I hear so much talk about mental health at the moment. It is almost the latest trend.
How much of what is happening is really meaningful and how much is just box ticking though?
I have visited some incredible schools recently who, following my training, have made some really meaningful changes. Not just support their pupils’ wellbeing, but also, more importantly it could be argued, staff wellbeing.
If teachers are over-worked, unappreciated and run down, they don’t deliver the best education to our children.
So many teachers I know have said to me over the years; “Oh yeah, we had someone come into our school and talk about mindfulness. They gave us loads of things we had to try and find time for and then we went straight from that to a meeting about how much paperwork we need to have in for tomorrow!”. (I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea!).
Mental Health isn’t just an issue for our students
When we discuss wellbeing and mental health issues in relation to schools the focus is almost always on the children. This is great, our children have never needed support with their wellbeing more, but there is also a requirement for schools to care for the mental health of their staff. I’m hoping that this isn’t news to anyone, but just in case, you can have a look here.
Schools have a responsibility not just to care for the wellbeing of pupils but also all staff. OFSTED are apparently looking at this provision more and more, and well they should. We are already seeing staffing shortages and in the US there is a full blown catastrophe looming in some states because the teacher shortage is such an issue. If we don’t care for our teachers, if we don’t respect them as the professionals they are, they leave.
Interestingly, if you Google “teacher” you are faced with lots of pictures of people smiling while standing next to white boards, just like this one. This is how the world sees teachers. Which is great, because, let’s be honest, this is probably how we want to be seen. What you don’t find is pictures of teachers crying in their cars at lunchtime, or sitting taking deep breaths in the staff room. These are often facets of teaching too. Teachers are often exhausted; physically and mentally, and they may be experts at hiding this from their students and families but it doesn’t make it any less a reality of the job.
Making the issue worse
I was talking to a teacher a while ago who told me that they had been given a mental health questionnaire by their management team. Most of the staff hadn’t even bothered to fill it in as they felt it was just more unnecessary paperwork that wouldn’t make a difference to anything. She had decided that it was an issue she felt was importand and had taken the time to complete it fully and honestly.
The next thing she knew she had been called to the Head.
She was basically told that she was wrong. That what she had said wasn’t the reality of the situation and that they were disappointed in her responses. She was then treated differently for the remainder of the year.
If you don’t really want to know what people think, don’t ask them. Not prepared to make any changes, don’t ask people what changes they would benefit from. Don’t give your staff more work just so that you can tick mental health off your to do list, if you aren’t really interested in the wellbeing of your staff.
If you truly care about the mental health of your staff, whether a school or a business, you have to treat them like people. Ask them what they need? Know them well enough to know if they are having problems with one of their children, or their Dad has been ill.
Respect your staff and colleagues enough to ask them if there is anything about their working conditions that they would like to see change and then work together to make any practical changes.
Don’t let mental health awareness just be another burden and time suck. Together we can really make a difference to the wellbeing of everyone involved in education, we can help our teachers to enjoy their job and feel like the competent, passionate professionals they are, or we can treat them like children who need to conform and have no say in the running of their lives.
I know which method will result in a happy and cooperative working environment, don’t you?