Teachers’ wellbeing and self-worth are of paramount importance if they are to nurture similar confidence in their pupils. Elizabeth Holmes discusses what steps can be taken to support this important area of CPD
CPD Week Info sheet – Values in Professional Learning.pdf
Self-worth comes from one thing – thinking that you are worthy.
Is it possible to nurture the wellbeing of others if we don’t nurture it in ourselves? Is it possible to separate the professional and the personal when it comes to learning on the job? To what extent does the development of self-worth feature in the professional learning plans of your school? These questions all provide food for thought in this edition of CPD Week.
Spotlight on self-worth
I regularly run training and development sessions for school staff on enhancing wellbeing at work. These sessions are both a privilege and a challenge to run; a privilege, because wellbeing for school staff is arguably the most important professional learning goal for schools, and a challenge, because so often teachers tell me that focusing on wellbeing feels self-indulgent.
I often take time out of the session to explain that developing wellbeing at work isn’t only acceptable, it’s essential. Far from being self-indulgent, it allows us to focus on self-development. Wellbeing is a challenge: it requires us to acquire self-knowledge, and that doesn’t come easily. The less demanding option is to indulge in self-destructive habits which destroy our confidence and our work performance. But being a victim of circumstances is neither big nor clever.
The fact is, there are real limits to the extent that we can nurture wellbeing in others if we are incapable of allowing ourselves to focus on it. If our belief is that wellbeing and self-worth are an indulgence or psychological frippery that macho teachers can do without, the impact that any professional learning can have will be fundamentally flawed. So how can we put these concepts first in our plans for professional development?
- Develop a positive whole-school attitude towards wellbeing – one that doesn’t leave teachers feeling its pursuit is self-indulgent. Learning about wellbeing ultimately comes from within. External input can provide food for thought, but the goal is self-knowledge, not imposed knowledge.
- Encourage flexibility. So much of what school staff members have to achieve in their working lives is dictated by deadlines. When possible, encourage flexibility. There’s little point in something being done to deadline if more time would give better results. If your school can breathe easy when it comes to deadlines – within reason, of course – chances are more staff will be encouraged to take risks and stretch their previous limits. This is a great shortcut to enhanced self-worth.
- Make the enhancement of wellbeing and self-worth an explicit goal of professional learning. This will raise its profile and help to anchor its importance as a feature of professional development.
- Improve the extent to which staff members determine their path of professional learning. Allowing them to identify development needs and pursue activities which will help to meet those needs with a sense of supported autonomy is far more likely to enhance self-worth than imposing development targets.
- Encourage staff to explore the inherent tensions between their own goals for professional learning and those of the school as an institution. Acknowledging these helps to find points of contact; leaving them unacknowledged contributes to resentment, which limits learning.
- Emphasise empowerment in professional learning. This comes most effectively through a commitment to learning from all situations encountered. Meeting learning halfway is the least we can do, and being aware that it takes time for the effects of professional learning to be truly felt keeps our minds open. We can never be sure how much our professional learning will impact us or when it is going to be most helpful. Instant evaluations cannot take account of the fact that learning is often a slow burn.
There’s a bottom line here which has to be faced, and that is: supporting your wellbeing and self-worth at work isn’t just OK – it’s more than that. Without being given, and accepting, the permission to put wellbeing first, the progress we can make with pupils’ learning and development is necessarily limited. If this permission isn’t forthcoming from within an individual it has to be made explicit in the workplace, and one of the most effective ways of achieving this is through the blending of the professional and the personal in the development that your school undertakes. Do we have an option on this? Not if we’re serious about our commitment to the wellbeing of the children in our care.
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This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2009
About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.