Teaching is, without a doubt, a rewarding and fulfilling profession. However, it’s also one that requires stamina, persistence and love of a challenge. It’s an occupation that comes with high levels of stress, often mirroring that experienced by doctors and nurses, and as a result many teachers decide to leave the profession early on.
In the UK alone, it’s estimated that 40% leave teaching in first three years. Historically, training hasn’t done much to prepare individuals for the emotional labour that teaching takes, and many find themselves facing pressures without the understanding of how to manage them.
Unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown
While wellbeing in education is certainly not a new issue, this year has really put the concept under the microscope as teachers have faced unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
Teachers understand that what they do matters, but this sense of purpose and meaning can be lost among heavy workloads, deadlines, the needs of students and their lives outside of their career.
The emerging wellbeing crisis within the sector not only impacts teachers but students and the broader profession too. Left unchecked, poor wellbeing among the teaching community can lead to burnout and feeling disengaged, which in turn effects the performance of students and the wider institution.
Not only that, but the sector as a whole is also losing inspiring individuals for future generations to learn from. So, taking steps to help increase and improve the wellbeing of teachers, no matter what stage they are at in their career, should be a priority.
Better collaboration, greater flexibility, workload management and new models of teaching all play a part in addressing issues that can help to breed a happier workforce. But while wellbeing is becoming a bigger focus among leadership teams across education, it will take time for far-reaching changes to come into force.
There are, however, areas that teachers themselves can tap into in order to feel more empowered and able to cope with the demands of the profession today.
1. Managing time more efficiently
For instance, while there will continue to be questions raised around the workload teachers have to contend with, how we see time has an impact on how we deal with being busy. This can affect how we feel as a result.
Lessons in managing time more efficiently can be learned from how seasoned marathon runners tend to approach a race. Runners expend energy carefully, evenly, and concentrate on each mile at a time in order to make the experience and the journey more manageable overall.
The 10×2 running theory, in which someone runs for 10 minutes and walks for two to complete a marathon falls under this idea, and allows a runner to take stock at regular moments within the race, which powers them to them finish line injury-free.
In a similar vein, pacing within the work environment is just as important in order to reach the end of a task, term or year without suffering burnout. Viewing tasks in smaller, more manageable blocks interspersed with regular breaks can help to create a more efficient mental space and improve productivity. Similarly, procrastination can often be the root cause of feeling stressed.
Even simply making a start on a task that has continuously been put off can have a positive impact on wellbeing. As with running, finding the motivation to get up and out to train is often the hardest part – yet is most important for making progress.
2. Focusing on the positive
Similarly, positive emotions matter, particularly in work. Reframing situations to focus on the positive is said to increase resilience, the ability to successfully deal with workplace challenges, overcome upheavals and learn from these events. While this is important to recognise throughout a teaching career, it is even more critical during the ongoing situation of COVID-19.
For example, although incredibly challenging, the pandemic has given many teachers a host of new digital skills and an opportunity to think creatively about how to work together with other departments and deliver lessons remotely. These are highly valuable skills that were learned in an exceptionally short period of time.
Teachers should give and receive the credit that is due for achieving all that they have over the course of 2020 so far and try to reframe the experience with more of a positive outlook.
Positive emotions can also help in developing social resources through greater openness, which results in better connectivity, teamwork, dialogue and emotional attachments. All of these offer a source of support and encouragement that can help provoke greater wellbeing among individuals.
3. Establishing daily routines
Finally, while stressful times and a busy workload can often be used as a reason to skip on both rest and exercise, cutting these out of a routine will have a significant impact of an individual’s wellbeing – and those around them.
Taking time for sleep and movement is a fundamental part of achieving a better sense of wellbeing. Building better habits into our daily routines – from limiting the use of devices from 9pm to simply making sure you’re standing up and moving around every 20 minutes can go a long way to helping boost mental and physical health.
Taking time away from the pressures of work allows the mind to focus in other areas, which is likely to mean an individual is then more productive and positive when they return to the working matter in hand.
Wellbeing practices should be a fundamental part of the teaching profession at every stage of a career
Wellbeing practices should no longer be considered a nice to have or bonus – they should be a fundamental part of the teaching profession at every stage of a career.
With higher numbers of talented teachers continuing to leave the sector, action needs to be taken to bring a stop to this wellbeing crisis. Retaining inspiring educators is critical for the development of the next generation – and it needs everyone to work together to find ways to adjust workloads, finding new and better routes to work together, and tapping into the benefits that technology now offers.
However, alongside this, teachers can themselves makes smaller changes to their work lifestyle immediately, the benefits of which can help create more positive environments for both teachers and students.
Dr Louise Lambert, positive psychologist, Teacherly