Recently the 2021 Education Support Partnerships Teacher Well-being Index was released, again highlighting the serious concerns of poor mental health for educational professionals. In her forward, Sinead McBrearty, CEO of Education Support stated that:
Three quarters of the workforce experience behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms of poor well-being due to work.
Whilst we acknowledge the incredible additional strain that the pandemic has placed on the education sector, this does not diminish the fact that those working in our schools, colleges and education settings, were already experiencing poor mental health and the associated behaviour, psychological and physical symptoms, before the pandemic hit.
Over a five-year trend, identified in the 2021 Teacher Well-being Index, levels of stress, particularly for senior leaders in schools remains high, with 84% reporting high levels of stress in 2021. Just over half of staff wanted to leave the education profession in the last five years, with excessive workload and poor work-life balance being the main drivers for this cited.
The Government is trying to address some fundamental practical steps which will improve mental health culture by funding training for senior health leads and mental health first aid training within Secondary Schools. It is also trying to promote senior leaders to create a healthier well-being climate by introducing the new, 12 point well-being charter and has pledged £760,000 of funding for a new Education Support Scheme, which will provide school leaders with one-to-one counselling and peer support.
However, another aspect which is key to promoting improved mental health in education is the links to each schools’ culture, which research shows: “School culture is considered as an important characteristic that influences teachers’ behaviour and teacher’s attitudes.” (e.g. Hopkins 2001; Seashore 2009). So how can school leaders create a positive well-being culture, which can support their staff and help to influence behaviours that can contribute to reducing the levels of poor mental health being exhibited within the education system.
What are some other ways leaders can support a well-being culture?
- Creating a safe space in which individuals feel able to talk about their individual mental health needs.
- Knowing the signs and symptoms associated with poor mental health and having appropriate conversations to support staff.
- Whole staff training on mental health so everyone can engage in both learning and conversations about mental health. There is a myriad of free resources for leaders but also that you can share with staff (check out the links at the end).
- Set boundaries and help colleagues to stick to them.
- Reviewing and reducing workload - if something does not add value or impact, why are you doing it? Do you really need that meeting or 5pm email or can it wait?
- Create value and trust in staff surveys so staff feel able to have a voice and can see leaders taking purposeful actions: “this is what you said - this is what we have done!”
- Invest time in staff - this could be ensuring access to training, coaching, supervision and mentoring and ensuring aspects like planning and preparation time (PPA) is protected. It could be as simple as a check in!
- Promote staff agency and control by supporting greater collaborative practices and provide space for professional reflection.
- Senior leaders need to role model and promote the importance of self-care within the school culture. Are staff supported to be more self-aware and know what works for them to support and manage their mental health?
- Avoid enforcing ‘well-being’ activities as everyone will have different strategies and approaches for what works for them.
- Promote random acts of kindness, share appreciation, thanks and gratitude as a daily and regular part of school life, from all members of the school community.
For the latter we have a simple, easy and free suggestion to get you started on making a change. It is these small gifts of gratitude and moments of appreciation that TAP (www.thankandpraise.com) is seeking to promote within our education, health care and social care sectors.
TAP is a unique social thanking platform, to thank our Unsung Heroes and pass on messages of thanks and gratitude. Organisations can have a ‘Thanking Wall’ where messages can be posted to.
The TAP App also makes it even easier to give thanks and gratitude. Just download from your App Store searching for ‘TAP Thank and Praise’ and you’re ready to go! You can also sign up to the TAP newsletter and receive a little email of positivity in to your inbox.
The education sector cannot change overnight, but if we can start making small changes, to build bigger ripples, then we might help to make 2022 more mentally healthier for those working in education.
- Education Support: https://teachershub.educationsupport.org.uk/school-culture/tackling-drivers-poor-mental-health-and-well-being/
- Education Support Partnership Appreciation Video: https://youtu.be/yhRRYJiPf08
- Mentally Healthy Schools - Anna Freud Centre: https://www.mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk/?gclid=CjwKCAiAksyNBhAPEiwAlDBeLOqbFrMuOZLcZe_1E6mDHaAnni6vTdTEfBGLc4n7r0EylPj_vcFMcRoCS5oQAvD_BwE
- Mentally Well Schools: https://mentallywellschools.co.uk/free-resources/
- Department of Health, Every Mind Matters self care tool: https://campaignresources.phe.gov.uk/schools/resources/every-mind-matters-self-care-tool
Hopkins, D. (2001). School improvement for real. London: Routledge-Falmer.
Seashore, K. R. (2009). Leadership and change in school: Personal reflections over the last 30 years. Journal of Educational Change, 10, 129-140