Ten New Year’s Resolutions to Improve Teacher Well-being

New Year’s resolution is a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behaviour (source-Wikipedia).

During the Christmas break I received an email from my school informing us that we now had a dedicated helpline that we can call if we felt we needed help with stress. Sadly this ‘sticking plaster’ does not tackle the real issue of what is causing stress in the first place and, in my view, schools should would be better served constructing clear work policies which set out the expectations around workload for teachers clearly and unambiguously.

Since it is new year, and new year’s resolutions are all about changing undesired traits or behaviours, I thought I would set myself the task of coming up with ten things teachers can do to shed some of the undesired traits or behaviours which contribute to stress and affect health and well-being.

  1. Have set email time: Many of the emails we get are not important or relevant to us. Set aside one period of the day when you deal with emails. I do this first thing in the morning. Aim to answer the five most important ones and note any actions required as a result. DO NOT deal with further emails until the same time the next day.
  2. Turn off alerts from teaching-related sites that you follow. Go to those sites when you want to look for something not when something ‘pops up’
  3. Spend minimal time planning: It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel by making your own resources. There are plenty of quality books, articles and shared resources on sites such as TES.  Leading educator, Colin Harris writing in the TES today claims that,  ‘Too often teachers spend every night planning lessons into the early hours. This must stop’  (https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/too-often-teachers-spend-every-night-planning-lessons-early-hours). You can plan an effective lesson with a hook, lesson objectives, main task, assessment time and plenary making use of resources already out there.  It is the structure and content of the lesson not the resources which will bring success.
  4. Revisit rules for learning:  Share your expectations with students at the start of each new term. Never be afraid to revisit classroom rules and to practise classroom routines so that students know what you expect of them in terms of behaviour.  Explain that it is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to learn.
  5. Be dispassionate: Do not react emotionally after a confrontation with a student. You are the adult and what they think of you does not matter. Follow your discipline policy calmly, consistently and without judgement. This brings other students on board and reinforces your rules and expectations.
  6. Reward more than you sanction: This is a powerful technique to enable good students to gain attention and for them to help you model good behaviour. ‘Thank you, John, for listening to me first time’ Tommy, you have a merit point for being the first student to ……..’
  7. Do not be made to feel inadequate by other staff who stay up into the wee hours making fantastic resources and/or laminating sets of subject-related top-trump, traffic light, ABCD cards etc. If you have to do this yourself then don’t do it. Whole class questioning is a useful AFL technique but students can write their own T, F or 1,2,3, on a bit of paper in 30 seconds and this takes absolutely nothing away from the purpose of the activity.
  8. Do not mark everything: Model marking of an essay for example by marking one PEEL point, explaining what you are looking for and how it fits with the mark-scheme. Then get students to mark the rest of the essay and write their own feedback on what they can do to improve their answer.
  9. Say no: Tell people firmly and politely that you won’t have time or be able to do something at work. This could be your line manager, or it could even be your class. Both of them should respect you for telling the truth.
  10. Be mindful: even one or two moments each day spent on a basic mindfulness technique will help you to cope better with the stress of your day. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and relax your knees.  Focus on a point about two inches below your navel and about an inch into your body. Spend a few moments focusing on this point and feeling gravity connecting your body to the earth. Do this before an important meeting or a difficult class to help centre your emotions.

Happy New Year!

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