Teachers under pressure

Keren Prior has some advice on how headteachers can tackle HR issues and make their own lives easier

Teachers and headteachers appear to be under more pressure than ever. Not only do they lead on teaching and learning, they support and listen to their staff and deal with the concerns of students and parents. According to a 2009 study by researchers at Durham University, the top reasons for leaving the teaching profession are stress, excessive workload, bureaucracy and behaviour issues. The following are ways to make life much easier all round. 

Embrace change

Change is constant in all walks of life and it is no different in the world of education – we are all expected to do “more for less”. Research shows that, in a tough economic climate, it is even more important to maintain wellbeing in order to motivate and retain staff. Leaders and managers are at the heart of establishing an organisational culture which embraces change and includes staff with the emotional resilience to cope with it.

How organisations manage increased demand is critical. Staff cope with change far better when they are clear about why it is happening and are actively involved in the process. Managers must set the vision and support staff to understand how they contribute to it. They must ensure that work is designed effectively and efficiently, but it is equally important for staff to be trusted in how they organise and deliver that work. 

What could help?

Clearly each school has its own context and it is important that all staff are able to put in place solutions that are right for them. Spending time focusing on staff wellbeing/work-life balance can prove invaluable.

One of the key areas that impacts on wellbeing and can often be improved is communication. One simple solution is to look at how, when and where different groups of staff can access information and ensure that no group is excluded when communications are shared. Asking staff for their ideas on how they prefer to receive communications and in what format will provide a better idea of where any gaps are and how they might be filled.

Another key factor is the clarity of roles and responsibilities across the school. Ensuring this is communicated at relevant points to the right people can help reduce anxiety both for individuals and groups of staff.

A very simple but effective tool for improving wellbeing is to celebrate individual or group achievements or contributions publicly. This doesn’t need to be extravagant or expensive, but should include all staff, so timing the celebrations needs to be considered.

Another suggestion is to bring together a group of staff from across the school who feedback suggestions and ideas about how the school might improve their wellbeing. This gives some of the ownership and regard for work-life balance back to the staff as well as the responsibility for generating ideas about how this could be improved.

However, when significant change programmes are needed, these are not so easily absorbed, even by the most engaged staff. In such cases, leaders may wish to look outside the school for expert advice and support from HR professionals to support them with a more defined and structured approach. Getting the approach wrong can impact negatively on the whole school. 

Headteacher wellbeing

While headteachers are responsible for the wellbeing of their staff, they need to recognise that the same factors also impact on themselves. Increased workload and loss of control due to the pressure of external demands and more challenging pupil and staff relationships are negative indicators of wellbeing.

Headteachers should look at and actively engage themselves and their staff in programmes that support teacher wellbeing. Whether newly qualified or in the profession for a long time, teachers and headteachers should be given the resources and assistance to help them fulfil their demanding, yet rewarding role. 

Keren Prior is head of professional development at Essex Education Services, part of Essex County Council W: www.eesportal.org/

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