Mrs Humanities

Because I'm married to the job.


Leave a comment

Mrs Humanities explores… Staff Wellbeing Policies

I’ve had the urge this week to explore school wellbeing policies. I don’t have any particular reason to do so, it was just something that I was thinking about and wanted to investigate.

My findings came as more of a shock than I anticipated. You see if you do a google search on it, you’ll find plenty on student wellbeing but policies specifically associated with staff wellbeing, well they don’t seem to be as prominent as expected.

I started my search with ‘Teacher Wellbeing Policy‘ On the first search page I found the following:

Only one of these hits links to a policy that is in place. Just the 1!! Although there were some interesting hits on how to look after staff wellbeing and even a model wellbeing policy from NASUWT, there was a distinct lack of actuall policies.

Since I didn’t find this search of much of use, I tried ‘School Staff Wellbeing Policy‘, having considered that it’s not just about the wellbeing of teachers, but every member of school staff. Thankfully this provides more relevant hits.

The one thing I found interesting though were that over the first 3 pages of the search, only 3 out of 30 search hits were policies from Secondary schools; the majority came from Primary. Why is that? Do Primary schools focus more on staff wellbeing? Maybe they make them easier to find on their websites or just that they are more likely to make them publicly available.

Finding that most of the examples available came from Primary Schools, it got me wondering about the schools I’ve worked at. So after a bit of digging I found that out of the 5 schools, 0 have a staff wellbeing policy publicly available or perhaps they are hidden in the depths of their websites; either way I felt frustrated that schools don’t have to publicly provide a staff wellbeing policy. All of them have significant policies in regard to student wellbeing, everything from general wellbeing to safeguarding and bullying. But where were the ones for staff?

In particular, finding that one still had no publicly available staff wellbeing policy in place, actually upset me. This is because at the this school, I’d been asked to write a wellbeing policy because “you’re into that stuff”. It was only a few months later that I then experienced a breakdown due to work related stress – there are others that left under similar circumstances. I’ll let you ponder on whether there is a relationship there.

Findings

There were a few themes running through all of the policies I read.

  1. The role of different members of staff and teams in the school from the Headteacher and Governors to individual teachers and support staff.
  2. Who was responsible for the wellbeing, mental and physical health of staff
  3. The support available for all staff

What I found most interesting though was the variety in many of the policies. Some policies made the Headteacher and Governing body responsible for staff wellbeing, whilst others made it very much about the individual taking responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.

The well-being of staff is the responsibility of the Head teacher.

The well-being of the Head teacher is the responsibility of the Chair of Governors.

Holy Trinity Primary School

Some outlined how they would improve and/or promote staff wellbeing. Some examples included:

  • An afternoon treat – which involved small groups of staff taking an afternoon off to wellbeing activities such as baking, yoga, sports, a museum visit, a picnic at a country park etc. with the rest of the group
  • Headteacher lunch – staff could drop in and join the Headteacher for lunch on a series of set dates
  • Provision of facilities such as tea and coffee making equipment for free
  • Annual reviews and communication of policies and implementation of changes
  • Involving staff in the decision making process e.g. sharing school calendar before publication so staff can have their say on it
  • Provision of whole school calendars for assessment and reporting so staff can plan their workload accordingly
  • Induction processes for new staff to help them find their feet
  • Provision of relevant and suitable PD for all staff
  • Celebrating staff achievements
  • Providing refreshments and snacks before and during after-school events such as parent’s evenings or school ceremonies
  • Creating a private space for staff to take a break during their lunch and break times

Some outlined the support in place or available such as:

  • The Headteacher
  • Counselling services – face-to-face or over the phone.
  • School vicar and prayer groups
  • In-school wellbeing team
  • A staff wellbeing group
  • Human Resources
  • Occupational Health

Whilst others took a very matter of fact approach which outlined the responsibilities and roles of different stakeholders and how to proceed with concerns surrounding wellbeing, work-based stress etc. Some went on to outline the reponse that would be taken if concerns were raised or time off requested. If I’m honest, these ones left me wondering to what extent these schools support staff or discourage staff from raising concerns surrounding staff wellbeing. I guess I’d need to visit them to really gauge the answer to that.

Surprising Findings

One in particular jumped out at me where it said:

‘Individuals will assist in the development of good practice and ensure that they do not, through their actions or omissions, create unnecessary work for themselves or their colleagues”.

