What teachers want from SLT to improve their wellbeing | Education Support

Coronavirus update: Throughout this crisis we're here to provide mental health and wellbeing support to all education staff. Find out more.

What do staff want from leaders - teacher wellbeing

What teachers want from SLT to improve their wellbeing

Having been a middle leader since 2014, I find myself in the privileged position of being both a classroom teacher and part of the middle leadership team. As a result I see and understand the challenges and needs of both the classroom teacher and that of school leaders.

I’ve also worked with 3 very different types of senior leader teams, all with differing levels of trust, support and scrutiny. Consequently, I’ve learnt a thing or two on how not to lead, but also what helps to develop an effective, collaborative community where there is trust and autonomy. The latter of which evidently leads to happier, healthier staff.

In it together

School staff generally don’t want there to be a ‘us and them’ culture. School staff want to see our school leaders particularly senior, taking an active role in the life of the school; teaching their own lessons, doing learning walks and learning from them, allowing their staff to observe them teach, involving themselves in the professional development that all staff undertake and generally being a part of the school community. Teachers don’t want school leaders sitting in ivory towers, looking down on us and giving us their demands without experiencing what it is like to be implementing them, whether it be the policies, non-negotiables or expectations, for themselves.

Reasonable demands and expectations

However when so many senior school leaders either no longer teach or teach so few lessons its barely comparable to the timetable of a full-time classroom teacher, they may not recognise the impact of their expectations for teaching staff. Therefore what they may see as little work for perhaps an individual class or lesson, when implemented on a large scale across a full timetable,becomes a burden on the limited directed time available. Teachers want the expectations placed on us to be reasonable and doable in the time in which we are employed, because truthfully its unreasonable to expect us to work for free.

This means teachers need manageable, reasonable and achievable school policies and procedures which give us a level of autonomy and trust.

Support not scrutiny

Following on from expectations, teachers need school leaders to support us rather than scrutinise us. Having gone from one school where scrutiny was prevalent with regular lesson observations and book checks which left you feeling like you were always being watched, to a school where I feel I am trusted to make decisions with my team, to teach how we feel appropriate for the content and students in our care, I can see that trust makes a big difference to the day to day work in which we do.

Teachers, generally don’t mind being observed in order to share good practice, to learn from each other and to develop what we do. But when observations and book checks are used to scrutinise and criticise, it takes a toll on our wellbeing and health which is clearly evident in Education Support’s Teacher Wellbeing Index 2019.

Appreciation

It doesn’t take much to show true appreciation for the hard work, effort and time teachers and leaders put into their working day, but it does require noticing. School leaders need to engage with their staff, see what they do and hear about it too. Find ways for staff to shout about the great things they’ve seen going on or are doing themselves and take the time to acknowledge them. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture but noticing and appreciating the small parts that make up the big picture is invaluable. School leaders whether senior or middle, need to get to know their staff, notice what they do and celebrate it. A sincere thank you is far more powerful than token gestures like cake in the staff room (not that teachers don’t enjoy a piece of cake now and then). Please take the time to notice and appreciate what staff do. On that note, teachers take the time to do the same for your school leaders too!

No to ‘wellbeing’ days

Leaders, if you’re thinking of incorporating the so called ‘wellbeing day’ into your INSET timetable, please don’t. Wellbeing is individual so whilst a massage, walk or other treat during the school day might be nice, it doesn’t help with the workload. Instead please just give staff reasonable expectations and the time needed in order to meet them. Instead of a wellbeing day or session, why not give staff time for collaboration in order to plan, moderate or something similar so they don’t need to do so after school or at lunch.

Question and assess

Finally, for school leaders, both middle and senior, before implementing changes, undertake workload assessments, consider how it will impact all those involved. Ask the important questions:

  • What will be required from teachers to make it succeed?
  • What will be required from school leaders too?
  • What is the time demand associated?
  • How will it impact other expectations and whole school requirements?
  • Who will benefit and how?
  • And finally, does the time required outweigh the impact? If the answer is yes, please rethink.

As a teacher and middle leader, I just want inspiring, supportive and happy colleagues. I don’t want there to be an ‘us and them’ culture in the school community or high levels of scrutiny and mistrust. But I do want a work-life balance where I can look after my wellbeing in the way I see fit, so I can be the best I can be for my students and team. Really, isn’t that what most of us want?

To read more on Victoria’s experiences and advice check out her blog, MrsHumanities.com, follow her on twitter (@MrsHumanities) and keep an eye out for the release of ‘Making it as Teacher’ with Routledge in Summer 2019.

How we can help

Working in education is demanding so we’ve designed a set of services to help you check how your teams are coping, troubleshoot problems and boost everyone’s wellbeing. Find out more

If you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing please call our free and confidential helpline: 08000 562561.