help and, sometimes, to fail.

We need to actually see our SLT, to feel that they are at least somewhat present and approachable. More than anything, we need to feel that somebody cares about us, not just our results.

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