The teaching narrative at the moment is hard to swallow. A lot of negativity about the profession, why you shouldn’t become a teacher, and what needs to change dominate discussions about the profession. It is no wonder the case for teacher well-being is being heard loud and clear.
For a number of years I have seen this coming. When I returned from London in 2014 and took up a role as a teacher, moving quickly into leadership, it was evident that the wellbeing of educators was declining, and that stress, overwhelm, and burnout was on the rise. So too were curriculum outcomes, needs of students, and documentation, all which began slowly adding to the workload, with nothing being taken away.
I have always loved teaching and still do. Leaving the classroom to become an advocate for change and an educational consultant was not an easy decision. However, I knew that if I really wanted to impact and support our teachers I had to step away. I was slowly watching teachers and colleagues, who once loved this career, be beaten down, and I couldn’t continue to allow this to happen.
What I also realised at this time, was that I too had to make some decisions about how I wanted to feel and who I wanted to be.
Teaching, as much as we may love it, can be a profession that also comes with a strong identity. If you are not aware of it, this identity can suck you in and have you take on ways of thinking, behaving and acting that only a teacher would understand. I knew I was on the verge of becoming a burnt out teacher if I didn’t make some changes.
Things like removing email from my phone, leaving no later than 5pm each day (and with the students on a Friday), becoming so organised that if I got stuck in traffic each morning it didn’t matter, my classroom would run itself (for a little while anyway). I also had to work on leaving work at work as they say. I know what it’s like to feel like there is always something to do, to worry about a student, or not have something done exactly as I planned. These things though are ways in which you can get sucked into the identity that comes with being a teacher, and at some point, you have to make a choice. A choice that allows you to be okay with knowing that there will always be something to do, that there will always be a student to worry about, and that things won’t always go to plan. This doesn’t mean these things are okay, or that we should accept them, but it does mean we can choose how we approach and think about these things, and other things that come with being a teacher.
For me, this was the first step in making sure teaching was something I could do long-term, and continue to love and find joy in (I would be more than happy teaching now if I didn’t have such a strong desire to enhance teacher and workplace wellbeing). I had to build new habits, be clear with what I wanted, how I would work, and what was going to support me long-term.
When I first asked myself how I wanted to feel, what I needed, and what was going to help me most, this is what I decided:
- Burnout was no longer an option. When I was teaching I used to push myself to do everything, to do it all, and to keep going until the holidays, because that’s when I had earnt my rest. I decided this was not OK and that I would try to actively rest each day (this is why I started to meditate). Instead of working to breaking point and having to ‘earn’ my holidays, breaks or rest times, I now work to a place where I feel fulfilled each day and satisfied with what I have done regardless of what’s on my to-do list, because let’s be honest, there will always be something to do.
- My well-being can be a priority without it taking away from others. I decided I could look after my own well-being and still care about my students, family, friends, colleagues, and everyone else. In fact, I knew I would be better for it, and I definitely am.
- Setting clear boundaries and communicating these was a game changer. I became really clear on what and how I was prepared to work, both at school and at home. Note: What they don’t tell you about boundaries though is that they take time to develop, you need to share them with others so they can support you, and every now and then you will let one slide. What matters most is you feel confident and supported to set them and stick to them.
Teacher well-being might be a hot topic, and we know it needs addressing, so along with the above, and deciding what it is you want, need, and are willing to do to allow you to teach well and live well, I also want to share the following with you.
I have done a significant amount of work with teachers and leaders over the past year, in schools and individually, through PD, masterminds, online courses, and coaching, and what I can tell you is this:
- teachers don’t want quick fixes, they want to change and long-term solutions;
- there is a sense of feeling tired, but also a willingness to reset and be proactive to get ready for next year; and
- many are looking for ways to help leaders understand and implement strategies for change.
What I also want to highlight is that there is an overlooked positivity our teachers hold, and because of this, we need to support them and work with them to bring about the change we need. This is not just about well-being but reducing workload, working more effectively, and establishing better working cultures.
How are you going to do this in 2023?
Learn more about Teacher wellbeing in Amy’s new book HERE