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5 Wellbeing Tips for Busy Teachers

It’s not about standard self-care tips or tokens – it’s about a personal approach, taking ownership and getting support, says Andrew Cowley...

  • 5 Wellbeing Tips for Busy Teachers

I could quite easily pepper this piece with “Try some yoga”, “Have you joined our lunchtime meditation class?” or (and this was actually mentioned in a meeting in all seriousness and has a much-loved colleague in hysterics every time it is mentioned) “Have you tried lavender?”.

Yoga, meditation and lavender are all well and good, but they are representative of self-care, not necessarily of wellbeing. Wellbeing isn’t about these kinds of things; it needs to be approached strategically.

Part of a school’s wellbeing strategy should be to ensure staff are enabled to exercise self-care, but the essentials of self-care (sufficient sleep, keeping hydrated, eating well, taking regular exercise and having a digital detox) are applicable across the UK workforce, not unique to teachers.

Schools that offer the bowl of fruit and an Indian head massage aren’t offering wellbeing; they are offering tokens. The wellbeing experience will be different for every one of your colleagues.

In these financially restrained times some of the few effective things we have at no cost are principles. A school with a principled wellbeing approach can enable its teachers to look after their wellbeing; how can teachers take ownership of this?

1 | Show some empathy

Self-care doesn’t mean that wellbeing is all about you. As teachers we are part of a team and the effectiveness of any good team relies on the relationships between its members.

Wellbeing is an equal right: NQTs are just as entitled as SLT to having their wellbeing looked after.

Empathy receives little coverage in terms of professional development in initial teacher training but also in leadership training.

All of us are impacted positively or negatively by the words and deeds of others so it is essential to our own and to our colleagues’ wellbeing to have self-awareness.

Missing a deadline, for example, may create additional work for a colleague responsible for processing data or signing off reports. Deadlines exist for good reasons!

I believe that empathy pays back; if we show it, when we need some for ourselves, our colleagues will repay it.

2 | Talk the talk

Have you considered how your colleagues talk to each other?

During the course of any busy school week and at more pressured times, tempers may fray and occasionally snap.

If this is you, have the good grace and self-awareness to apologise.

This will do your wellbeing and that of those you have apologised to no end of good. Clearing the air, rather than leaving a feeling of simmering tension, is therapeutic.

We will also have known someone who cannot be positive and every word seems to be a criticism of school leaders, colleagues, parents or children. Let them know how their words make you feel; the chances are that they aren’t aware of the image they portray.

3 | Time

Your time is your most precious resource. Don’t let it go to waste. Plan your precious PPA time and make it count. But this is time in the short term.

You aren’t going to be busy for a week; you are going to be occupied for the entire year. If your school is working to an empathetic model of workload, it will spread the key events through the year, the pinch points of parent evenings, nativities, sports days, concerts and the big one: reports.

Plan as effectively for yourself so the pressure doesn’t pile up. Write a report a day over a month, rather than squeeze them all into a week, which will impact the quality as well as the usefulness of them.

Wellbeing-focused schools will seek to eliminate the meaningless tasks. Also, plan your holiday times as meticulously as you do your work week so the ‘me time’ is ‘your time’.

4 | Find a friend

Many schools will encourage colleagues to ‘buddy up’. Used well, your buddy can be a confidante, someone to trust in times of anxiety of heightened pressure.

Even if this isn’t in place at your school, a trusted and perhaps more senior colleague with a sensitive but realistic ear can be invaluable in helping ease some of the more challenging situations teachers find themselves in.

5 | Find the right school

The ultimate driver of wellbeing is the culture in your school. When visiting a potential new place of work, sound out the school for its wellbeing and workload commitment.

If the senior leader showing you around makes mention of wellbeing as a genuine pledge to potential new teachers, alongside an unambiguous promise to be a values led school, then that school immediately becomes an attractive place to work.

Andrew Cowley is a primary school deputy headteacher in South London and the author of The Wellbeing Toolkit (£19.99, Bloomsbury Education). Find him on his website at healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter at @HealthyToolkit.

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