Annon

This statement really surprised me for several reasons.

  1. What constitutes ‘unnecessary’ work for themselves and others?
  2. How can one ensure they do not create unnecessary work?
  3. Will there be a list of ‘must-do’ and ‘don’t do’ work?
  4. What constitutes an omission?

This also got me pondering about the capability procedures associated with the actions and omissions, if you’re not contributing to the development of good practice, are you then creating further work for others? It really got me wondering.

What makes a good staff wellbeing policy?

Note: This is completely a personal consideration, I’ve not had any experience in HR or school leadership beyond HoD but I have experienced the negatives of poor work-life balance, a series of schools with different levels of consideration and support for staff. Therefore please don’t take what I say here as anything other than my opinion.

Identify aims

Firstly any staff wellbeing policy should identify what the school aims to achieve for staff overall. What does ‘wellbeing’ actually mean to the school, the leaders, the staff? How will they cater for everyone?

Direct to other policies

It should direct to other policies in place that support staff wellbeing e.g. marking and assessment, behaviour, sickness and absence, safeguarding, performance management, professional development etc. If these policies don’t already, the wellbeing policy should briefly outline how these other policies support and promote staff wellbeing.

Role of Stakeholders

The policy should outline who the stakeholders are such as the Headteacher, governors, SLT, teachers, support and office staff along with their role and responsibility in building an environment that supports and nurtures it staff, their wellbeing and their work-life balance.

Practical Actions

Next should be an outline of what the school is doing and will do over the time frame of the policy and then beyond. Actions that will help to manage and reduce workloads, that will value staff and provide solutions to challenges. Essentially it comes down to how will they address stress.

This doesn’t mean the introduction of ‘wellbeing’ activities – token gestures that falsely shout “we care about you”. Actual strategies that help to manage workload, foster a work-life balance and support staff during stressful school periods or events in their life.

This does mean… no enforced ‘Wellbeing Days’, the kind where staff are sent off to do activities that if they wanted to do them they could do in the time they gain from better working practices,policies and procedures.

Sure offer activities before and after school or at lunchtime that staff can join in if they choose too such as after school exercise classes, morning yoga, tea with the teachers etc. but don’t make it compulsory or an explicit part of the policy. Instead it should be outlined as provision of opportunities and not compulsory activities.

Practical actions should be associated with other school policies and thus actions that help to support staff, their workloads and to manage whole-school or individual challenges.

In-school Support and Procedures

Next the policy should outline the support available in the school and the procedures in place to guide staff in what to do when they are struggling. This could be people to talk to and people that can guide and help within the school such as HR and admin, the school nurse/counsellor/wellbeing team and of course the Headteacher. No body should be afraid to speak to the Head of the school, if they are in my opinion they are doing the job wrong.

External Support and Procedures

In addition to the support available and the procedures to take within the school, the policy should also outline how staff can get support elsewhere such as through national and local organisations and charities. The school may provide a wellbeing package to its staff which may provide staff with access to counsellors and other services; this too should be outlined and contact details provided.

Managing Issues

Finally, the policy should outline how they will manage any issues that arise. This should be a set of procedures so staff know exactly what to do, who to talk to and what the potential responses will be.

Perhaps more of a decision tree rather than a set of bullet points is what I’d envisage. This is so staff can clearly see the steps and procedures in place to support them, the help them manage and to enable them to thrive.

Review

I’m not entirely sure where I’d place this, but I do believe there should be an outline of how the impact of the policy is assessed, how wellbeing is monitored and how frequently the policy will be reviewed. The review process should involve all members of school staff and should have a degree of frequency i.e. termly, annually.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in a bit of further reading on staff wellbeing here are a few links that I have found interesting:

Supporting Staff Wellbeing in Schools – Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families

Supporting staff wellbeing – Heads Together Mentally Healthy Schools

Looking after teacher wellbeing – Ed Support

Staff wellbeing: A whole-school approach – Ed Support

Caring For The Wellbeing Of Teachers And School Staff – YoungMinds

Every school needs a staff wellbeing team – here’s how to start one -Daniella Lang, Headteacher, Brimsdown Primary School

Final Words

The last thing I’d like to say on the matter though is that the policy isn’t necessarily the important part here, it’s the implementation and enactment of the aims, actions and procedures to foster an environment that values and cares for its staff. It’s about the creation of a workplace that places student and staff wellbeing in the same high regard and the development of working relationships that demonstrate care, compassion and empowerment.

