5 ways not to improve teacher wellbeing

Teacher wellbeing is sweeping the education landscape with great cooking bake-offs, deep tissue massage sessions and staff sporting events. To be honest I see nothing against these as I don’t mind a massage and I will never pass over food. However, I do find issue that these examples are becoming seen more as a cure for teacher wellbeing than enhancing it.  I read of one school proudly proclaiming that they offer a staff wellbeing day at the end of term. Call me cynical but I would not want to work there. The message pretty much says that the rest of term will be excoriating brutal.

Should teacher wellbeing not part of the everyday experience?

That is why teacher wellbeing cannot be a tick box exercise or a phrase used flippantly or disingenuous to soften workload demands. Many of the solutions on offer from schools appear to respond to the symptoms of poor wellbeing not the cause. Heavy workloads or stress can easily be a result of poor systems or errant school policies. Therefore, I suggest to improve teacher wellbeing is to change school culture to be more healthy.

To achieve this it takes brave, confident leadership to ask the simple questions and provide simple solutions to create clear and effective systems for teachers to work within.

However, there are five strategies that can be deployed which will not improve teacher wellbeing in schools.

  1. First is to blame teachers for poor pupil behaviour in the classroom. It becomes very easy for leadership to quickly dismiss the responsibility of pupils for their actions to cite teacher standards and instantly blame their planning. Further to dismissing the simple truth that many teachers may find themselves helpless to post-break social fallouts or period five fatigue, relieving pupils of their behaviour is a sign of incredible low expectations. Pupils know right and wrong, therefore, behaviour systems must reflect clear rules and consequences.
  2. Second, trying to convince teachers that fierce marking and feedback policies are the cornerstones to student progress. This strategy has manifested itself into a seven headed dragon of triple marking, yellow box responses, extensive MAD and DIRT time and hours and hours of high intensity, low impact activities. I am not suggesting that marking and feedback is without purpose but its form in many schools is ineffective and unhealthy.
  3. Third, measuring teacher effectiveness by grading lesson observations. If this is still happening, it is ignoring recent studies (and intuition) that watching a thirty minute segment of a teacher teach is playing the lesson grade Russian ruelet. A good teacher performance may merit applause from the leadership gallery but it does little to measure teacher value.
  4. Fourth, the phenomenon that some leaders possess the ability to observe pupil progress being made in lesson. The phrase “lack of pupil progress” is synonymous with many teacher’s experience of learning walks or lesson observations. The result has been a multi-faceted approach to make progress visible in lesson demonstrated via too many simultaneous activities and unmanageable amount of expected differentiation.
  5. Fifth is the belief that performance related pay if fair and equitable. If you really want to crush and demoralise staff simply set an arbitrary high expectation target of (let’s say) 80% of students will surpass 3 levels of progress (or whatever data measure you are using now). Regardless of the calculation it will surely impact anyone not teaching higher ability and discount the notion that progress is made over five years not two years (or if you are new to the school – one year!)

I believe that teacher wellbeing is necessary not only for our sanity (leaders too) but for our pupil’s too. Happy teachers mean happy pupils. I like the idea of introducing staff activities – I recently introduced a teacher badminton club. It is great to be able to have non-teaching conversations and build team skills in a fun and competitive context. Nevertheless, a badminton team is not the solution to improving teacher wellbeing. Instead teacher wellbeing can be achieved with a healthy school culture.

Organisational health is not a soft or passive approach to leadership but pragmatic in that it seeks to solve complex issues with simple effective strategies. A healthy school embraces challenge but expects clarity and reason – though perks will not be turned away!