13 Dec

After what has been a challenging year, to say the least, I am reminded of how morale is key to keeping your team around you pulling in the same direction. In the words of the former Lockheed Martin Executive chair, Marillyn Hewson – “You can’t forget that organizational success flows from the hearts and minds of the men and women you lead”, this is true in any walk of life. However, in education we have been relentlessly beaten up to the point where Sir Michael Wilshaw said that teacher should be prepared to show similar commitment to medical professionals, who had in come cases sacrificed their lives through this pandemic (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/covid-schools-reopening-ofsted-teachers-b1807935.html). 

Teachers are on their knees from a morale perspective. Recruitment has seen a rise as far as applications for teacher training (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-53498342), but this we are yet to see this translated into an effective workforce, with what I believe will be a higher rate of attrition when many who joined for the stability of the job realise just what the realities of our profession hold. Retention will be key to schools remaining effective, and as always wellbeing will be high on the agenda.

The links between effective CPD and teacher wellbeing and morale are clear. The teaching profession is ever more linked with stress, burn-out and an overwhelming workload. According to the Education Support Partnership, 2020 saw a concerning increase in the symptoms of poor mental health among school staff, such as difficulty concentrating, insomnia and tearfulness, with further impact caused by high rates of stress when schools returned in September of 2021 (https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/blogs/teacher-wellbeing-benefits-childrens-mental-health). We need to be aware of how our return to working full-time from site will impact the mental health of those in our profession.

Wellbeing is a dynamic equilibrium according to Headey and Wearing (1989) (https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0022-3514.57.4.731), and I have to say I agree with this, much like I believe resilience is a dynamic trait, both are dependent on the ebbs and flows of favourable and adverse events that culminate in what can be determined as “life satisfaction”, with the net effects of these events determining where we sit on this.

So what can schools do to support the wellbeing of staff? First off, lets ditch the box ticking when it comes to wellbeing. “Mindfulness” might be one person’s idea of heaven, but for me, doing this in the hall with the rest of the staff body really isn’t what wellbeing looks like for me – I know I’m not alone in this. I’m not what I would jokingly refer to as a “yogurt-knitter”. The greatest gift school leaders can give their teams is as simple as a single four-letter word – “T I M E”.

There is never enough time in teaching. It is the only role I have had where the job is never finished; it really is as all-consuming and exhausting as it is rewarding. I would always propose that the first intervention to address wellbeing must be to afford teachers the opportunity to gain time back whenever they can. Meetings are the obvious place to start – how many times have we all sat in a briefing or meeting to be told something where an email would’ve been more appropriate?

Next up after meetings is whole-school CPD. There are times when this is appropriate, certainly when managing change. Yet how often is a whole-school skills/knowledge audit carried out? Yes, we have School/Academy Improvement Plans, but is a lack of progress toward an objective actually a lack of CPD, or is it the lack of time to implement and reflect properly on the impact an intervention has had? From the bottom-looking-up we seem to see CPD repeated as if telling us the same thing will make the changes happen. For me, we need to consider how things were back when we were training to teach. Identify areas for improvement, focus on those, and reflect on the success of the changes. I believe this is something that is worth investing the time and effort into, as it will encourage all members of a team to be more engaged and reflective in their practice. Attempts at bringing yet another fad in for the stalwarts, with the same session in the hall, followed by telling everyone to go away and implement this, and expecting improvements can be improved on. Likewise, sitting all staff in the hall and mixing departments up to discuss an area of education that doesn’t apply to all is a waste of time for those not able to use the training. If we are going to say we are serious about wellbeing, start with allowing staff to use any spare time we can on marking, planning, and above all on CPD that benefits their departments, their own development – thus their own career prospects. I guarantee you will have buy-in.

When we return, lets start to plan our CPD as we would a curriculum – this is part of my role outside of teaching: Annual training was marked on my calendar. Renewals for qualifications were flagged to ensure staffing needs were met. Any changes to how we operated were laid out using a Gantt chart so a clear timeline was set out. Staff were trained in advance, we changed one thing at a time, and we allowed time for reflective considerations to be digested and we fine-tuned as required. This is sustainable, and as Mark and Zoe Enser pointed out during their recent @NetworkEDEM session, lasting change within any organisation needs to be planned, measured, the efficacy reflected upon, and plans adapted through feedback from those using the system the most; something I wholeheartedly agreed with. Me? I’d be setting up a working group for this. If teams are invested in CPD, change, or any other critical operational system within an organisation, then it will work. Lead through inclusion where possible, “Tell and do” needs to be reserved for the most drastic of situations.

Hopefully this little blog of my initial thoughts on teacher wellbeing and CPD have prompted some thoughts. I hope you’ll join me on @EdCPDChat this Wednesday 10th March 2021 at 7.30PM where we will be exploring more on this topic.

 Originally posted in the "pintsizedpedagogy" wordpress blog - March 2021 

* The email will not be published on the website.