Teacher wellbeing: teachers need our support now more than ever

Stephen Phipps, associate dean at Academy 21, discusses teacher wellbeing in a remote world fighting COVID-19

With many parents getting to grips with home-schooling over the past few weeks, there’s no doubt that there has been an increased appreciation for the role of the teacher in a child’s education. A job that’s a dream and a joy to many, but incomprehensible to others, teachers are certainly under the microscope, arguably now more than ever.

University College London conducted a study that found “around 5% of teachers today are suffering long-lasting mental health problems, up from just 1% in the 1990s”, and according to the Teacher Wellbeing Index, two-thirds of people who work in education would describe themselves as stressed.

As well as these more well-known challenges that can impact teacher wellbeing, COVID-19 has also added another dimension, as many have had to swap the classroom for their home environments and laptops. This shift has forced them to become ‘online teachers’, with many lacking the necessary skills or support to make teaching and learning as effective as possible.

When becoming an “online teacher” one element that’s vital to adapt to is the new environment – getting comfortable with teaching through a screen rather than in the classroom and adjusting to a lack of physical interaction. Whilst initially these can both seem obscure, with the right training and support networks in place, teachers can become just as productive working from home, if not more, particularly as there are fewer distractions.

Communication is important for teacher wellbeing

Talking is key to addressing and minimising mental health and wellbeing difficulties. It’s crucial that all teachers have a support network around them who they feel comfortable enough to reach out to should they have any problems or questions. To develop a suitable action plan and help support staff in both the short and long run, senior leaders should be in regular contact with members of staff to gain a greater understanding of the challenges being faced.

Balanced lifestyle and strong role models

Whilst many teachers may often exceed the hours of their ‘working day’, it’s important to take a step away from work and be strict with yourself about it. If working from home, it’s important to take regular breaks from the computer just as you would in a normal school day, and it’s also essential to leave the classroom behind when the day is over.

Relieving pressure

Mental health issues amongst teachers have increased as the culture of accountability and pressure to attain results has grown. Accountability regimes should be replaced with ones that are more supportive and offer schools ways to develop. The onus on working to hit targets should be removed and teachers should be enabled to focus on the job in hand – teaching and learning.

During the lockdown, many teachers have turned to distance-learning resources or platforms. With the right tools and services, edtech can streamline a lot of administration for staff, helping them focus on teaching and lesson planning as well as relieving some of the pressure that may have been there before. Training teachers in how to optimise their use of edtech will not only aid them in the current situation, but also help them prepare the ‘new normal’ and the role of technology in supporting education.

Teacher wellbeing is a hugely sensitive topic and one that we must tackle with the upmost care and precaution. In the current situation, we must be even more understanding and supportive of teachers who find themselves facing new challenges. And as we prepare for students to return to school, in whatever form that may look like, we must learn from this experience and use it to support teachers in the future.

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