Promoting Staff Wellbeing in Schools
Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Mental health issues can affect any one of us, at any time, no matter our profession, age, or gender.
One environment where mental health issues are particularly prominent is our education sector. Deadlines, heavy workloads, and exam pressures all contribute to student mental health difficulties. However, these factors also have a significant impact on our nation’s teachers. A recent study by Leeds Beckett University revealed that a whopping 52% of teachers surveyed had a mental health illness identified by a GP.
Clearly, teacher mental health is something we can’t choose to ignore. Therefore, this guide explains the signs of teacher burnout and how to ensure wellbeing in schools for staff.
What is Teacher Burnout and What are the Causes?
Teacher burnout arises from emotional exhaustion, stress, feeling overworked, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. Burnout happens when these feelings increase and your energy decreases.
Teacher burnout is a widespread problem. Every teacher will report knowing someone who left the profession due to it, someone who had a breakdown because of it, or someone who was signed off work because of stress and other mental health difficulties. In 2016, just under 40,000 teachers quit the profession, which represents about 9% of the workforce.
The causes of teacher burnout include:
- Pressure for students to achieve top grades. The education system places a strong importance on high grades, and teachers are seen as the main drive for achieving them. Teachers feel responsible for how their students perform and so put an intense amount of pressure on themselves.
- Taking work home. Teacher work life balance is often poor. No teacher can leave school at 3pm and forget about it until 8am the following day. Lesson planning and marking takes hours of work that teachers simply don’t have within school hours.
- Large classes. As a growing number of teachers leave the profession, and the number of new teachers continues to decline, classes are getting larger. With this comes more marking, more students to control, and a greater amount of responsibility.
- Teaching challenging students. Trying to teach students who misbehave is difficult for teachers, especially if they feel under immense amounts of pressure already. Furthermore, large classes are particularly hard to control if a number of students misbehave.
- Constant change. Changes in curriculum, setting systems, school policies, and staff can all make teachers feel stressed and contribute to burnout.
- Low morale. Stressed teachers and stressed students both lower the school’s morale.
- School environment. If the building and amenities are poor, such as old and cramped classrooms and staff rooms, teachers may feel undervalued and underappreciated. Furthermore, a lack of resources and money to spend on materials can also create stress.
- High emotions. In environments with such high pressure and demand, emotions also run high. Stressed and upset students can create similar effects in teachers. Likewise, sometimes parents’ behaviour can make a teacher’s job especially difficult.
Signs a Teacher May Be Suffering from Burnout
All members of a school community should be able to recognise when a teacher is suffering from burnout or other mental health difficulties. Similarly, if you are a teacher, you should learn to recognise these in yourself. Some common signs to look out for are:
- Irritability, frustration, and quick to anger.
- A decrease in desire to attend social events or activities outside work.
- Increased complaints.
- Fatigue and exhaustion.
- Change in appetite.
- Physical symptoms, like headache, stomach ache, dizziness, chest pain, and heart palpitations.
Tips for Improving Staff Wellbeing in Your School
Staff wellbeing should be a priority in all schools. This will make staff feel more valued and reduce the pressures and stresses they face, which in turn promotes staff wellbeing and reduces burnout. Here are some tips you can use to help relieve the pressure.
Create an Open-Door Policy
Your school should have a culture in which staff feel confident to openly talk about any difficulties they’re facing. Establish an open-door policy where teachers can ask other teachers for help and speak to senior members of staff about any concerns. Consider also launching a buddy system where teachers can pair up and help each other. Support networks are vital in reducing the risk of burnout.
Conduct a Wellbeing Audit
A great step to improve wellbeing in schools for staff is to conduct a wellbeing audit. This will tell you their current level of wellbeing, which you can use to help them work out where they want to be and how they’ll get there.
Conduct a survey across all members of staff. Include a series of open and closed questions so they have an opportunity to expand on their points. Use the results to decide any changes you need to make and communicate these to staff. You should also conduct the audit regularly, such as every half term, to maintain open lines of communication and address any new issues that may have arisen.
Encourage Teacher Work Life Balance
Feeling snowed under by work is a problem for all teachers, and this affords little time for life outside school. Some tips for creating a more equal work life balance are:
- Ensure staff have time to eat their lunches, and preferably in a location that isn’t their classroom.
- Allow teachers to share lesson plans (if they’re teaching classes of the same year group) and adapt them slightly. This saves extensive time planning lessons.
- Reduce the amount of marking teachers have to do. For example, set word limits on pieces of written work so there’s less to mark.
- Encourage teachers to work for a set amount of hours each day. For example, they could get to school for 7am and leave around 4:30pm and only work within these hours. You should also suggest they make a to-do list ordered by priority and not feel guilty if they don’t complete the tasks at the bottom of their list.
Show Them Their Value
Teachers may think that their efforts are in vain if they feel undervalued. Therefore, you should always try to show teachers that they’re valued. Reward their achievements and always thank them for all their hard work. Where possible, you could offer a few little luxuries, such as fresh fruit in the staff room, and treat them to things like meals out.
Encourage Continuous Learning
Schools are learning cultures by nature, but usually for students. You could create a culture where your staff are always learning, too. Give staff a chance to learn a new skill or improve their current skills, such as through resilience training or mindfulness training. Continuous learning helps you to feel more optimistic about life and also helps you build confidence. Using a professional development plan is great for deciding what they’d like to work on and organising it.
Teacher mental health is incredibly important and something we should all protect and support. Teacher burnout is too common and will continue to be a problem if it isn’t rectified. Use the tips in this article and improve the mental health of teachers in your school.
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