Anyone working in schools will know that if teachers are happy and healthy, and they are able to deliver engaging lessons to their best of their ability, the outcome is that we have happy pupils who are progressing well, both academically and emotionally.
Teachers are no strangers to adapting to change – whether that might be changing schools, a change in curriculum, hundreds of new faces and names to learn each year, reporting systems and policies, or a change of culture and language, common for those teaching in international schools. So, when 2020 threw possibly the biggest challenge of a generation at teachers all over the world, it didn´t surprise anyone that they adapted so easily. Looking after our teachers, though, and recognising this period has presented a new type of challenge, is crucial for their continued wellbeing and to the success of the students in their care.
Teachers have been working in ways they had never expected, shifting to online teaching with little or no time to prepare for the change, juggling the demands of family life with school in a completely different way. Looking after their own health and wellbeing during this time was, understandably, low on the priority list. The return to school when restrictions were eased saw many teachers filled with emotion at being reunited with children and colleagues they had not seen for many months, yet they still had to adapt to new regulations, teaching in masks, and adjusting their styles of teaching to meet social-distancing needs.
The mental health and wellbeing of teachers can influence the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils, as well as educational outcomes, and so it is crucial to encourage a global understanding of how to support teachers. Dr Jane White, Public Health Intelligence Adviser for NHS Scotland, highlighted this potential impact on children´s achievement in a 2020 report, and identified six key aspects of a working environment that have the potential to contribute to work-related stress: demands, control, support, relationships, role and change. All six of these aspects of teaching life were affected by Covid-19.
The report also found that teacher burnout can be approached in a number of ways, which are reinforced by advice from MIND, a leading UK charity for better mental health.
The charity advises:
- Connect with people
- Use available support
- Take care with news and information, especially at this time of social media overload and conflicting advice
- Make time for yourself where possible
- Try to keep active
- Look after your physical health
Heads of Schools across the Globeducate family reported teachers having a sense of worry and concern for their students, even though the practicalities of online lessons were running smoothly. “One of the key parts of school life is the teacher-student relationship, which can be hard to recreate online if this is not the normal teaching environment,” explains Chief Education Officer Daniel Jones. “Our teachers worked extra hard to ensure students felt that relationship was still strong, over the computer, coming up with creative ways to reach out to students they were concerned about, and investing many extra hours into simply being available.”
“It was an immensely stressful period as a leader, seeing the extra pressure on my team and how many had to juggle responsibility to their class children with responsibility as a parent to their own children and family. We met regularly online to talk about challenges and to share what was going well, and I do think that our previous year´s training in mindfulness helped those of us who had taken the course provided by the school. As a team, I felt that we were able to reflect as we went along and we all came through stronger for it – the challenge now is different because we are in school and managing a very different start to the academic year with distancing, bubbles and masks to manage. It is as important now as it was during the school closure to give teachers the time and opportunities to reflect together and to support each other, and to feel supported by their school leadership team.”
Claire Jones, Head of Primary, Nobel International School Algarve
Once teachers returned to school, senior leaders in schools across the group had to acknowledge and plan for long-lasting implications on teacher well-being – many teachers were worried about returning to school because of health risks. Remaining focused and energised at a time of uncertainty and constantly changing regulations is a challenge most were unprepared for and it is as important to look after our teachers´ mental health as their professional development – which is the area school leaders are more experienced in.
“In a large, global network like ours, Globeducate schools have always had the opportunity to attend global events and to connect with other schools. Since March 2020, we have built on the virtual platforms we had already established and used these extremely well to ensure all of our students, parents and teachers remain emotionally, socially and professionally connected. The virtual meetings –whether they be Heads of Schools or Academic curriculum cluster, a Reading Community, Outdoor Education Community, an Eco-Schools meeting or engaging in Globeducate virtual events such as Debates, Models United Nations or WWF webinar – has been of high impact. Despite being one of the largest international school groups in the world, I am proud of the very tight-knit global community we have been able to develop and maintain, and to ensure our professional relationships are strong of such high calibre. Our school leaders have also been very imaginative in creating opportunities to engage with teachers. Online quizzes, virtual birthday celebrations (including blowing out of candles), staff room coffee breaks, personal emails and letters of thanks as well as regular phone conversations are some of the strategies we have used to touch base, check-in and provide support to our teachers during such unprecedented times.”
Oanh Crouch, Globeducate Director of Education
Every year, UN World Mental Health Day is marked on 10th October.