Why? Because we want the best for our students. Happy, healthy teachers can create happy, healthy students.

Please feel free to share your experience of school wellbeing policies, the good and the bad.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


1 Comment

Are you a Half Term Planner?

Are you planning on spending some of this half term planning lessons, SoW etc? Why not try to save yourself some time and give a #PlanningShoutout.

It’s pretty easy, head over to Twitter. Write a tweet outlining what it is your planning and add the hashtag. You might want to include any subject specific tags such as #TeamGeog, #MFLTwitterati or #TeamEnglish.

It’s a simple idea so we can help each other to reduce our workloads and spend more time relaxing in our well deserved breaks.

So far there have been quite a few requests and lots of replies with offerings.

Enjoy the half term.


Leave a comment

Resource – Geography in the News Reading Review Sheet

During a lesson with one of my year 13 classes recently, it became apparent that I often ask “did you see in the news…?” after my students highlighted the fact that I regularly ask it and they always say “nope”.

It got me thinking about how I can get them to engage with current affairs, especially as so much of it is relevant to the IB Geography course particularly the higher level topics. This morning it came to me! As part of their revision process I’m going to get them to find, read and review news articles that link to the content they have covered. They will then share their findings with the class in order to develop discussion and a review of their prior learning. In particular I want them to be able to see the bigger picture of how much of the content links.

In order to help facilitate this process I’ve created this resource sheet.

It got me thinking about how I can engage other year groups in reading around the subject, especially as there are a number of students that excel in Geography every year and I encourage to read and watch the news to be able to draw upon other examples in their work.

I therefore decided to make a similar sheet for MYP (Key Stage 3) to use for Geography as a stand alone subject, for Individuals and Societies as a discipline and for IB Environmental Systems and Societies. For MYP I’m thinking I might set it as one homework per unit of inquiry.

I’ve made a further version which is more general and can be used with any year group.

To download editable version and a PDF, click here.

Hope you find them of use.


Leave a comment

Embedding Feedback: An Example

When I first started investigating marking and feedback, I never thought it would change my practice the way it has.

During my PGCE and NQT years, I used to mark books, write a ‘what went well’ comment and an ‘even better if’ comment, then expect my students to read it, set themselves a target and act on that target at a later point. The likelihood of my students actually acting on or even learning from the feedback was pretty much non-existent. They’d read it, write down a “next time I need to…” and then simply forget. For me, marking was simply a tick box exercise I felt I had to do. For students it was an unnecessary activity that added little to their learning experience.  

Now I guess I plan around feedback. I think about what I want my students to learn over time and plan backwards. I plan what I will teach and how I will teach it over time. I carefully consider what I will model, what I will scaffold and what I will feedback on. Feedback will then influence my planning.

Here’s an example of how I’ve planned backwards to help my students to progress forwards.

FEED-UP

  • Students started the topic by completing a description that required them to fill in the blanks. This modeled what a good description looked like. Students self-assessed their answers after we went through the correct response as a class.
  • Next they use that exemplar to write their own as shown below.
  • Next students created their own description and explanation with the use of success criteria which was provided on the whiteboard. Students peer assessed using ACE peer assessment and then made improvements shown in pink. I then assessed their completed work against the shared success criteria.

FEEDBACK

  • A lesson later they used what they’d learnt from the previous lesson to write an unsupported answer to a question. You can see that this student has taken on board the feedback they’d previously received to give a ‘perfect’ answer.
  • Following on from description and explanation of patterns and trends, I wanted students to be able to use research effectively. I planned a lesson whereby I gave students the relevant information in a range of resources and they had to take notes. I went through a few examples of how students could take notes before letting them loose on the resources.
  • To follow this up they then completed a homework task which required them to summarise the information they’d collected using the description and explanation skills previously covered.
  • Next stage involved exploring effective research and academic honesty. Students were given the task to create an infographic to explain the cause and consequences of the One Child Policy in China. Students were given a range of sources to use, they had to cross-reference the sources and assess the reliability and effectiveness of each.
  • The feedback they then received on this piece helped them to develop their research and investigation skills which would make up a part of their summative assessment.
  • Next students developed their evaluative skills by exploring the three gorges dam and assessing the social, economic and environmental sustainability of it. This started with one lesson on collecting information, the next lesson writing their evaluation before peer assessing and making improvements (pink pen).

