Imagine a world where school teachers and leaders feel happy and supported!
By Monisha Jefcut (Training Manager) and Roisin McEvoy (Head of Schools Training and National Programmes) at the Anna Freud Centre.
We talk to teachers and school leaders every day, as part of our work delivering training for the Anna Freud Centre. On our courses, when we ask teachers how they’re feeling, the most frequent words we hear are ‘tired’, ‘stressed’ and ‘overwhelmed.’ But does it have to be like this? We’d like to argue that, despite the additional pressures which the pandemic has placed of an already overstretched schools’ workforce, it is possible to imagine a world in which school teachers and leaders feel valued and supported in their roles.
The major UK teaching unions have been surveying their membership and the news is not good. More than half (52%) of the respondents to a recent NEU survey found said their workload was ‘unmanageable’ or only just manageable. In the NASUWT’s most recently commissioned survey of over 11,000 teachers earlier this year, 91% of teachers reported that their job had adversely affected their mental health, with very high numbers reporting feelings of increased anxiousness (87%) and loss of sleep (82%).
So, what is it about working in schools that creates these feelings of extreme stress and unhappiness? From talking to school colleagues, we think we’ve identified three key ‘stressors’. Firstly, workload is a major concern. Teachers and school leaders talk about feeling overwhelmed by demands that can’t be met because they don’t have the time, knowledge, skill or resources to meet them. The increasing mental health and wellbeing needs of children and young people are one such demand. Many teachers we speak to are quite naturally distressed when they can see that a child or young person is in urgent need of support with their mental health, but they are unable to help them to access that support. This situation can lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy for school staff.
This leads us to our second ‘stressor’: many school staff feel judged and over scrutinised. Teachers tell us about schools where overworking is valued or there is a culture of blame. Often, school staff have developed an overly self-critical inner voice, holding themselves to account unreasonably.
Finally, some school staff feel overwhelmed because the job they do seems to require them to appear always in control. They don’t feel able to be vulnerable in front of colleagues or to share their worries or frustrations.
Addressing these causes of stress will require substantial additional resourcing, inside and outside schools. But there are a number of relatively low-cost strategies that can help staff to feel less stressed, and happier. For example, many of the school leaders we meet on our courses tell us that adopting a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing has changed the way that they - and their colleagues - feel about the job they’re doing.
When a school identifies a senior person to lead on this work, and they access appropriate training, things start to shift. It becomes apparent, in the words and actions of all staff, that everyone’s wellbeing is at the heart of every school day and every decision-making process. Having the training and professional development needed to meet the demands of the job is essential for all staff. When they are afforded choice and autonomy in their development, they can feel more fulfilled, better prepared and less stressed.
Time and again, we hear from staff that they appreciate having time to talk about the challenges they’re facing. For us, this speaks to the most important thing we can all do to improve our occupational wellbeing. Put simply, talking (and being listened to) can make us feel better. But it can also help us feel more connected to people, and help improve relationships. Some schools are putting in place supervision or reflective opportunities for all staff, but where that isn’t available, existing networks can provide a place for regular, empathetic and non-judgemental conversations.
Taking the time to talk about how we’re doing can help us to stay well in the long run. It can help us to build the resilience we need to meet the demands of our roles, with enough energy to meet the expectations we’re juggling. It can make our vision of a world in which schoolteachers and leaders feel valued and supported more realisable.
Free and Funded Resources
To know more about what school and college leaders can do to promote the wellbeing of their staff, have a look at Step 5 (Supporting Staff) of the Anna Freud Centre’s 5 Steps Framework. There are lots more free resources and information about the training we offer, including our DfE funded course for Senior Mental Health Leads. We also recommend the Education Support website for more information on what to do to support school staff wellbeing.
This article was written by Monisha Jefcut and Roisin McEvoy at The Anna Freud Centre
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Monisha Jefcut, Training Manager for the Schools Division, The Anna Freud Centre
Before joining the Centre Monisha worked as a teacher and school leader for over 25 years, in her previous post she was a member of a Senior Leadership team who specialised in Behaviour and Safeguarding.
Having worked in diverse range of schools Monisha has extensive teaching experience and strong understanding of the current challenges within education; she is passionate about providing schools and staff with the knowledge and tools necessary to support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
At the Anna Freud Centre Monisha takes responsibility for managing a team of School Engagement Trainers as well as leading training across a number of projects including, government initiatives and specialist training packages.
Roisin McEvoy, Head of Schools Training and National Programmes, The Anna Freud Centre
Roisin McEvoy leads a team of education and clinical experts who deliver professional learning and national programmes around whole-school approaches to mental health and wellbeing, as well as a range of specialist courses for school staff. Her previous experience includes more than two decades as a school leader and teacher, and a curriculum development role for a large academy trust.