• Wellbeing

Thriving, not just Surviving in Education ' Teacher Wellbeing that Matters

Written by Kelly Hannaghan The Education People
03 Nov 2021
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Thriving, not just Surviving in Education ' Teacher Wellbeing that Matters

As International Stress Awareness Week commences, it’s important to recognise that for people working in education, the impact of the pandemic has certainly worked against the grain of positive teacher wellbeing, resilience has been tested to its limits.  Teachers are besieged by stressful, taxing conditions like crushing workloads and extended working hours.  In 2021, 82% of teachers described themselves as stressed, with 46% citing that pressures on their mental health have led to them considering leaving the profession. (Education Support Partnership, 2021).

Working as a Mental Health and Wellbeing Consultant in education, I have seen first-hand the impact that stress has on teachers’ mental health and their abilities to offer an irresistible invitation for learning, whilst “shouldering the tremendous responsibility of helping young people heal from the momentous events of the past 20 months and ongoing traumas” Teachers are providing the social scaffolding to help young people flourish from adversity. 

Education staff are putting themselves under considerable pressure to measure up to expectations and meet the demands of closing the gap of attainment and social deprivation.  My key message to teachers is ‘don’t let your desires for perfection, get in the way of being good enough’ and to develop a proactive approach, in supporting both, psychological and physiological wellbeing, with simple habit changes, for purposeful self-care.  The immediate risk is that if staff are continuously placed in this pressured environment, they will be functioning from a space of fear rather than comfort through emotional security.  These behaviour patterns will have a detrimental effect on teacher retention issues and pupil learning outcomes.

As a consultant I have worked hard to share the message that teachers need to ‘live well’ in order to ‘teach well’ and have worked with many school leaders to develop strategies for sustainable staff wellbeing approaches, I believe this is the first step for embedding a whole school approach for wellbeing.  My work with schools is recognised and commended by the DFE and many leading charities.

You can read more about my work within these publications:

The big book of whole school wellbeing

The wellbeing Toolkit

For Flourishing Sake

Live Well, Learn Well

The process of embedding a wellbeing culture starts with professionals taking a conscious decision to put their wellbeing first, complemented by a wellbeing offer from schools, this will certainly enhance the emotional health and resilience of staff.  I am currently leading on The Wellbeing for Education Return Programme within Kent County Council, you will find a wide range of funded high-quality training, webinars and resources at The Education People, to support any staff wellbeing journey.

Stress Busters for Positive Wellbeing

  • Name it, to tame it, labelling our emotions it a helpful way to accept our emotions.  The simple act of noticing and acknowledging thoughts and feelings, helps decrease the behaviour symptoms
  • Get to know your stress signature, know what stress is and what it looks like for you both on a physical and emotional level.  Remember the body often holds the score and tells us that we are stressed before we have the cognitive awareness.
  • Recognise the signs of burnout before they become a bigger problem
  • Take a break, remember we aren’t superheroes, we are the hero makers.  We can’t function on empty, commit to taking a regular lunch break, this will be career saving as we are 7 times less productive when we reach burnout
  • Get curious with change, notice the small changes in our emotions and behaviours
  • Breath to keep stress at bay, when we are caught up in the stress response, we often forget to breath.  Slow, deep breathing helps regulate the nervous system whilst settling our heart rate and decreases the high levels of depleting chemicals, affecting our ability to think clearly
  • Look after your SHED (sleep, Hydration, Exercise, Diet), Ensure you are getting enough good quality sleep, check in with your bedtime routine is it sleep inducing? Drink plenty of water, take gentle physical activity, doing something you love.  Eat a nourishing diet that fuels your body. Meal prep can be a great starting point.
  • Talk it out, speaking out to seek help, is sometimes the only thing you need to feel better.  Write down a list of people that you feel safe to express yourself with.  We need to get better at expressing, rather than supressing
  • Factor in Joy, Laughter is the best medicine for stress, spending time connecting with the people and activities that bring you joy will certainly enhance your wellbeing.
  • Remember we are more than our jobs, you are a human being, not a human doing.  Don’t lose yourself in your role.

Sustainable Strategies for professionals leading on staff wellbeing

  • Look after yourself first and be the role model for wellbeing
  • Step back from rescuing staff ‘caring can feel consuming’
  • Listen to Understand - Take regular staff voice thorough wellbeing surveys, share your why and feedback with purposeful actions
  • Explore the triggers for stress, In the role of teaching we are faced with many stressors such as excessive workload, pressures of assessment, targets and inspections, time management, parent engagement, pupil behaviour, role ambiguity, lack of autonomy and poor relationships (Hanif, 2004. (2004).  Decreasing workload and trusting teachers to make their own decisions enhances staff wellbeing.
  • Undertake regular SWOT Analysis, explore the strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats for staff wellbeing in your schools
  • Use Psychological Informed First Aid, this highlights the need for leaders to develop a Look, Listen and Link process for protecting staff wellbeing
  • Reframe from ‘forced fun’ or ‘mandatory wellbeing’ optimal wellbeing is dependent on the individual’s needs, ask staff what they would like to see on a staff wellbeing menu or social prescription
  • Offer high quality annual mental health training for staff, just as you would annual, safeguarding training, check out my bespoke consultancy services here at The Education People.  Staff need to feel confident and have the skills to recognise and respond to mental health needs of the children in their care.  The responsibility of student’s mental health is often a trigger for their own mental health struggles.
  • Communicate well and link to supportive resources.  You sign up to ‘The Wellbeing Community Hub’ termly newsletter.  This will help build in a sense of agency and will empower staff to seek help, if needed.
  • Develop a sustainable approach for offering school based reflective supervision, here is my current training offer to help you embed a coaching culture that supports staff wellbeing and development
  • Celebrate the ‘little wins’ and show appreciation, this helps people connect their purpose and creates a positive ripple of gratitude.  Take a look at Action for Happiness resources

Placing relationships at the heart of education as a vehicle for recovery will grow a robust community where staff feel, they are Seen, Heard and validated.  This will establish a culture for resilience, where individuals are armed with the learning and tools to recognise and regulate their emotions, to overcome, future life and work challenges.

This article was written by Kelly Hannaghan. Kelly the Mental Health and Wellbeing Consultant for The Education People, she is also the Director of her business Mind Work Matters Ltd.  She is an award-winning motivational speaker and school improvement advisor, published author and founder of ‘Family Matters’ empowerment programme.  Kelly develops the strategies to help people flourish in education and is currently leading on the DFE Wellbeing for Education Return project and leads on school development processes creating outstanding outcomes and awards for many organisations.  Recognised by the DfE, NCB, The Anna Freud Centre and The Education Support Partnership as a lead influencer of mental health and wellbeing in education. Follow her on Twitter here or email her for more information.

Please see below for some additional resources:

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