Over the last 18 months, teacher and staff wellbeing has come under the spotlight due to the considerable pressure, change and uncertainty facing the education sector. The impact of this increasing stress upon workers has to be considered.
Whilst the full agenda behind these periods of time off remains unclear, there is clearly some benefit. The first part of change is noticing that there is a problem. To continue without doing something different will lead to more problems. Understandably an action, such as giving staff spontaneous periods of time off, might be considered better than doing nothing. However, it becomes difficult to judge the sustainability of these efforts without a broader context to place them in.
If time off is an immediate response to an acute and short-lived period of substantially increased stress, this solution may well be considered appropriate. If time off forms an immediate response within a longer-term strategy to address teacher and staff wellbeing and stress in the workplace, this is even better.
However, if this action is tokenistic and a short-lived gesture, attempting to address more systemic and chronic problems of high stress, it is insufficient. Within the education sector, this transferable scenario of 'giving staff a break' becomes more challenging, due to the inflexibility around time off.
So, what do education staff really need to help with their wellbeing? Acknowledgement and validation of the considerable stress they are under, both recent and more broadly? A reduced workload? Protected time for wellbeing? Greater resources? More staff?
The answer may well be a combination of all of these.
Inevitably when looking at improving teacher and staff wellbeing, we can be drawn back to conversations about what needs to change. It may well involve a whole host of internal and external factors. We can constantly feel stuck whilst waiting for the world to change, whether this change be less work, more resources, etc. Whilst we can be part of those conversations, we should equally invest sufficient time and energy in thinking about what we can change to positively affect our own circumstances. There’s unlikely to be one thing to solve it all; more often we see that the accumulation of lots of different strategies is most effective in leading to an improvement in teacher and staff wellbeing.
By taking steps to help manage your own wellbeing, you are not giving up on those external issues that need to change. You are simply focusing your attention and energy on what’s immediately within your control, however small, in order to give you a sense of agency over improving things even when it feels hopeless.
This blog was written by Dr Bear, a clinical psychologist and Wellbeing Director for youHQ and Life on Time. He has worked in the NHS and private sector for 15 years in a variety of roles across the country.