The top priority in our School Improvement Plan for the last two years has been to improve the wellbeing of staff and pupils.
Over the last year we have tackled this by focussing on reducing teacher workload. To do this we have made significant changes to our policy and practice in a number of areas: our annual reports to parents; our assessment systems; marking expectations; and self-evaluation practices. We have made sure this is really making a difference by carrying out twice-yearly confidential online staff surveys, acting on the findings, and reporting the outcomes to staff and governors.
I have been thinking a lot about how to take this to the next level, as I recognise that improving wellbeing is not just about reducing workload. A quick trawl of the internet, searing for ’causes of teacher stress’ makes some pretty depressing reading. One article I skimmed through on the GRIN website was a 2013 Scientific Study (A Study of Occupational Stress of Secondary School Teachers). This describes and analyses some of the factors that make the job of a teacher particularly stressful. These include role ambiguity (a lack of clarity about expected behavior from a job or position), loss of control, isolation, lack of administration support, emotional exhaustion and lack of accomplishment in the job.
Thinking about ‘loss of control’, I made a Twitter poll about one specific indicator of this. I asked the question – if a child or a group of children in your class are struggling with something, can you decide what to do to help and support them? Do you have a free hand, or is there a rigid whole school approach that you have to follow even if you don’t agree with it?
168 people kindly took the time to answer. Of them:
77% said they could decide what’s best
20% said they had some choice
3% said they had no choice
I understand that this is not a massive sample, but it got me thinking – 23% of the teachers that answered don’t have the full authority from their SLT to do everything they think is right for the children in their class.
It’s really difficult to get the balance right. School’s have policies which teachers are expected to follow, but if these policies are so rigid that they take away the opportunity for teachers to use their professional judgement about how to best help the children in their class, then I would argue that they go too far.
School leaders need to create a climate that allows teachers to be confident in using their own knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning. They also need to give teachers access to the best possible professional development opportunities so that their knowledge and understanding are as highly developed as they can be.
This professional autonomy will also have the benefit of reducing workload – if a school policy or embedded practice is not making a difference to children’s learning it should be challenged and changed.
My next step with this into do the same poll with the teachers in our school, and and in some more questions about whether or not teachers feel in control of aspects of their work. If the results are similar, I think we’ve got the next thing to work on in improving the wellbeing of our teachers – reducing ‘loss of control’.