How do we take teacher wellbeing seriously?
“Last one out of the building is a nerf herder!” was how my fellow Deputy Headteacher Phil chose to sign off a whole-school email on the final Friday before half term. It didn’t matter whether all teachers recognised the Star Wars reference or not. The message was universally understood: GET OUT! GO HOME! HAVE A FABULOUS WEEK DOING THE THINGS YOU LOVE WITH THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE!
Although often playful in approach, at Barr Beacon School, staff wellbeing is no joke. We take it so seriously it’s written down in plain English in our document Staff Wellbeing: 47 Things We Do (and counting).
Our Staff Wellbeing Policy
There are no prizes for looking busy or staying late; staff are encouraged to work in a way that suits them and to make sure they make time for themselves and their family.
11 highlights from the policy are:
- No need to write lesson plans of any kind.
- No pressure to put on a show in lessons. A culture of typicality is reinforced by no lesson gradings.
- No cover duty more than one lesson every half term (in reality, it’s exceedingly rare for anyone to cover more than three times a year).
- No expectation to answer emails outside school hours (in fact, this is actively discouraged).
- Senior Leadership are very visible at all times, empowering staff to own behaviour.
- No written reports to parents/carers.
- Marking is for one audience and one audience only: pupils. Never tick and flick or do anything else for observers/parents/carers.
- We never ask for any data to be entered twice.
- CPD is delivered as twilights that never finish after 4.15pm, with days off in lieu.
- Annual CPD on managing stress with the clear message that keeping things to yourself is not a sign of strength.
- Open door Senior Leadership – no concern is ever too small.
All of the 47 wellbeing declarations were new at some point and we’re constantly seeking to add to the list; the first version we published only had 46 entries. We’re currently consulting teachers on what number 48 should be.
Cutting Marking Workload In Half
I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression: our staff work exceptionally hard. But they only do the things which are going to make a real difference to pupils’ lives. And they need to be doing these things in the leanest, most efficient ways possible.
For instance: marking. Years ago, when I asked our teachers how long they were spending marking I was frequently open-mouthed in response. I set out to halve it. And then, when we’d halved it, got everyone together to figure out how we quarter it.
“For the pupils.”
Wellbeing Rule 1: Look After No. 1
The worst thing we can do “for the pupils” is not take care of ourselves. Making yourself ill or not being fully awake in the classroom is not going to help any of our pupils make progress.
Going off sick or not being fully awake in the classroom is not going to help any of our pupils make progress.
Most teachers are martyrs. I know this because I was one for many years.
I thought I had to do everything for my pupils, even to the detriment of my own wellbeing. At the peak of my martyrdom, I stayed up until 2am on a planning binge which resulted in the grand total of one 60 minute lesson. Never again.
The experience taught me two valuable lessons:
- If you over plan you end up teaching what you want to do rather than responding to what your pupils are (or in this case, aren’t) learning.
- Feeding so much of yourself to your pupils when you’re outside the classroom leaves nothing for you to give when you’re inside the classroom.
Lead By Example
On a Friday, I’m usually out of the building by 4pm myself because leaders need to lead by example. I do however stay around to keep a benevolent eye on what teachers are taking to their cars. If there’s a big bag I enquire about its contents, hoping “marking” isn’t going to be the response.
When I ask people what they’re up to over the break, anyone who says something to effect of “not much, I’ve got a load of work to do” will receive a hard stare worthy of Paddington Bear.
More seriously, I will do what I can right then and there but, when we return, devote some time to helping them resolve their workload issues.
Create Your Own Staff Wellbeing Policy
Our ’47 Things’ doesn’t really represent anything new. It just codifies what we are already doing, a result of me catching the ear of anyone who had a spare minute – from SLT to NQT, and even trainees. I asked things like:
- “What do we do as a school that saves you wasting time?”
- “Is there anything you still do which you think is just ticking a box?”
- “How do you make sure you give your pupils a good deal but also reserve time for you?”
Even if you’re not a member of senior leadership, you’re still a leader in the classroom. You need to work out how you’re going to spend less time on the stuff that doesn’t make a difference. And you need to be steadfast in staking out time for yourself and guarding it.
Make sure you check out Barr Beacon School’s 47 Things for inspiration.
During the school week, we may feel like we’re herding pupils/cats/nerfs (whatever they may be). But whatever we’re herding, we need to take care of the herder too. If we’re to be the best teachers we can be, we all need to take wellbeing seriously – starting with our own.