'Positive relationships between teachers could be the key to improving wellbeing'

27th June 2017 at 13:12
Initiatives to support teacher wellbeing are welcome, says this headteacher, but we also need to pay attention to the quality of the relationships that exist within school teams

A little while ago, I read an article in Tes about the importance of children’s friendships. In the article, Jon Severs argues that schools need to take a closer look at student relationships, pointing out that “the friendships we make in school have a major role to play in how we behave and form relationships as adults.”

This inspired me to think about the importance of relationships between teachers and, in particular, the impact these can have on a teacher’s wellbeing.

There is a lot of talk at the moment – rightly so – about the role that schools can play in supporting and promoting good mental health. The statistics about the numbers of teachers leaving our noble profession within just a few years of qualifying are increasingly recognised, and teacher wellbeing is now on the agenda for some schools.

There are also a number of excellent initiatives, websites and Twitter accounts with ideas for promoting teacher wellbeing. Suggestions I have recently learnt about include a "buddy" system which invites participants to exchange appreciative gifts, "welling boxes" for staff teams, mindfulness training, yoga classes and, of course, staff get-togethers.

All of these are great and I am sure they have a very positive impact. However, I think there is something even more fundamental going on here that we need to pay attention to, and that is the quality of the relationships that exist within school teams.

Where teachers feel appreciated and well supported by each other, and where there are high levels of trust and respect, schools thrive. School leaders play a very important part in setting the school culture and should model the types of positive affiliative relationships that are kind, supportive and humane.

As Ian Maclaren, the Scottish author and theologian, wrote in 1897: “Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.”

Recognising teachers' humanity

There seems to be so much going on at the moment: politically, socially, economically. The world is a very complex, challenging and frantic place. Teachers are not automata oblivious to the stresses and strains of life and yet they come into our schools ready and willing to make a difference in the lives of our young people.

To honour and conserve this commitment, school leaders should ensure that schools are joyful, warm places that value and appreciate the uniqueness of each educator and recognises their humanity.

On Saturday 1 July, The Spinney Primary School and the The Kite TSA are holding the first ever Cambridgeshire Festival of Education, in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Cambridge, and supported by the Cambridgeshire School Improvement Board.

Speakers and workshop leaders include Dame Alison Peacock, Vic Goddard, Natalie Scott, Rob Loe, Professor Pam Burnard and Dr Sara Baker.

While it will no doubt be a wonderful day to listen, learn and take part in, the overwhelming aim of the conference is to celebrate teachers and the positive relationships that we can build with one another, both within school and without.

The Cambridgeshire Festival of Education will be held on 1 July 2017. Tickets for the event are available now. Find out more here. Use the hashtag #JoinTheFlamboyance

Rae Snape is headteacher of The Spinney Primary School and The Kite TSA, Cambridge, and a National Leader of Education

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