Throughout this process and up until this point I’d used a variety of feedback strategies including live feedback, whole class feedback (from me to my students and from my students to me) and reviewed their books noting down any misconceptions or areas to develop, all without actually having to do much marking myself.

Feedback has been embedded in my planning to ensure students get feedback so they know that what they’ve learnt is correct and I can assess what I need to do next to support individuals.

What I learn from feedback then feeds into the support I provide students, it helps me to review specific content with my classes and to undo any misconceptions. The feedback feeds forward into my planning.

FEEDFORWARD

  • Students brought all of this together by then finally producing a piece of work on life in modern day China and assessing the sustainability of modern-day China.
  • Each piece fed into developing their skills for the summative assessment. The summative assessment then feeds into what they will do in future topics.
  • Finally following feedback students reflect on the skills and knowledge they gained through the topic. They’re encouraged to consider their targets and progress through the course of study and reflect upon the implementation of the feedback in the summative task.
  • After summative feedback they set themselves targets to take forward.

Throughout the entire process I’ve think about what I want my students to be able to do and know by the end of year 13.

In this case I know it seems a long way off when they are in year 8, but I feel it’s all working toward what they need to be able to do once they leave compulsory education if they are to be successful life-long learners.

What my students learn through this unit, both skills and knowledge, they take forward into the next.

Teaching backwards and embedding feedback into my classroom practice has been revolutionary in terms of what I can get my students to achieve. It’s changed the way I plan lessons completely and has enabled my students to make excellent progress whilst I no longer have the marking workload.

For further reading on feedback and teaching backwards I recommend the following books

Hope you find this post of use.


Leave a comment

Resource – IB Geog your Memory Revision Resource

This is a resource I’ve been working on now for a couple of weeks and finally today I was determined to get it finished.

It’s a revision resource for the IB Geography course, covering all of the core and the 3 options we cover – Oceans and Coastal Margins, Geophysical Hazards and Freshwater.

It’s quite simple really. It’s a wide collection of recall questions, 30 for each of the above topics, in a spreadsheet.

I have then used a mail merge to fill a template. This means I can easily move the questions around if necessary.

If you’d like instructions on how to use the mail merge feature in word, check out this post.

My using mail merge I’ve been able to easily produce 30 ‘Geog your memory’ sheets ready for revision.

The template consists of a questions and answer sheet. So far I’ve simply copied the question sheet onto PowerPoint slide and the answers onto another. I’ve popped the questions on the board and given students the 10 minutes at the start of the lesson to answer the questions. We’ve then discussed the answers and then I’ve shown them the answer sheet which they’ve used to add notes to their answers.

And yes, you can download them too. Click here to download the documents including the spreadsheet of questions, template and the 30 ready to go sheets.

The feedback I received on the first two have been positive. So I hope you find the resource of use with your students.


Leave a comment

Resource – Geographical Skills Revision Booklet

I wanted to create something for my students that would provide them with guidance on the wide variety of geographical skills they could come across in the exams, but in particular Paper 3.

We’ve covered so many during the course but they’re not always remembered. I wanted something that would bring it all together as much as possible. So I set about creating a skills overview booklet.

The idea of the booklet is that students can self-assess their level of confidence with the skills listed in the AQA specification.

From there they can focus their attention on particular sections.

At the end there are past paper and sample paper questions.

I’ve been somewhat lazy with the production of this resource, making use of booklets and resources available online. I take no credit for any of the material compiled and have provided a list of sources at the end of the document and below. However I was somewhat forgetful at referencing the sources as I made it, sorry. A massive thanks goes to those that have made the original material that I’ve collated together into this booklet.

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/geographical-skills-revision-booklet-ks3-and-ks4-11872979

http://www.oaklands.hants.sch.uk/_site/data/files/documents/subjects/geography/A7986022DFBD4AE39D4EA09A74E9A197.pdf

https://www.teachitgeography.co.uk/resources/ks3/maps-and-map-skills/exploring-and-mapping-the-world/understanding-contour-lines/25112

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/aqa-gcse-geography-skills-workbook-11058377

http://arkwilliamparker.org/sites/default/files/GCSE%20Geography%20Revision%20Booklet-%20AQA%208035.pdf

http://thewilnecoteschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Geographical-skills-booklet.pdf

https://www.teachitgeography.co.uk/skills

If there are any original sources I’ve failed to identify, please let me know and I will add details to the list.

