The Social Media Illusion vs. Teacher Mental Health

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How can teachers talk more openly about their mental health?

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending Education Forward in Leeds, a movement for changing the way we view, and talk about, educational reform. The original group believes that the public debate about education in the UK is backwards-looking, polarised, and focused on the wrong priorities. Read our manifesto.

As a result of our collaboration, we published this book in less than 3 months and have made a pledge to take control of the education debate. In the future, I will share more about what I have written inside the book, but for this post and keeping with my promise, I share one of the pledges I made to the 100 educators who attended.

The Social Media Illusion:

With the rise of social media and a desire for the perfect photo, story and/or experience, there is an increasing perception that ‘everyone seems to be having a better time than ourselves’. The wise amongst us will know this is unfounded and we will know many students (and some of our friends) who succumb to the social media allure – a life of perfection.

Here are some examples:

  • the selfie pout
  • the beach shot
  • arm in arm with somebody famous
  • the ultimate experience – bungee / parachute jump.

… we must tackle the stigma that stops people asking for help in the first place. We want to encourage people to talk to one another.” (Heads Together – The Duchess of Cambridge)

With thousands of apps to access, it is incredibly easy for people to have their story heard – or at least share the same story in multiple locations; ‘status update’ of what we are doing, the places we have been and the people we meet. As an observer, we form an opinions of someone else’s life – forming a perception (perhaps comparison) of success.

In reality, we are largely all doing the same things, meeting like-minded people and each sharing thoughts and events; with a subconscious aim to share that ‘perfect moment’ – redefined today by a high volume of retweets, likes and comments – even though we know that the photograph we view, will be at least the 2nd version and will have been edited pre-publication.

Teacher Mental Health:

As it is Mental Health Awareness Week, I’ve decided to do my bit for the profession – to share a few truths in order to help quash the social media illusion of perfection, particularly in school leadership.

With the profile I have on social media, over the years there has been a growing interest in my workload as a deputy headteacher and a blogger – or at least the perception that I do not switch off. The stark reality is that life is far from easy for most – and is even harder for those teachers working with mental ill-health.

In terms of managing my mental health, I have learnt how to switch off from school and from social media; to blog quicker and much less. With a help from a small group of team members and a selection of teacher-bloggers who contribute, managing the two has become less of a burden for me. Of course I still tweet from @TeacherToolkit, but this blog over the past 12 months has taken on its own course – which has thankfully allowed me to spend more time with my family and still use the platform to support teachers across the world.

Honesty and Failure

For the past 8 months, I’ve kept the following photograph to myself for obvious reasons.

Ross McGill Eye Infection post - OfSTED

Given the nature of social media, we are all lured into a false sense of security, believing that everyone else has it better than we do and that it is ‘only me that is facing any difficulties’.

Mental health is a rarer discussion amongst school leaders.

Every sensible school leader will know that success is hard to achieve and even harder to sustain. As a school leader, I am happy to admit I’ve failed lots of times, but often failure has been a result of external forces which are out of my control – this image is no exception.

It has been a catch-22 decision to share this image in all it’s glory, standing in my vest at 6.30AM in the morning before getting ready for school / work. I soon realised that I couldn’t open my eye.

Other than subtext, the image has not be edited in any shape of form.

The eye infection culminated in my body reacting to a brutal OfSTED inspection and as a consequence, working 60+ hour weeks with 2 or 3 senior colleagues off long-term sick.

.

The world of education is NOT free from mental health issues – far from it. Mental health reaches all of us and with the nature of external accountability, the illusion off social media, difficult working environments and the fallacy of leadership perfection, despite this knowledge, we are all very reluctant to share the truth. We assume failure or honesty as a sign of weakness (or a bad teacher / leader).

I hope by sharing this image, it will encourage others to consider or share their vulnerability too.

Mental health is not a dirty word – we all have mental health like we do physical health, good or ill. But not seeking help at those times when it all seems too much, or we are depressed or anxious, can impact the rest of our lives. Put simply, [we] want to make asking for help no longer a big deal.” (Heads Together – Prince William, Duke of Cambridge).

If we are take to back control of the recruitment and retention agenda, we must stand up to external accountability. Let’s stand up against inadequate inspection teams, forced academisation and incoming executive headteachers who work on the basis of ‘positional power’ to bully and cull colleagues from our profession.

Instead of arguing with one another, let’s aim to be more honest on social media by exposing our own experiences to help normalise the mental health issues that we all face. And whilst we’re at it, let’s continue to expose the polarisation, corruption and victimisation that contributes to teacher workload and mental health.

 

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account in which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated for '500 Most Influential People in Britain' in The Sunday Times as one of the most influential in the field of education - he remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing online as @TeacherToolkit, he rebuilt this website (c2008) into what you are now reading, as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the number one spot at the UK Blog Awards (2018). Today, he is currently a PGCE tutor and is researching 'social media and its influence on education policy' for his EdD at Cambridge University. In 1993, he started teaching and is an experienced school leader working in some of the toughest schools in London. He is also a former Teaching Awards winner for 'Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School, London' (2004) and has written several books on teaching (2013-2018). Read more...

7 thoughts on “The Social Media Illusion vs. Teacher Mental Health

  • 15th October 2017 at 7:42 pm
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    Well said, seeking support for mental wellbeing is a sign of strength not weakness.
    And often physical ailments are manifestations of inner turmoil.
    Wishing you all a relaxing half term

    Reply
  • 20th October 2017 at 5:45 pm
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    I had an infection in both corneas the day the call came and through my inspection
    Got through it just then had lie in a dark room for a week on medication
    It was my first year of Headship
    Have had a focus on reducing workload for all
    We all need to look after each other
    Happy holidays

    Reply
    • 20th October 2017 at 7:01 pm
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      Sorry to hear this – it’s just not right that a job such a teaching, causes this much anxiety from a 1-2 day inspection.

      Happy holidays.

      Reply
  • 24th October 2017 at 3:00 pm
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    The pressure meant I left the whole profession. It’s not just the hours, but the pressure. Being constantly ON is something that just is not acceptable for extended hours.

    Reply
    • 24th October 2017 at 3:54 pm
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      It is certainly not sustainable for everyone in the long term. Was it anything specific that pushed your limit?

      Reply
  • 25th October 2017 at 1:53 pm
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    Given facebook this week, sick of half term holiday photos ….

    Reply
  • 5th November 2017 at 10:20 am
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    I’m T1 diabetic-in my experience there’s not much time for physical illness either. I’ve been T1 since I was 4 and testing, eating, balancing can make teaching days difficult. A lot of T1s choose not to work. Respect for others, whatever differences exist is vital in all areas of life. I’m glad mental health is getting a higher priority but all areas need understanding.

    Reply

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