As the UK Government announces its plans to recruit and retain teachers, schools have turned their focus on developing staff wellbeing. The interpretation of this 'wellbeing' can differ dramatically from school to school. Leaving chocolate on staff desks and weekly yoga sessions are all valiant efforts of improving teacher moral but the true key to wellbeing is by not adding yoga mats to your resources order.
When surveying and speaking to the staff in my school on staff moral and wellbeing, it all boils down to workload and time. Improving teacher retention and growing wellbeing is the act of refining and streamlining school approaches and processes so that time is used effectively and purposefully. In turn, this will also change the teachers' mindsets and may allow them to support their own wellbeing too.
Minimum Effort, Maximum Impact
Minimum effort is not about being a lazy teacher but more about questioning the impact of everything you do. Ask yourself, is the effort you are putting in, greater than the impact it will have. If the answer is yes, it is probably not worth doing! Or, at least, it is probably not worth doing using your current method or approach. Ask yourself, is there a simpler way to do this that will have the same, or even, a greater impact on student outcomes.
I once watched a teacher, over a period of a week, construct a giant toothbrush for a display to promote student hygiene. The time spent making this toothbrush would have been better spent brushing each individual’s student’s teeth (not advisable but hopefully you get my point)! When creating resources for class, the time taken creating it should be outweighed by the time it will take for the children to complete the activity. The key question to ask yourself is, what is the minimum amount of work you can do that will have the greatest impact on the students?
What do the kids think?
I have sat in staff meetings, board meetings, meetings about meetings and meetings about meetings about meetings. All of which were focused on school improvement but yet the word 'child' was not used a single time. When looking at school improvement; changing classroom strategies and the impact they have on the class, the first question that should be asked is - what do the kids think?
A great habit for any teacher to get into, is to regularly ask the children what they thought about the lesson or the activity. Warning...they will be honest. But that is good. It will tell you if what you are doing is actually having an impact. If it is, you know you are not wasting your time. If it isn't, ask what they think would make it better. It means that everything you are doing, you know is worthwhile. You’re not doing it for the governors or for Ofsted, your doing for the people who matter most.
I'll do it at the weekend...
We have all been there. It is 4pm on a Thursday, you are tired and have one task left before heading home. You glance at the clock and consider leaving it, going home and doing it at the weekend instead. You leave it to late Sunday night and come to work Monday morning feeling stressed. Get into habit of isolating time when work is not aloud. Try and be strict and complete your work before leaving school ensuring the tasks that need completing do not overflow into your weekends and evenings.
Be a Risk Taker!
CPD often focuses on improvement and sharing great ideas to support teaching development in the classroom opposed to breaking boundaries and evolving teaching and learning. In fact, more often than not, teachers are almost encouraged to play it safe and stick to what they know, particularly during lesson observations. School cultures can often lead to a 'fear of failure'. Isn’t it strange that when we have a chance to gain someone else’s opinion on our teaching practice, we feel the need to do what we have always done, instead of trying something new and getting a second opinion. By promoting a culture of risk taking, a school is promoting a culture that making mistakes and finding things difficult is ok and perhaps should be even celebrated. Sharing struggles, challenges and difficulties openly is a great step to improving staff wellbeing. To get you started here are a few ideas of teaching risks you can take with your class and colleagues! Why not make it a whole school event?
There are so many apps, tools and online resources out there to be explored. Invest time in discovering and playing around with these. This may add some extra work in the short term, but as you build your confidence with these, it will reduce your marking, planning, resourcing and preparation time. Apps like Seesaw, can allow teachers to provide quick verbal feedback to work for children to listen to.
Google Classroom or Padlet can provide the perfect online space for you to easily share homework, links and documents with your class which can reduce photocopying. There are also a bunch of free, ready-made resources and digital libraries that save you time and effort. Why make a vocabulary mat, if they already exist or can be made by the kids themselves digitally. The key is to investing some professional development time in finding what is out there that can support, enhance and streamline your school and classroom systems.
Wellbeing is not about doing anything additional. It is about changing cultures and mindsets. Rewards, celebrations and thank-yous are always appreciated. but really, it is about valuing peoples time, using the time they have wisely and teaching teachers how to work smarter too. After all, no one needs a six foot, giant tooth brush!