'Too often teachers end up in a vicious circle of guilt, doubts and frustration'

Teacher wellbeing can be created and nurtured by coaching, if given time and attention, empowering teachers to reflect and leading to sustainable change

Maria O'Neill

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Teacher A has been dealing with marital issues, while Teacher B has recently lost one of their parents.

At the same time, Teacher C has been having a difficult time with their children’s school and Teacher D is struggling with colleagues in their department.

You may think such a large number of issues in a school in a short space of time unusual, but the truth is that, at different times, we all have different problems and issues varying in seriousness and intensity. We are all doing our best to deal with them outside the school walls, temporarily leaving our baggage behind and tackling school days with professionalism and dedication.

Unfortunately, school pressures and demands add and often replace our overflowing personal lists and we can easily end up in a vicious circle of guilt, doubts and frustration.

A wellbeing focus

How do we find a way through?

I think one of the key tools we have is coaching. It helps to create and nurture the wellbeing culture. It doesn’t provide quick-fix temporary solutions, but can lead to sustainable change if given time and due attention.  

What do I mean by coaching?

A number of researchers have highlighted that the “change of self by self” (Waters, 1998) has to be recognised as the only basis for profound change and sustainable improvement. Authentic wellbeing comes from within. It needs to be cultivated by you from the inside.

By taking back control and reconnecting with your values and your ‘whys’, you are more likely to reach a high level of authenticity, which is viewed as the most fundamental aspect of well-being.

Making a change

How can coaching help you achieve this “change of self by self”? It empowers you to reflect, to take a step back and look at your values and beliefs, it aids you on your journey to becoming a more self-aware authentic you. Many external factors, our need for validation and our busy lifestyles mean that we don’t step off our express train for long periods of time and hence are more likely to become decoupled from our real selves, falling into other people’s agendas and demands.

We develop a self-awareness glitch, which is detrimental to our wellbeing, as the lack of authenticity leads to psychopathology and distress because it causes people to engage in forced, unnatural behaviour, leaving them feeling unfulfilled or devalued (Leary, 2003).

By asking the right question, a coach can empower you to fix that glitch and become more mindful in your interactions with yourself and others.

Coaching sessions are unique to each person and situation. The coachee sets the agenda for each session and determines what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it. As a result, the coachee is empowered to take control and ownership of their situation and develop a different mindset of tackling the root of their particular problem, looking at it from a different perspective and choosing options and solutions that they will be committed to pursuing, hence establishing new patterns of behaviour as a result.

Getting coaching right

A coaching relationship is powerful and both parties benefit greatly from it. It enables coaches to connect with their colleagues in a more meaningful, deeper way and makes the coachee feel that they are valued, listened to and supported, which are essential wellbeing prerequisites.

So how do you go about establishing coaching for wellbeing at school? 

  1. Invest time in training to enable staff to gain thorough understanding, clarity and appreciation of the process. This will help to develop and establish a shared coaching vision. I have witnessed a number of schools rushing in to adapt coaching practices. Staff were assigned the roles of a coach, a coachee and an observer after a quick Inset day at the start of the academic year. Needless to say, staff did not appreciate or understand the coaching process and, as a result, paid lip service to the project. 
  2. Create and nurture genuine openness underpinned by honesty, integrity, kindness and trust. Timothy Gallwey (2015) states that “creating an environment that minimises judgement is one of the central attributes of successful coaching. Because coaching takes place in the domain of the inner, the unique human gifts of compassion, kindness and clarity are required in greater degrees than are normally expected…”
  3. Do not mix wellbeing coaching with line management or performance management. With the wellbeing coaching, you are not directly coaching for performance, you are providing a safe space for personal reflection and development, which needs to be detached and safeguarded from the immediate professional pressures. 


Maria O’Neill is an advanced Skills Teacher, eSafety co-ordinator and head of PSHE. Wellbeing coach, PhD student researching wellbeing and personal development, founder of @HealthyToolkit and @UKPastoralChat

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Maria O'Neill


Maria O’Neill is an advanced Skills Teacher, eSafety co-ordinator and Head of PSHE. Wellbeing coach, PhD student researching wellbeing and personal development, founder of @HealthyToolkit and @UKPastoralChat.


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