This blog does not contain any academic research, or information regarding Ofsted; effect-sizes; knowledge vs. skills; or even something useful about lesson judgements.
This write-up, looks to share teaching experiences that you and I both share. This understanding (context) will ensure – that despite no direct evidence-based references in this blog (although there are many) – that practical and direct school experience, is just as creditworthy and can add value to what does / does not work in schools.
Particularly for parents; classroom teachers and senior leaders, I am certain that this topic will be useful for those who make key decisions regarding the welfare of others. On staff well-being I talk with passion. I blog from experience of working with colleagues, where I/we/us have gone the extra-mile; or in those instances where we have let ourselves down; have made mistakes, or where and when know we could have done much better. I know both instances first-hand (this week)!
Dear reader. Know this. You are not alone. Over the course of this academic year, I have posted two articles on staff well-being. They have proven to be very popular with you for several reasons.
In October 2013, I wrote about the #GuiltyTeacher which discusses work-life issues that are commonplace in schools and with teachers: How many of us, despite the signals, would refuse to take time off work? How many of us allow work to exacerbate ailments? And does the pressure of work blur reality? For example; you would rather go into work, instead of setting 5 periods of cover.
I define a #GuiltyTeacher as a teacher who is reluctant to ask for help; unwilling to recognise that they do need help. Where workload may be increasing and mistakes become more and more common. Staff temperaments are frazzled and anguish is etched across faces. These are all the tell-tale signs, regarding events in and out of school, that we all have encountered.
In this post, I did not share my own full story with you. Despite posting this image below of my own #GuiltyTeacher scenario, I still dragged myself into school – over a period of 10 school days – for 7 working days.
Despite suffering from Tennis Elbow; my son was very poorly; as well as my wife (who is also a full-time teacher). What I didn’t share with my readers, is that at this time, we suffered a family bereavement.
Life was very difficult and school was virtually impossible! Balancing my own hospital appointments and school leadership; between a poorly wife and a sick child at home; unable to attend nursery was incredibly challenging. I know there are much, much worse situations to be in, and that other people (teachers) have to deal with innumerable pressures too; but my point is that teaching is an incredibly hard occupation and life does throw its fair share of sh*t at you. (First time I’ve ever sworn on my blog!)
The crux of the matter is; teachers are heroes; but you must stop being a hero when the #GuiltyTeacher syndrome sets in. Take time out to re-align the balance. As any good headteacher will tell you; you are useless being in school until you have sorted yourself out at home. What I love about my principal, is that he is entirely the family man I would want to be myself and promote in my own school. Flexible in supporting staff needs; regardless of school and borough policy.
As recently as March 2014, I wrote to ask readers if you are feeling #ThePinch? That at this point in the academic year (February/March), with looming examinations; the pressure of appraisal; maintaining good quality teaching and learning in your own classroom; high standards of behaviour and uniform; and targets stipulated by your leadership team and the government, can be enough to take any member of staff over the edge!
I call it #ThePinch. A constant sensation in your gut, telling you that you (and possibly others, if you are a line-manager) ‘can still do more’.
Well, ask yourself, is this really true? I am certain you are reading this today (in early April 2014), that you will be feeling incredibly tired before the start of the Easter break! Allow me to introduce the third and final part to my staff well-being jigsaw (i.e. welfare). The crowning piece of knowledge/experience. This personal self-analogy, regards pacing yourself throughout an academic term/year. Knowing what deadlines are looming and balancing the needs of what is to be completed and when. Whether this be personal and/or professional events, or workload in or out of school; taking into account predictions; time-frames and emergencies; these can all contribute to #GuiltyTeacher syndrome and feeling #ThePinch
It is necessary therefore, to consider #EndOfFlight forecasting.
I can guarantee, that tempers will be fragile in some parts of your department and school today (at time of blog publication). No matter how hard you (as a school) try to celebrate and promote staff well-being in your school, ‘someone’ will not want to join the party. Discussions with colleagues are limited towards the end of term. Deadlines are looming. Staff are desperate to escape and have a well-earned rest. Perhaps they will be lucky enough to squeeze in a quick conversation about holiday plans with a colleague to keep their own energy levels up? Others will simply want to dash off and be done with all school-related matters as soon as possible! Know the feeling?
Have you considered that some teachers (subconsciously) may only ask you how your day was; so that in return, they can share their own story? This is the rule of reciprocation. And I make references to above-and-beyond ‘societal etiquette’ norms and generally, being nice to each other which is of course, the expected norm when working with colleagues.
Therefore, if staff are ‘not’ asking you/others about their welfare; beyond the ‘rule of reciprocation’, we can assume that:
- a) they are too busy = #ThePinch
- b) under the weather = #GuiltyTeacher and simply are not given enough time to unwind; reflect and communicate;
- or perhaps even c) not bothered what you think / feel at all!
