Do you know any colleagues who have succumbed to ill-health as a direct result of teaching?
This is a guest post by Ian Vickers, assistant principal at Sancta Maria College, Auckland, New Zealand. Ian first got in touch with me in June 2015, and since then we have exchange several emails about teacher well-being. It is clear that Ian is sharing best practice in New Zealand and I am sharing it here in order to develop the profile of teacher well-being in the UK.
7 Out Of 8 Headteachers:
In March 2015, eight head teachers attended a local cluster meeting. One of them started coughing loudly and the others became concerned; after the coughs had subsided he revealed that he was okay, but that he had a heart complaint and was on medication. Suddenly, a flurry of comments came from the others and seven out of the eight head teachers confirmed that they were also on heart medication. This is a true story.
Was it just a coincidence or is this related to the demands and intensity of being a teacher and school leader?
Good New Habits:
In 2012, after the sudden deaths of two close teaching colleagues, I embarked on developing a teacher wellbeing and wellness programme at my school in Auckland, New Zealand. Such programmes are commonplace in business, industry and corporate organisations, in which the workforce is valued and their wellbeing and wellness is paramount during the hours of work. The positive benefits of workplace wellness programmes are well researched and documented.
With a staff workforce of 100, I wrote a resource called ‘The Good New Habits Book’, which provided a weekly theme on which to hang a sustainable wellbeing focus. The programme was very well received by the teachers, senior leaders and admin staff, with 94% engagement in the programme, reduced sickness rates of 27% across the first year of the programme and the staffroom is now vibrant.
Click the image to download. Tweet a thanks here.
Every year, we have reviewed the programme, tweaked and introduced new weekly themes and the ‘Good New Habits’ resource is now in its fourth year. Our board of governors subside a weekly neck/shoulder massage opportunity, pay annually for a visiting team of nurses to provide an MOT health check for our teachers, and we are now looking at adding a staff physiotherapy service.
Interest in our staff wellbeing programme soon came from teachers, principals and schools nationwide. To date, I have received in excess of 7,000 e-mails from concerned teachers and principals, commenting on a range of wellbeing issues. Quite a few of the stories have made me cry and some of the horror stories about how teachers feel and are treated, are hard to put into words. I have given away in excess of 800 electronic copies of the wellbeing resource and schools have re-jigged and customised the book to suit the ethos and culture of their school. As a profession we deserve so much more support.
Department of Education:
I started to lobby the Minister of Education, the key players at the Department of Education, teacher and headteacher unions and the other key educational organisations. Tactfully, I would say that the response has been slow. [You can let them know by simply clicking this text here.] When I made an enquiry with the government department;
“Who do I contact to discuss teacher welfare?” the reply was, ‘Is this a trick question?’
I have been sent the current health and safety guidelines for employees in the workplace, along with this insult;
‘… Compared with all other jobs and professions, teachers have very generous holidays, so [teachers] have ample opportunity to look after their own wellbeing!’
One president of a teacher union just shrugged her shoulders when I talked about reducing teacher workload, another commented that they had teacher wellbeing covered as they had a free phone number for its members! One senior union executive rubbished teacher wellbeing, saying ‘that was life and that we should harden up’ and besides, ‘the union’s job is to negotiate the best contract and pay for members and not to look after their welfare’. My discussions with these key players is on-going and I have to shift their thinking from the 20th century to this modern day.
Do you fancy starting a workplace wellbeing and wellness programme in your school?
Have a read through the attached 2016 edition of ‘The Good New Habits Book’. On YouTube, our ‘Teacher Wellbeing NZ’ channel is growing with 12 short videos that were made for a recent pop-up event for the teachers and principals of New Zealand. We’ve had 50,000 hits in three weeks! These may prompt some ideas of what you can do in your school.
I wish you the very best. By Ian Vickers, Assistant Principal, Sancta Maria College, Auckland, New Zealand.
You can email Ian here.
Please click on the image of Ian to say thank you and with the help of @TeacherToolkit‘s clever coding, you can let the Department of Education in New Zealand take note!
You can download Ian’s well-being resource here.
- Taking Care of Our Teachers featured in Education Gazette, New Zealand.
- The Uphill Battle for Teacher Wellbeing featured in Education Review Series.
- Do you have a teacher well-being problem at your school? featured in Schools News.