When teacher wellbeing resembles a Carry On film...

...it's clearly time for a rethink. Teachers need support and the occasional early finish, not salsa dancing and acupuncture

Samantha Shearer

Wellbeing, teacher wellbeing, wellbeing in school, Carry on films

In my time I’ve taken part in many an activity in the name of staff wellbeing – all of which were something out of a Carry On film.

There’s been…

Carry On Dancing

A salsa class with 90 other tired teachers and TAs – all of whom would rather be at home than thrusting their hips towards the SLT member who gave them negative feedback in last week’s book trawl.

Carry On Acupuncture

In a joint session (with three minute slots each) a therapist rushed around trying to puncture every member of staff in the name of de-stressing. By the end of it, she looked ready to combust herself.

Carry On Speed Chatting

This was in order to "bond" with colleagues. My site manager took the time to tell me that my name and derogatory terms were written on the toilet wall. He hadn’t mentioned this before, but now the time "felt right".

All of these have been one off knee-jerk sessions where some bright spark felt it might lift staff morale to offer an hour of something out of the ordinary: they’re no more than a tick box exercise. Staff morale? Done!

What people require is a sustained effort, even if only in a small way, in order to ensure that they feel valued consistently.

Personally, rather than a limp, half-hearted effort, I would rather know that whoever is my boss doesn’t give a damn about my wellbeing so I can then vote with my feet rather than being patronised with weak, watery token efforts.

Often, staff are not even asked what a "wellbeing" session or input might look like to them. I can imagine that given the choice, many staff would like the odd early finish, or indeed a skipped training session in order to get on top of work.

I am sure that there are many institutions that do subscribe to and do see through highly successful and sustained staff wellbeing initiatives, that are a) agreed by staff and b) committed to by leaders who truly wish to impact positively upon their staff. However, having worked in a number of schools and spoken to a number of colleagues and friends, I can attest to the absolute fact that this in not the norm.

As leaders we must look to long-term, sustainable solutions in order to offer staff the feeling of being cared for, the feeling that wellbeing matters. This is a simple equation: caring for others breeds loyalty.

When did we lose sight of the needs of our most precious resource? When did the morale of our staff sink so very low that we had to think about bolting on a notion called "staff wellbeing" instead of the role itself being manageable and a celebration of staff and children’s joy of teaching and learning?

I suspect that things changed as the profession began to tumble into the mire of farce in many areas, the moment when Basil Fawlty became the leading light in staff management or Mr Bean took over and explained so clearly how to manage attainment and progress in schools.

For those of you who are old enough to remember the Carry On films, my experiences of staff wellbeing were salsa that felt like Kenneth Williams prancing around the dining hall, leading a group of disillusioned middle-aged followers in a comedic display of how not to dance, Hattie Jacques with a needle as long as your arm barking at me how not to be stressed and sitting alongside Sid James at speed chatting who was giving me chapter and verse on toilet humour.

For those readers who are too young to recall the Carry On films, imagine an episode of Miranda and insert the aforementioned activities with her in full farce mode leading them, possibly a custard pie and a dose of double entendre. This gives you a flavour of staff wellbeing efforts that some colleagues have endured.

Teaching has changed, expectations are high, pressure and accountability has increased.

This may not be a bad thing, but it is an issue that must be examined in order to support staff, get the best out of them and therefore the best for our children. We need a profession-wide debate and strategy on just how to make the job manageable and productive in order to stop the droves of people leaving which would then impact positively upon retention and recruitment.

What shall we call this initiative? How about: Carry On Respecting Teachers?

Samantha Shearer is a deputy head in England. She tweets @educationisthe1

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Samantha Shearer

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