GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Comhairle Choitcheann Teagaisg na h-Alba

Feeling good, teaching well

Claire Lavelle, Director of the Hive of Wellbeing

Following the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, we were given an annual Health and Wellbeing Day for staff. Whether it was a coastal walk, learning the Alexander technique (always useful for carrying a bag-load of marking safely) or having a massage after a healthy pot-lunch, it was always a reasonably enjoyable day with opportunities to get to know colleagues in an informal and different way. However, there was always the question about the purpose of such a day and the long-term impact: “How does this help me to get my marking done?” or “When will I ever have the time to go for a massage after school?”

... what is common to teachers’ wellbeing is the need to feel valued

The purpose of such days was, and remains, essential. Beyond the immediate concerns of workload and time management, the need for teachers to take some time out to self-care is vital if we are to teach our children and young people well. The permission to do this on the Health and Wellbeing Day allows us to acknowledge ourselves as whole human beings, to feel valued and to value one another. We matter and we matter together.

Certainly, there is no one size fits all for teacher health and wellbeing. Yoga, mindfulness, five-aside football or crocheting all feature as ways for teachers to take time out and self-replenish. But what is common to teachers’ wellbeing is the need to feel valued. Teachers need to feel they are making a real difference to the lives of their pupils and that they are working together in positive relationships to achieve the best possible learning outcomes.

What is also common to all teachers is perception and thoughts. Perceptions of workload, student discipline and school leadership all impact on teachers’ personal sense of autonomy and self-efficacy. This then affects personal wellbeing, mental health and physical health. As a teacher, or as a school leader, if I perceive that I do not have a sufficient level of decision-making in my day-to-day role, or that what I do each day does not make enough of a positive impact on pupil learning, then my stress increases and I am more prone to burnout. I may also have symptoms of depersonalisation, depression and anxiety.

Burnout and stress-related illnesses in teaching are all too often reported in the literature on workplace stress. But central to this is how each situation is perceived by individuals. Research has found that teachers with a strong sense of purpose in their personal and professional lives are less likely to experience burnout. Teachers who also have greater “capacity beliefs”, i.e. beliefs about their personal ability to cope with challenges, are less prone to burnout. When teachers feel good, they can manage expectations well without it being detrimental to performance.

What is interesting is the perception that the current situation in teaching is unprecedented in terms of workload, the complex needs of pupils and budget constraints. Yet, studies from more than 40 years ago on teacher stress and burnout cite many of the similar issues we face today. However, this is not to say that current issues of workload are not having a seriously challenging impact on teacher wellbeing.

In September 2017, a report from psychologists at Bath Spa University found that over 40 per cent of the Scottish teachers who were surveyed considered leaving their post in the next 15 to 19 months due to increasing stress and reduced job satisfaction caused by excessive workload. Co-author Dr Jermaine Ravalier remarked that the respondents recognised that teaching is a deeply fulfilling job but that job satisfaction is being eroded by competing demands.

So what can we do and how do we move forward positively?

For me, these are the questions which are useful in considering support for teachers:

  • What is the optimum level of workload which will support teacher wellbeing and pupil progress?
  • As perception plays a role in supporting wellbeing, how can teachers develop healthy thinking to give their best to pupils?
  • How can learning and attainment in my classroom improve if, as a teacher, I do not feel good or have the inner resources to teach well?

The premise of “feeling good, teaching well” is the starting block for The Hive of Wellbeing, which is now working regularly in six local authorities and in more than 30 schools. Simple in its message and ambitious in its goal, The Hive aims to support teachers and senior leaders in getting into a “better-feeling place” by using coaching-for-performance principles, positive psychology approaches and self-efficacy theory in career-long professional learning (CLPL) and coaching sessions. Focusing on a range of work issues, key questions are put to teachers and leaders: What matters most to you? What do you really care about? What is the purpose of what you are aiming to do? What can you control, influence and/or let go of? What does success mean to you?

The Hive of Wellbeing also aims to build a supportive network for individual teachers outside their schools, where there are opportunities to express personal and professional challenges while having the coaching support to discuss and reframe issues appropriately. Almost every Tuesday there is a CLPL session at The Hive of Wellbeing in the Wellbeing Lab in The Restoration Yard, Dalkeith Country Park. Teachers and senior leaders can attend a themed session such as, “Teaching from the Heart” or “Mind Your Language!”, at which aspects of health and wellbeing are discussed in a relaxed and supportive atmosphere.

In the Bath Spa report, there is recognition that teaching is deeply fulfilling, so how do we rediscover our individual and collective passion for what we do? And how can we do this with what we do have rather than focusing on what is not there? We may find that we are more resourceful than we think.

About the Author

Claire Lavelle has more than 20 years’ experience in education. She was a primary headteacher in East Lothian where she was also seconded as a Quality Improvement Officer, before she moved to the UAE to be a Head Teacher and Assistant Principal in a 3–18 school for Emirati pupils. Claire is now based in Edinburgh and is working in a number of local authorities, schools and early years settings throughout the East of Scotland, focusing on the wellbeing of staff.


 Twitter: @hive_ow Facebook and Instagram: @thehiveofwellbeing