To download the booklet click the download button below.

Hope it can be of use.


Leave a comment

Resource – Alaskan Oil Hexagon Task



As part of the current GCSE specification we explore the opportunities and challenges associated with development. Our case study is on Alaska so we take a look at developing tourism and oil extraction.

In this lesson we look at the opportunities and challenges associated with the exploitation of Alaskan oil reserves.

We start with a bit of background information on Alaska’s remaining oil reserves, the history of exploitation and the development of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline.

Students then use the textbook resources and their own research to complete the hexagon thinking task as outlined in the instructions below.

The aim of the task is to make students understand the challenges and opportunities associated with oil extraction as well as the interconnections between the different elements shown on the cards.

I show students a range of clips in addition to the background information I provide including some of the following

Past views – 2002

To download the hexagon sheet, click here.


4 Comments

Resource – UK Climate Inquiry

Teaching about weather and climate is probably one of my favourite topics to teach in Geography. I love the relevance, I love the theory and I love exploring the data surrounding it. To help my students understand the climate of the UK, the differences and the influences I created this UK Climate Inquiry.

Students are provided with a task sheet individually and a resource pack in groups.

The resource pack contains
– Climate data for 6 locations in the UK from the Met Office
– Precipitation and temperature maps for the UK from the Met Office
– Air mass diagram
– Factors affecting climate cheat sheet

Students are also provided with 4 climate graph templates to reduce the time spent creating climate graphs so they can focus on developing their understanding of the theory.

The task requires students to explore a range of resources to help them to understand how the climate of the UK varies and the factors that influence our climate.

Stage 1

Students start off by making predictions on the following using their prior knowledge

  • Which areas of the UK do you think get the most rainfall? Why do you think this?
  • Which areas of the UK do you think have the highest temperatures? Why do you think this?
  • What do you think affects an areas rainfall and temperature?

They then use the resources provided in the group pack to fill in the two tables.

Stage 2

Next they select 4 out of the 6 locations provided. Using an atlas students have to work out where the named locations can be found. Choosing one location to represent each section of the UK (North East, North West, South East, South West). To stretch and challenge students there is also a central location to encourage comparison between coastal and inland areas.

Stage 3

Next students create climate graphs for each of their chosen locations using the Met Office data found here.

I provide the students with climate graph templates so they spend less time deciphering how to set up their climate graph and more time analysing them. To stretch and challenge I do encourage students to create a climate graph of their own for the central location.

Stage 4

The next stage involves data analysis and interpretation. Students are required to describe the patterns they see for each section of the UK and offer reasons using the resources provided.

Stage 5

Finally students write a conclusion in their book to bring together their findings on how and why the climate of the UK varies.

Stretch and Challenge

For students that excel in the task, they are encouraged to compare central and coastal areas by creating their own climate graph for Sutton Bonnington. After doing so, they then compare the characteristics with the other locations, using the factors affecting climate cheat sheet to explain the differences.

If you’d like the resources, download it here.

Hope you can make use of the resource.
Best wishes,


Leave a comment

Meta-cognition in the Classroom

I first came across the term ‘meta-cognition’ 4 years into my teaching career when I attended a Stretch and Challenge Conference back in 2015. Yet I’d been applying meta-cognitive strategies since I started teaching. Once I was able to put a name to the strategies I employed it opened up a world of other examples, evidence and approaches.

What is Meta-cognition?

Put simply, it’s thinking about thinking.

However in reality is far more than just thinking about thinking. It’s active monitoring. It’s continual awareness. It’s our response and behaviours.

“Awareness of one’s own thinking, awareness of the content of one’s conceptions, an active monitoring of one’s cognitive processes, an attempt to regulate one’s cognitive processes in relationship to further learning, and an application of a set of heuristics as an effective device for helping people organize their methods of attack on problems in general”


Hennessey, 1999

It’s made up of two elements, meta-cognitive knowledge and regulation. The knowledge element being made up of the learner’s awareness of their cognitive abilities whilst the regulation refers to how learners monitor and respond to their cognitive processes.

Being able to consider, monitor and control how you learn, how you think and how you overcome struggles are vital qualities to build in our students in preparation for both exams and their futures.

“Metacognition describes the processes involved when learners plan, monitor, evaluate, and make changes to their own learning behaviours.”


