Elizabeth Holmes discusses the health and happiness of members of school staff, and why they are essential to a successful CPD programmepdf-9990402

CPD Week Info Sheet – Devising Training on Well-being.pdf

On the day when the weight deadenson your shouldersand you stumble,may the clay danceto balance you.

From Beannacht by John O’Donohue

At a time when ministers have announced an expansion to the Healthy Schools programme, it’s natural to ask questions about the extent to which this scheme supports teachers and other school staff. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Teacher Support Network, 87% of respondents had experienced stress and 42% had experienced depression in the previous two years. With established links between the wellbeing of staff and the achievement of young people, it’s time to put wellbeing at the heart of professional learning in schools. This issue we show you how, and why, to make a start.

CPD for wellbeing
There is no doubt that the issue that dominates my mailbox most is that of wellbeing in schools. And it’s not just about teacher wellbeing, either. The health and happiness of all members of staff, as well as pupils, remains a major concern for many.

This stage of a term is a perfect time to focus on wellbeing. Enough days have passed for us to be able spot the pressure points, and enough time remains for us to do something constructive about them.

It could be argued that there is, or at least should be, a wellbeing element to all professional learning. There is absolutely no point in taking in new learning if its implementation has such a negative impact on overall wellbeing that outcomes diminish our professional capacity rather than enhancing it. For a fresh approach to professional learning which fully respects the inherent need for wellbeing to rest at its core, try the ‘diet’ outlined below (I promise there are no points to count!). All professional learning, regardless of its primary theme, can usefully incorporate these ideas:

  • Enhanced awareness: staff need to be aware of what they’re absorbing at school. Attitudes can drain and platitudes can disappoint. Help staff to set clear boundaries which show that they’re only interested in that which enhances their experience and expertise in their role. Everything else detracts from the development and promotion of good teaching and learning.
  • Reduced consumption: ease up on consumption of negative stress. Too much of it makes our minds flabby and incapable of the degree of development we know we can achieve. It sucks drive and ambition and convinces us we’re capable of less when in reality the opposite is true.
  • Critical thinking: this is just the kind of exercise that keeps us toned and healthy. It means processing professional learning – contextualising it and taking it further in your school, not lifting it off the peg and discarding it it’s not a perfect fit first time! Professional learning nearly always involves a digestion process after initial ingestion. Unless this is accepted, much professional learning will be considered a waste of time and have an unnecessarily negative impact on overall wellbeing.
  • Altering perspectives: encourage staff to maintain links with those in other schools. It’s easy for schools to become insular, especially when self-evaluation is such a prominent part of school leadership. Communicating with those in other schools can help to guard against this, offering a greater sense of perspective and in turn encouraging overall wellbeing. Collaborate with schools in your locality over professional learning as much as possible.
  • Regular reflection: through this staff can be encouraged to develop a positive sense of self and of the contributions they are making. Reflection helps to keep things realistic and avoid overly negative self-criticism which swamps wellbeing.
  • Discussion groups: the opportunity to discuss things with others can be rare in schools but such structures can greatly enhance both wellbeing and professional learning. In fact, it is the chance to engage in professional dialogues with colleagues that can impact learning most positively. Easy and inexpensive to set up and maintain.
  • Relationship with time: if feelings of stress are simply the result of a perverted relationship with time, we’re in control of transforming that.

In the opening line of The Nature and Destiny of Man, a book reported to have influenced Barack Obama in his campaign for the White House, Reinhold Niebuhr states that ‘Man has always been his own most vexing problem’. When we take the long view of the world of education, not just in this country but also beyond, this statement clearly resonates. Being able to develop as individuals and as a school requires a level of belief, not in our abilities to achieve this at any cost but in our abilities to achieve this while keeping intact, and even enhancing, our inner sense of wellbeing. After all, that’s what makes a truly healthy school.

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 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.