Every teacher needs a 'reflection buddy' to keep them sane

Teaching is a wonderful - but stressful - job. But, says Colin Harris, it's a lot easier when you've got a teaching friend by your side

Friendship, teacher buddy, teacher, headteacher

Throughout a long career, I was driven by the desire and need to continually be a better teacher. I know so many teachers today who feel the same.

To help me with this, I had this friend (yes, I do have friends!). For the sake of this article, let’s call him Sam.

Sam and I met as young teachers, moved into middle management at around the same time and both were headteachers for a long period.

We are great friends but we seldom visited each others schools. And yet, we knew each other’s school intimately. We talked regularly – sometimes daily – depending on what was happening in our respective schools.

Sam was my "reflection buddy", and I hope I was his. And boy, did I need one – everyone does.

Think of the issues a teacher faces daily: difficult children, staff and parents. Add to it workload, and the heart-wrenching moments that need intervention from social services or the police. Your mental health can take a real bashing.

It’s so important that throughout all of those times and experiences, there's someone to talk to.

I had someone outside of work, someone to share my ideas and someone I could offload to: Sam. He understood my issues – never laughed at them, and always challenged me at the right times.

If teachers don’t engage in these types of conversations, they stagnate. They need to be able to be open and honest with someone and for this to, ultimately, lead to a kind of change.

That's where a "reflection buddy" can come to the fore. Teaching is often a very complex and multifaceted profession. And yet, on other occasions it can be so simple. When a problem arises, the solution can often be staring you in the face – all you need someone to direct you.

There’s no manual out there for doing teaching right 100 per cent of the time – it can never be truly mastered. However, with the help of a reflection buddy, you can learn from other people’s mistakes.

Together Sam and I would share our mistakes and our successes. We’d talk about pedagogy and try to refine our own constantly. We’d keep diary notes of the things we needed to talk about.

I’ve never told him this, but Sam ensured my mental health was always balanced, he improved my understanding of teaching tenfold and because of that he was an essential part of my life.

I became, because of him, better at my own reflection. I was able to access other support knowing that I could always challenge the ideas that came up with Sam.

During the first headteacher’s conference I ever attended, someone pointed out a fellow head who was approaching retirement and said: "He was good once."

I vowed never to be good once, but continually so. If this indeed did happen in any way, it’s thanks to my reflection buddy, Sam. I suggest you get yourself one.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were "outstanding" across all categories.

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

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