Cambridge Assessment, 2017

Developing Independent Learners

I’ve posted many a time on strategies, resources and ideas for developing independent learners, but all to often I’ve not taken the time to discuss the use of meta-cognition in my drive to develop independent, self-directed learners.

I’m sure many readers will already apply elements of meta-cognition into their teaching but may not necessarily know it.

“Too often, we teach students what to think but not how to think.”


OECD Insights, 2014

I remember making use of some strategies back when I worked in EYFS between my PGCE and first teaching position. For instance when we were seeing what would happen to seeds grown in different locations I asked the children what they thought might happen and what made them think that, at which point they would apply knowledge they’d gained from other experiences. This led into a discussion of how they learnt that. Even at pre-school age they could think about what they knew and how they learnt it.

Encouraging and engaging learners to think about how they learn, the struggles they experience, how they overcome them and how to apply responses to future learning is essential to building independence in the classroom, so that when our students leave compulsory education they have the resilience and tools to be lifelong, responsible learners.

Below is a video of Dylan William discussing the importance of young people being able to reflect on their learning and how this has impacted his teaching practice.

In the Classroom

Until I started exploring meta-cognition, although I was applying elements in my classroom already I hadn’t been using it to its full potential. Once I got to grips with the theory, evidence and strategies I feel my practice developed and improved along with my understanding of my learners.

In my classroom you’ll see elements of meta-cognition on a regular basis from the planning stage to the reflection stage by both myself and my learners.

If you take my average year 8 extended writing task we will do the following:

Planning Stage
– discuss the aims and objectives of the task
– identify prior learning that will be relevant
– discuss prior strategies and struggles in applying the required skills e.g. evaluation
– review targets and identify which will be of relevance to the task or seek out new ones
– consider application of targets in this piece of work

Monitoring Stage
– as students work, meta-cognitive questions are asked about their progress and how they are monitoring their progress towards the aims and objectives of the task
– students are asked about the challenges they have experienced so far and how they’ve overcome them
– students peer and/or self assess the work against specific success criteria or using the ACE peer assessment strategy

Evaluation and Reflection Stage
– students are prompted to consider their success in the strategies they applied to achieve the aims and objectives of the task or learning goal either through questioning or written review.
– students are asked question such as
‘How well did you do at….?’
‘Is there anything that didn’t go well? What could you have done differently?’
‘What did you find hard with this task? How did you overcome this?’
‘What will you try to take away from this that you can apply to future work?’.

Impact

When I started at my current school there was a class I started with in year 8, I taught them again in year 9 and continue to teach some of them in year 10 at present. Over that time, I’ve witnessed their ability to self-regulate develop and grow as has their independence and enjoyment in the learning process. The ones I still teach, I do less for them now when it comes to meta-cognition. They’ve been scaffolded through the stages, supported in developing their independence and I’m now there to facilitate and support their self-regulation through meta-cognition. It really does support learners independence.

Useful resources

The EEF last published some useful resources on Meta-cognition and self-regulated learners including the summary sheet below.

Metacognition and self-regulation evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation

Metacognition and self-regulated learning from the Education Endowment Foundation

Getting started with Metacognition from Cambridge International Education Teaching and Learning Team
h

Metacognition from Cambridge International

Meta-cognition: A Literature Review from Emily R. Lai

Hope you find the post of use. Feel free to share any other useful links in the comments.


12 Comments

We need Breakthroughs NOT Breakdowns in Teaching.

The title of this post is inspired by the Education Support Partnership’s Christmas Campaign 2018. Reason being I went through through the latter. I burnt out, broke down and wanted to leave teaching for good. I asked for help, I reached out but it never happened and after two years of the same routine I reached my limit by bursting into tears in front of a class.

During the first 5 years of teaching, I had moments where all I could think about was injuring myself or worse still taking my life so I could end the way I was feeling. This all came back to me yesterday when I saw the following video on the BBC.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-hampshire-4673844

I shared the video on twitter with the following comment and spent the rest of the day dealing with an IBS attack. When I eventually viewed my twitter notifications I had over 500 notifications, many of which were associated with this single tweet.

It was late and the thought of replying to all the responses was a little overwhelming, so instead I decided to write this post.

In response to the tweet there were so many replies from people that were made to feel the same way. Teachers that had loved the teaching element but hated everything else; there were examples of bullying from senior leaders and other members of staff; examples of couples leaving the profession so they could actually see one another; teachers stepping down from roles of responsibility because the pressure and expectations got too much; teachers that have left full time positions and moved into part-time or teaching assistant roles and those that have left all together.