Consider that your own school is not making allowances for staff to meet and be heard/listened to. (Do not under-estimate the power of listening). I will be blogging in June about our re-application to gain IIP (Investors In People) status at my school, and sharing the criteria for doing so. The self-evaluation is incredibly powerful.
The #EndOfFlight forecasting is explained below for future reference when planning your own well-being and management of time vs. tasks. Essentially, knowing and balancing the pace.
A short city-break (flight) is equivalent to travelling from London to Paris, or Madrid.
For a city-break, a small piece of luggage will be required and the journey will be specifically focused on attending a conference; catching up with friends/family and/or sightseeing. Although this journey is relatively short, preparation should be considered; but note, this #EndOfFlight can survive without being fully prepared.
The likelihood is, that just before landing, you will become keen to disembark and reach your destination as soon as possible. Any delays to such a short flight, will increase frustration two-fold.
Didn’t sleep too well? Feeling under the weather? Having an interview or a key event taking place at work? A city-break is defined as surviving just one day at work. Even though this is a short (one-off) event; the impact can slowly take over if there is one city break after the other. In teaching, there is a high-chance, that a city-break event can occur every week. Perhaps two expected or unexpected events that take you off-guard and occur one after the other. For example, a last-minute cover lesson: parental meetings; missed deadlines; child sick at home; no sleep; day-to-day emergencies such as a broken-down car …
Therefore, this is probably the most difficult #EndOfFlight forecast to predict. The one-off that puts your biological rhythms out of kilter!
A short-haul flight is equivalent to travelling from London to Tel Aviv, or New York.
Short-haul flights are knowing much more, about what to expect. When travelling on a short-haul flight, we are much more prepared for sitting in our seats for up to 4-6 hours. We are patient beyond the time-frames set by city-break flights and one-off events stated below in school-references. Our luggage will be carefully thought over; passports and currency exchange will be double-checked carefully and then carefully once again.
Although towards the end of the week / end of the flight, as we have readjusted our expectations, we will still experience #EndOfFlight frustrations in the final hour / day of the journey; become increasing frustrated in the final hour. Possibly frustrated with delays and lack of comfort opportunities.
A short haul flight is the equivalent of surviving a longer period of time. This could be similar to the exam season, where immense pressure is placed upon colleagues to gather students for coursework; homework catchup; revision and so on. Often, additional work above and beyond that stipulated in the typical 32.5 hours full-time teacher contract. #EndOfFlight equivalences, regarding short-haul predictions, suggest that you are most likely to know about typical routines and expectations. i.e. your timetable.
Where forecasting is needed, is predicting the key events throughout this period where you can find moments to reflect; mark; plan (i.e. plane = stretching your legs). You are more likely to be knackered at the end of this short-haul journey/week, compared to a city-break. So, it is vital that events/energies are well disseminated to enable you to work to your capability.
Do not forget, that during a short-haul period, #EndOfFlight symptoms will set in in the final hours. It is therefore vital, to take a step back; relax; meet with colleagues to off-load or seek advice. On a plane, in the final decent, you will be strapped in by a seatbelt, unable to free yourself from the 36″ legroom space allocated to you! In school, during this period, you are most likely to be tied down to your normal timetable with all the associated demands that comes with this! Plus, the unexpected events that occur during the day. Go stretch your legs and step away from your desk and classroom. Seek colleagues at the other end of your school building to escape the rigmarole. Be prepared for your own temperament to be challenged as the end of the week draws nearer.
A long-haul flight is the equivalent to travelling from London to Los Angeles, or Singapore.
I do hope you have now grasped the #EndOfFlight analogy and for this example; consider a worldwide map and all geographical locations, positioned far, far-away from where you are reading this now. Consider living in London and heading off on an aeroplane to another far-flung destination…
We are about to come to the end of an academic term. This analogy can also be applied to the full academic year. The reader must consider all the ups and downs (life and) school can throw at you. Keep in mind #EndOfFlight forecasting when looking ahead into the forthcoming term and consider all the unforeseen events that can happen at school (and at home).
Pace yourself. Regardless of demands placed upon you over the course of a day; a week; a term or even the academic year. You need to ensure that you have the right mentality to be capable of forecasting #EnfOfFlight situations. Reflect on experiences gone by and use this obscure analogy to ensure that you have the mechanisms in place, to cope with situations better. My advice: keep your energy levels in check and restore the balance wherever possible. It doesn’t matter the distance you have to travel/work, it is more the mental attitude and preparation for the journey ahead that matters.
Whether you are travelling a short flight or a long-distance flight, prepare yourself for the journey ahead. Buckle up and hold on tight!
Have a relaxing Easter…
Felling tired? Then try #FieryTeaching too.