GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Comhairle Choitcheann Teagaisg na h-Alba

Hive of wellbeing

An innovative approach to building and maintaining wellbeing is taking shape

Teaching is a tough old game. Workload, targets, long hours and a real and constant desire to do the best for children are relentless pressures which can and do impact on even the most resilient. That’s why lifestyle in general, and health and wellbeing in particular, are so important. Everyone needs downtime and to feel they can step away from the job without feeling guilty.

Getting time to do this can be tricky. But a growing number of teachers do recognise the importance of guided help in avoiding stress and burnout and feel it is constructive and useful.One headteacher who has had a positive experience of Claire Lavelle’s Hive of Wellbeing programme is Debbie Beveridge of the 450–pupil Burnbrae Primary School in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian. It has, she says, helped her and her teaching staff in relieving pressure and focusing more on themselves. A head, she points out, has to think not only of the wellbeing of their children and staff, but of themselves too.

“I am passionate and committed and still think of myself as a teacher – in fact, I can’t stress enough how much love I have for the job”, says Debbie, who first started in the profession in 1983.

“But the role has evolved over the years in terms of looking after staff and the community. If you’re not doing that, then you’re not going to be able to deliver the best experiences for young people.”

One issue, she adds, is that helping others cope with this means that she sometimes doesn’t get the time to reflect properly on her own health.

“Talking to colleagues, I hear the same thing. You put your energy into helping others, and your plans to look after yourself can fade away because something else comes along and someone else’s need takes over.”

The workload has increased, pressuring staff further and encroaching into their own time. “They have perhaps 28 to 33 children in their class, and of course the children aren’t all the same. We do tend to go away carrying their needs with us. Teachers often do now need to plan and deliver over their weekends.”

Introducing The Hive of Wellbeing into her school has been positive, she adds. “It’s something I insisted on for the staff. We used some of our school development budget and have Claire in school once a month. Nursery and support staff go to her external sessions and the senior leadership team attend everything.”

As far as I’m concerned, it helps me focus more on taking care of myself. It’s something I’m much more conscious of

Feedback has been hugely positive. “Staff want to keep it going and have made suggestions about future courses. As far as I’m concerned, it helps me focus more on taking care of myself. It’s something I’m much more conscious of.”

Debbie’s experience has led her to believe that changes should be made in other parts of Scottish education. “For instance, the How Good Is Our School programme doesn’t have any reference to the pastoral care or wellbeing of staff.

“Support documentation needs to refer to everyone and not just to children and families. I think education guidance and procedures should include references to the wellbeing of all staff.”

Nicola McDowell is Schools Group Manager at Midlothian Council, where she has responsibility for overseeing the headteacher leadership programme. She has also witnessed at first hand the problem of increasing workloads.

“People are working more and more hours and have stopped protecting themselves. It is now an extremely busy job, and we have recognised that we had to do something very positive to help headteachers to manage their emotional wellbeing. It is a major challenge.”

It is, Nicola says, about giving people internalised permission to look after themselves rather than working all the time. “They should be able to say ‘I’m finished now’ and feel confident that it’s OK to have a life outside school.

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“Of course, it’s hard to protect headteachers from everything that can happen, but we need to equip them with the right strategies to be able to cope with any eventuality and ensure they feel that their hard work is valued and worthwhile.”

Claire Lavelle’s approach, she feels, works well. “Not many people deliver this sort of service or have the diverse range of skills that Claire adopts, which is why a large number of our schools use the Hive.

“Claire comes to every headteachers’ meeting, linking her contribution to the main themes on the agenda, and helps them learn strategies and frame messages they can then take back to their staff. “I think we have created a momentum and endorsed good practice. We’ll evaluate everything again at the end of the year, but we have to make sure that we go on supporting our staff and fostering in them a belief that they come first.”

“However, if you are not taking care of yourself or are going into work exhausted, you’re not going to be at your best. I’ve been to The Hive sessions and found them useful – I work 50 to 60 hours a week, but am now getting better at managing myself.”

Marc has, as he concedes, only been in the job for a relatively short time. But he is assured by colleagues that the workload is getting bigger. “There are high expectations of us, and rightly so. We have to be accountable and we want to do what is best for the children.

“The local authority, the government, headteachers, parents – all of these are looking for you to do a great job. We answer to a lot of people and we put their needs first, which can be a challenge.”

In the past, there has been a recognition of the problem and one-off sessions put in place to help. But he has not found this to be enough. “For instance, we’ve had in-service days on how to look after yourself. But you then go back to work after the holidays and you’re so busy that it all goes to the back of your mind. It really needs to be meaningful, and not a box ticking exercise.”

By contrast, he is an evangelist for The Hive sessions. “I’d go as far as to say that it’s the best continuous professional development I’ve ever done in my life. It sits above everything else I’ve done.

“Claire has helped me change my mindset and become more positive. I don’t think I was over–negative before, but her input has helped me cope with challenging situations. That has put me in a better place.

We do need to raise the profile of health and wellbeing – to put it up the agenda

“In practical terms, I’m now trying things like mindfulness. I used to sleep in as long as possible, then dash to work. The result was that I then spent the whole day rushing to catch up. “Now I’ve learned to get up earlier and have a slower start to my day. That allows me to get organised in the morning and it means a lot of my time at school runs more smoothly.

Marc adds: “I also have a gratitude journal which I fill in every day and write down the thing in life I’m grateful for – Claire taught me that – and I set regular goals. When I achieve them I feel a sense of profound satisfaction.

‘The thing about the Hive approach is that it is consistent and regular – you don’t have the chance to put it to the back of your mind. But we do need to raise the profile of health and wellbeing – to put it up the agenda and ensure all stakeholders know how important it is.”