Alongside the examples of teachers that have felt the same way or similar, there were examples of those that were told or made to feel that by speaking up about workload or their struggles that they were weak, a let down, incapable, not cut out for teaching etc. etc. This should never ever be the case. The lack of support and deniability of the problem is causing a mental health problem in education.

On the positive side though, there were also those that talked about feeling this way and coming through the other side. Those that said how leaving teaching returned them to full health. Those that said they’d stepped down, cut back or changed positions that now manage. And those that moved schools, are much happier and enjoy teaching again.

I want to highlight that it is possible to be happier in teaching. It is possible to manage your own workload. It is possible to be a highly-effective teacher with mental health challenges. I know because I’m managing it.

Back in April 2016 when I reached rock-bottom I honestly thought that was it. I thought I was done with teaching. I took time off, I thought that was going to be the end of my time in the classroom. But… I spoke to Ed Support. I asked for help from the Doctors. I went on anti-depressants. I finally opened up to family. I finally acknowledged my position, my choices and took action.

I decided that I’d give one more school a try. One more. I was encouraged to write an application for a position at a top school in the area. I had no confidence that I’d be invited for interview, let alone get the job but I did.

I was still off work when I went for interview. I was still signed off sick. I was still struggling each day. But I went and did what I loved, I taught Geography. I really liked the school. I asked about wellbeing. I was happy with the response. But I worried. I worried my time off would look bad. I worried that this school would be the same; high expectations of staff, limited time to meet expectations, regular scrutinises, Mocksteads, regular observations…. etc. etc.

I was offered the job almost immediately after leaving the site. But I needed time to think. They were happy with this. I’d be leaving behind a department I’d built up from nothing (literally), single handed. My physical and mental health had gone into that department, that school, every resource, every lesson. I’d be leaving behind a major part of me. But when I spoke to the current Headteacher to explain my predicament, I knew then I was replaceable, valueless. My decision was made for me. I accepted the job offer and it’s been the best decision.

I still take anti-depressants, I tried coming off of them and even though I’m so much happier, I manage my time effectively and love teaching again I can’t cope with the general anxiety of the role. I went back on them. I also have periods of highs and lows but that doesn’t make me a bad teacher. It doesn’t make me incapable of being the best teacher that I can be for me students. Instead it has made me more aware of myself, my mental health and more so the mental health of my students. I see things I never used to, I’ve learnt how to support young people, colleagues and friends. Mental health is not a problem, a hindrance.

Help is Available

If you’re feeling like the teacher in the BBC video, please know you are not alone. You never are and never will be. There is help and support out there.

Speak to Ed Support.
Speak to colleagues.
Speak to friends and family.
Never let the job take over your life or worse still take your life.
Reach out.

There’s always someone there to listen, to support, to help.

Here are some useful organisations, their websites, twitter accounts and phone numbers

Education Support Partnership @EdSupportUK 08000 562 561
Mind @MindCharity 03001233393
Samaritans @Samaritans 116 123
The CALM zone @theCALMzone 0800 585858

There’s also those that have volunteered to listen via #Talk2MeMH. It’s over on twitter and is pretty simple, if you want someone to talk to search for the hashtag, find somebody that has added it to their profile and contact them. They have volunteered to listen, not as a professional but as a friend.

We need more breakthroughs, not breakdowns.

As a profession we have to reduce the stigma that surrounds teachers mental health, of struggling with workload and the pressures of accountability. We have to listen to those in need.

We have to speak up, accept the problem and work together to improve the experience of many teachers, school leaders and support staff whether new or experienced.

We need to change the system to ensure that teachers and school leaders are able to deliverer high-quality education within the parameters of the working day, without the excessive workload and impact on home life. We need change.

Where do we start?

We start in our own schools. Work together to create a better environment. Workload a problem? What are the solutions? Don’t just moan, be proactive. Offer alternatives. There’s no point saying you want change without a potential solution. What is the problem? How could it be changed or solved?

If leaders don’t listen, leave. Apply for jobs in other schools. There ARE better schools out there with leaders that listen. Go find them.

Campaign. Support action. Unite.

Here’s a recent resource, 20 ways to improve teacher wellbeing, that I produced for TeachIt.

Right I’m going to end this episode of being a keyboard warrior and actually go and do something proactive.