This week, on October 10th, it is Mental Health Day. Although in our book, every day should be teacher mental health day! It’s a time to take stock of the challenges you have been facing and to be kind to yourself. This may be easier said than done… As an education professional, it’s probably in your nature to help others and keep busy. This week we ask, how do those whose job it is to support others take care of themselves?
We have explored this topic in recent posts, however, support for teacher mental health is such a hot topic (and rightfully so!) it’s important to keep up with the latest resources and advice. Thankfully, schools are becoming more and more receptive and responsive to the needs of staff and students as we tackle life in ‘post covid’ classrooms. After reading, we’d love for you to share your experiences or thoughts on this via our social media feeds.
Below, we explore key ideas for taking care of your teacher mental health on mental health day. Hopefully, this post will prove especially useful for school leaders (senior, middle, key stage or year leads) who are ruminating on strategies to support their teams this year.
First of all, if you feel that you are in crisis, or would like to speak with someone:
- Call the Samaritans FREE on 116 123
- OR ring Saneline 0300 304 7000 6pm – 11pm every day (for practical information, crisis care and emotional support)
- or text ‘shout’ to 85258 if you’d prefer to text rather than speak
Wellbeing for staff
Below you’ll find a handful of ideas that you could share in your school. Alternatively, initiate one yourself with your teams in school. Not all of these ideas will be helpful for everyone, but the more staff members you bring together to support teacher mental health the more likely that at least one person’s wellbeing is given a boost.
Hosting wellbeing mornings
Not every morning briefing needs to be solely concerned with the diary for the day. A teacher mental health-focused ‘wellbeing morning’ could include an opportunity for staff to check in with their feelings. Staff could share emotions/concerns with the group or keep tags on it privately by RAG tracking themselves against a mood chart.
- Perhaps, a ‘What’s going well?’ and ‘Even Better If…’ approach like those we use with students could help keep group conversations positive.
- We offer students ‘worry boxes’, why not try this with our staff? It may encourage some staff to share issues anonymously. It’s important that SLT teams monitor this and respond appropriately, however.
If the thought of a wellbeing morning terrifies you because it’s likely to open up a ‘can of worms’ of negative feelings, then doesn’t this highlight how necessary this process is? How beneficial for teacher mental health could it prove to be in the long run? Remember, even if our efforts on teacher mental health initiatives only end up helping one staff member they are well worth it.
Promoting positive conversation in school
Once we have created a culture of honest and open discussion in school, it’s also critical to keep this as positive as possible… Unfortunately, it’s still quite common to find teachers marching down school corridors wearing exhaustion like a badge of honour:
“Morning! I’ve been in since 6am this morning, I’m tired! What time do you call this, part-timer?”
Let’s be honest, the teacher saying this is clearly in need of wellbeing support and strategies to improve their work-life balance. Any staff members in earshot of statements like this are also likely to experience a mixture of negative emotions. Anxiety, inadequacy, stress: ‘I didn’t get in until 7:30, am I a bad teacher?’
Encourage staff to be organised with their timetables but highlight the importance of evenings away from school. For example, if you have twilight meetings on a Tuesday after school and marking moderating on a Wednesday, promote Thursday and Friday as ‘away by 5’ days. School leaders talking openly about their plans outside of school can further promote the idea that it is OK not to be forever in busy work mode.
This way, teachers can respond to the early riser above positively and with confidence, ‘Morning! Oh dear! How was your evening? I went out for dinner last night, it was lovely! Looking forward to Maths this morning!’
Sharing a ‘mythbusting’ list with staff
To further counter a negative culture, school’s can support teacher mental health by providing a ‘mythbusting sheet’. This could include truths such as:
- ‘You do not need to be in school from 7 am and 7 pm. We encourage you to use your initiative to find the work-life balance that works for you.’
- ‘Not every piece of work needs to be marked every lesson. Unless it’s an assessed piece, then you initials against the learning objective will do.’
Busting these myths and setting out honest expectations on staff can be really helpful a) for established members of staff who were writing a paragraph of feedback per book because ‘it’s how we’ve always done it’, and b) for newer members of staff who are absorbing the myths from the already established staff.
Reducing marking workload
The dreaded M-word is always top of the list when it comes to ‘staff gripes’ and initiatives to reduce stress. But are we keeping the marking and assessment workload down this year? Schools could be forgiven for letting marking expectations rise sharply in a bid to bridge the gaps in lost learning. We are all being told that ‘catching up’ is the number 1 priority. But do mountains of books in the boot of the car really help with this?
If we stick to some key marking principles, we can help keep the workload to a minimum:
- Remember the purpose of effective marking is to provide feedback to students, enabling them to respond and continue to make progress.
- The most timely feedback happens within the lesson because students can make that response straight away.
- Think about simple strategies such as highlighting areas of a student’s work mid-lesson (green for ‘seen’, pink for ‘think’?)
- Challenge students to self and peer assess highlighted areas against the lesson’s success criteria. In time, students are editing and improving as they go without mountains of books needing to be thoroughly checked out of class.
We hope you’ve found this post on teacher mental health support. For further resources and ideas, we recommend visiting the education support charity website.
If you are looking for a new role, or would like to discuss staffing needs: