Saturday, 10 October 2015


I've read a lot of really good blogs recently about teacher well-being, and what a tough nut it is to crack. Depending on whether you come from a leadership point of view or a chalk-face view, you will have different interpretations of where the problems lie, and what the solutions might be.
@kevbartle talked recently about the tokenism of some approaches (free tea and coffee anyone?), or the tick-box approach we are often forced to adopt by external agencies who also want to be seen to be "doing something" to solve the problem. Surprisingly, none of them seem to work. Surprisingly.

For what it's worth, here is my contribution to the debate. I hope it gets to the nub of the problem:

The first given in the debate is this: The business of schools is to produce students who, be it through good exam results or just more ambition, self-respect and belief, are ready for the outside world. We are there to give them "life chances" in the jargon. In a utilitarian view of education, they are the product which feeds the economy, and the product has to be top-notch. From a more humanitarian perspective, students are individual humans whose contribution can improve society if we have done our job well.

The second given is that our job as teachers and school leaders is to deliver that. The ultimate needs of the students must come above our own. Unfortunately, this very often includes the needs of staff well-being, or the needs we may have as normal human beings to have a life. We have chosen a career which, if we let it, can degenerate into a massive black hole for all our energies.

In this context, my contention is this: If students are the products of the system, we are the craftspeople who shape the product. We, and I realise I am risking derision for my choice of words here, are tools. If you're happy for me to carry on with this analogy, it works like this: A craftsman chooses how well he keeps his tools. He can buy them cheap, use them until they wear out, and then just get rid of them. Or, as is the case with real craftsmen, you can look after them carefully, keep them sharp, and produce excellent work with them for a long time.

For me, the well-being debate boils down to this: As a school leader, do your actions contribute towards wearing the tools out prematurely or do they contribute towards keeping them as sharp as possible for as long as possible?

To make my point, under which of the two categories would you place the following activities?
  • Free tea and coffee at break-times
  • Creating support systems around the school (ICT, SIMS, First Aid, school comms etc) which just work reliably day in day out
  • A reliable and easy-to-use VLE
  • Time to meet in teams to plan lessons together
  • Audits of lessons, learning objectives, marking etc
  • Staff socials
  • Timetables which minimise split classes, room changes, etc
  • Timetables which give staff time to socialise and discuss daily problems
  • Setting up a staff well-being committee
  • Staff freebies, such as health insurance or discounts on well-being services
  • Thinking hard about any new initiative, and whether it adds to or distracts from the "main thing": Teaching and learning.
To me, anything which allows teachers to teach more effectively and more efficiently is a sharpening tool: Anything which gets in the way of that is blunting the effectiveness of the tool. Ultimately, that will have knock-on effects for the outcomes we produce as schools.