Staff wellbeing: Coming back from the brink...

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:

When the job feels like it’s getting too much, thoughts can turn to quitting. However, many teachers have come back from the brink, as Julian Stanley explains...

At the Education Support Partnership, we hear a lot on our free confidential helpline from teachers and education staff who are stressed and feel criticised whatever they do.

“I feel set up to fail,” is a common concern among callers desperate to know how they can cope with what seems to be an overly demanding head, head of department or senior leader.

“Everything was fine until we got a new head,” is also something our telephone counsellors hear a lot.

Some teachers find the stress at work so unbearable that they leave the profession. This is often a personal tragedy for them, but it is also a huge waste for education.

Our counsellors do not direct callers or advise them on what to do, they guide and help them to come to the best decision for themselves. For some teachers and stressed-out education staff, that turns out to be staying in teaching, but moving school.

“I found a much better school and it’s all fine now,” is another comment we hear a lot on feedback from our callers. We’re always very grateful to callers who give us this feedback, which is anonymous, as this helps us to establish why so many teachers leave or are tempted to leave teaching. And it helps us to tailor and monitor the help we offer.

I am always saddened at the loss of any teacher from a school, but I do understand that sometimes people find it impossible to work with someone and so move to another school or college. With recruitment and retention still very much an issue in schools, this option may well be available. Though of course it depends where you live and if you’re able to move.

However, imagine how much easier everyone’s working lives would be if all schools were pleasant places to work. If people looked forward to going in every day and maybe, quietly, missed it during the summer holidays...

We are trying to get the message across to leaders that keeping staff is as important as recruiting staff and in something of a buyers’ market, teachers can afford to be a bit choosy.

So we urge leaders to make their schools and colleges attractive places to work. At the National Association of Head Teachers annual conference last month, we led a workshop on the topic of mental health and wellbeing in schools.

School leaders can do a very great deal towards encouraging wellbeing among their staff and I really do think more and more are getting this message. We are certainly doing our best to see that they do.

I sometimes think that a job where you feel a bit unhappy, maybe unappreciated, is like a party. We have probably all been to parties or social events where we maybe felt some kind of obligation to attend but weren’t enjoying ourselves and thought about finishing our drinks and canapés and leaving. But give it another 30 minutes and it can change.

Some jobs are like that too. Give it a bit longer and it may improve. Sometimes just setting yourself the task of lasting one more month or one more term can help you relax a little more: “I know I can go if I want to but I’m just going to see if I can make this work.”

That mindset may help to remove some of the stress from working in a school where you are unhappy. Also a new term brings a fresh intake – of staff as well as pupils. It might get better.

If you are working for a head or a senior leader who you think doesn’t hear you and treats you as if you were a cog in a wheel – something else our callers sometimes say to us – it is small wonder you may not feel happy at work.

But here’s another tip you could try – see it from their point of view. I know, that’s not easy when you’re feeling unappreciated or unheard. Or if there’s simply a personality clash between you, as happens in all workplaces. However, I am not asking you to do this for their sake – I’m suggesting it because it may help you. Sometimes seeing it from the other person’s viewpoint is enormously beneficial.

Imagine the stress they’re under too – to perform, to have a good Ofsted, to attract new students. See them as human as you are. It is worth a try and I promise that it might help.

We have evidence that the message about better leadership is getting through. One recent caller to our helpline, an NQT, said that after calling us he managed to find the courage to talk to his mentor and explain how tough he was finding it. His colleagues responded warmly and gave him a great deal of support. I know that not all stressed teachers will be as fortunate, but if you don’t give your leaders a chance to be understanding you will never know if they are willing and able to be so.

There are many good leaders out there. Heads who see themselves more as a coach than a manager. Good leadership can be learned and fortunately we see lots of good examples in schools – often they are the ones who also seek our support because they recognise that they need help too (we have a wide range of services for school leaders as well as all education staff).

I hope that as the school holidays approach you’re planning some much-deserved rest and relaxation. And if you’re struggling, remember – it may all look different in September...

  • Julian Stanley is CEO of the Education Support Partnership.

Further information

For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk. If you are a school, college or university who would like a staff wellbeing consultant to visit your workplace, visit www.edsupport.org.uk/helping-your-staff


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