'Developing resilience is the only way teachers can defeat the workload avalanche'

5th December 2016 at 17:22
Teachers need the confidence and ability to see off unnecessary meetings, marking and paperwork, and must be fostered by the right leadership, writes one leading educationist

Teaching is challenging. Day-in, day-out it requires teachers to constantly examine their practice and it requires them to constantly learn and evolve.

No two lessons are the same, with a continual need to use differing learning and teaching styles for differing children. Add to this the pressures that any given group of 30 children presents – their behaviours, their social needs – and their parents, likewise, and you have a heady brew.

This is even before we throw into the mix the planning, marking, observations and everything else that makes up a school day.

As such, it’s unsurprising that every good teacher has a unique skill set. But the crucial element common to all outstanding teachers is that they develop resilience.

Without resilience, teachers certainly can't achieve a work-life balance.

Taking work home and working late into the night, marking, assessing and planning are all now seen as the norm in the profession: too often teachers believe it is the only way to stay ahead of the game and to satisfy senior leaders.

It is vital that teachers learn from a very early stage in their careers the resilience needed to "control" this.

How to handle the everyday difficulties

These are the skills necessary to have the confidence and ability to handle the difficulties teachers face daily. Uncontrolled, we all know that the demands and the pressures of school life can have a negative debilitating effect on the teacher, ultimately adversely affecting their health. And hindering the work of their pupils, too.

How fascinating that resilience in schools is largely ignored by governments, who can at times seem relaxed about teacher stress, burn-out and poor retention.

As school leaders, we therefore need to address this ourselves and develop a more positive model for teachers. We need to create a culture that fosters resilience in staff through training, support, creating a positive work environment and leadership and management practices.

Resilience can be learned. The qualities required can develop in a caring and attentive setting in which all leaders support positive and high expectations, and create an environment to go with it. (This corporate view is crucial. One sole positive in a negative environment will soon sink....)

Therefore, as leaders, our mission statement should be:

  • Teachers teach best and learners learn best when all feel supported and wanted within their school;
  • Teachers should be able to express their concerns about workload: in fact, it should be a regular staff meeting discussion point;
  • The management team of a school must recognise that you do not get best out of your best teachers if they are overworked and overwhelmed by senseless and meaningless meetings and paperwork;
  • And laughter is a requirement to teach well... and senior leaders should lead by example.

With this positive approach and heavy doses of resilience, we may have a chance to save teachers from the dreaded burn-out scenario.

Colin Harris is a former principal who is now supporting teachers and school leaders

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