It was brilliant to speak to Kathryn Lovewell this week. After university, Kathryn started her career in education by teaching drama and art workshops in the community. She was invited into a school to start off drama classes and so she completed licensed teacher training and had a very difficult first year. She loved working with young offenders and undertook therapeutic training. This kind of work then led to going back into schools to lead work on wellbeing of students. Kathryn was asked by teachers to do the same kind of work with them and this has now grown into ‘Every Teacher Matters‘, Kathryn’s book and ‘The Teacher Sanctuary‘ online wellbeing provision.
What happens in a school when the wellbeing of teachers is ignored?
Kathryn belives the environment becomes toxic when the wellbeing of teachers is ignored. On top of classic fatigue and burnout, bullying and aggression happens and recruitment and retention become much more difficult. Sickness and absence due to stress would be reduced with more attention paid to wellbeing and there would be a lot more emotional loyalty in schools.
Kathryn says we can start proving wellbeing is linked to positive outcomes for students and the lessons are already there in big businesses like Google and Microsoft where wellbeing is taken very seriously.
Wellbeing is a challenging issue because you don’t get instant results.
Kathryn describes the 10 years she has been doing this work as feeling like smacking her head against a brick wall but now the tide is turning with everyone from governments downwards beginning to talk about character strength, mindfulness and wellbeing as if they had always been there. Kathryn couldn’t even have used those words until very recently. They are seen as ‘fluffy’ concepts but:
The suicide rate amongst teachers is 40% higher than the national average.
Kathryn says often people don’t listen to what she has to say until she quotes this statistic. It’s a global picture, not just in the UK. Some countries are doing much better than the UK but it’s a societal issue. Parents want good grades, of course but we are at a tipping point of what is being measured and why.
How much can you patch teacher wellbeing and how much is embedded in the culture of a school?
Kathryn has lots of evidence that the patches can make a difference and she says she knows she has saved lives with her work. However, fundamental genuine change, has to be down to culture change. In her first year of teaching, Kathryn was a victim of the culture that says that unless you are flogging yourself to death, you aren’t fulfilling your obligations to a school. She was hospitalised by the end of the year. She admits she ‘bought into’ the culture and had issues around perfectionism but:
There is a systemic, cultural structure that I think is inhumane.
Places like Finland have a much better situation with a short school day, lots of play time and no homework.
If the culture change to value wellbeing isn’t led by the head then it won’t happen. In Australia there are now posts for senior leaders who are just looking at the wellbeing of the school. Simple things can make a huge difference:
- Having drinks ready for a staff meeting
- Making sure that staff meeting timings are kept to
- Making the timetable work for staff as well as subjects
- Making sure facilities are plentiful and clean
- Having someone in charge of doing teachers’ dry cleaning!
These very small human things can say, ‘I love you’, ‘I care about you’, ‘you matter’, ‘let me make your life easier’.
When teachers value their own self-care and are supported to do so by the culture of the school, the students know – it feeds their energy and inspiration.
How do you protect against teacher burnout when it comes from the teachers’ own enthusiasm, keenness and utter dedication?
This has to come from the headteacher. Some more simple aspects of this could be around:
- Providing filtered water
- Making getting some food easy
- Make the timetable humane
- Lead by example – this is probably the most important
If the headteacher converses in the staffroom about human things, organises good wholesome food for inset days, makes arrangements for staff with childcare responsibilities or organise the staff to leave the building at the same reasonable time as they do themselves – and not take work home. Kathryn even suggests getting temp staff in to take the workload off staff.
It’s not professional to show a child that you are worth less than your students.
Connect with Kathryn:
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— Jarlath O’Brien (@JarlathOBrien) May 2, 2016
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