From education to employment

At a time when morale is dropping, fostering community and collaboration, not competition, is key for the future of education

There’s no mistaking that the past couple of years have been tough for educators.

There was the overnight overhaul of teaching needed to accommodate lockdown, followed by staff and pupil absences once returning to the classroom, and uncertainty around exams and lost learning throughout.

These have all created difficulties across schools, and, according to the Tes Wellbeing Report 2022, staff confidence is down 41 percentage points year on year. Furthermore, 67% of teachers say their workload is unmanageable, and there’s been widespread concern around the morale of teachers, and the impact this has on staff retention and recruitment at such a crucial period.

This may be little surprise after the past couple of years, but it comes amidst already growing frustrations around things such as Ofsted, the increasing number of examinations being required, league tables and the continued path of marketisation. All of this breeds competition, both with ourselves, other teachers and other schools, whilst placing the focus on continually meeting metrics, rather than the measures of success we’d like to see – are our pupils and staff happy? Are we providing safe and diverse learning environments?

But, despite these challenges, this is by far not the only story coming from our schools. The daily reality is that whilst teachers and staff are often tired and overwhelmed, they are also continuing to provide quality education, going the extra mile for their students and making every school great.

It’s so important to celebrate the things that are going well in our schools, no matter how small, and collaborate with one another to help share the burdens. It’s easy to focus on all the things we aren’t doing, or not doing enough of, without celebrating all those brilliant things that are being done every day.

That’s why Above & Beyond was born – to promote those successes, and provide the space to share what’s been going well, as well as those areas we’re struggling with.

Social media can sometimes seem like competition in its purest form, with seemingly picture perfect lives prompting feelings of insecurity compared to others. With Above & Beyond, we wanted to create a safe and inclusive space away from some of the noise and pressure that comes from other platforms. We aim to create communities based around a range of topics, from safeguarding to Head Teacher chats, and enabling collaboration. Through our regular podcasts, networking sessions and virtual events, we can uplift our community, and create an atmosphere of collaboration and collective support.

Often we can feel like focusing on ourselves and our own wellbeing as teachers and school staff can be selfish, especially whilst juggling numerous other considerations and being squeezed by shrinking budgets. But in my experience, fostering greater wellbeing was crucial to helping turn around the school I was working in. Investing in staff wellbeing, and reducing some of the pressures on staff including things such as unnecessary morning briefings, we were able to increase staff retention and attendance which took us from from the bottom 1% of schools to the top 0.1%.

It’s not always easy to unlearn the habits drilled into us by competitive thinking, and as formal examinations wind back into life, and the pressures of league tables continue, there’s no quick fix, but helping staff feel valued and listened to, whilst offering space to compare notes and share tips can begin to foster greater collaboration.

Too often it feels like we move from one box ticking exercise to another without stopping to take stock of the achievements that get us there along the way. We all do better, including our students, when we take the time to appreciate our own achievements, and the achievements of others, and can find ways to come together and work alongside one another.

Alison Kriel is the founder of the newly launched ‘Above & Beyond Education’

Alison was an inner-city Executive Head Teacher for nearly 20 years and a CEO for 5 years. She has a passion for social justice leadership, wellbeing, equity, inclusion and diversity.

In her time as head teacher, Alison helped turnaround a poor performing school after shifting her own focus towards teacher and pupil wellbeing, taking the school from the bottom 1% of schools to the top 0.1%.

She hopes to combat the focus on competition in our education system that has led to ever increasing dissatisfaction and low morale within schools, and instead promote collaboration and share opportunities to celebrate the hard work that goes into providing education across the country.

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