The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

Wellbeing: take control of yours and your school’s

Stress and workload issues don’t just disappear during the summer. Avoid ruminating this holiday and take action to improve your wellbeing next term, advises Elizabeth Holmes.

‘The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.’ William James It's summer, and with luck the last thing on your mind is the stress of your job. Time off is precious and squandering it with thoughts of how to cope once the new term kicks in is bound to send stress levels soaring. The chances are you have your own tried and trusted stress-busting techniques; most of us do. They may not be healthy – too many of us reach for food, alcohol, cigarettes or other addictive habits in order to create a sense of calm serenity – but they are familiar and probably work to some degree.

Evidence-based approaches to wellbeing

Six years ago the New Economics Foundation (NEF) developed ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ based on extensive evidence which was gathered from the government's Foresight project. These ways to wellbeing have stood the test of time, mostly because they are evidence-based and accessible to all. The five ways are: connect; be active; take notice; keep learning; and give. I have written about these ways to wellbeing on many occasions, but this remains important news for educators. All the time stress seems to be an intrinsic feature of the job of teaching, we will need to draw on what the research tells us about staying mentally healthy. While teachers continue to face excessive workloads, unrealistic levels of accountability and continuous policy change, among other stressors, we will as a profession need to place teacher wellbeing at the heart of personal and professional development. Weave it through all that we do and core messages will be heard, most likely leading to an overall improvement in wellbeing at work. Flounder beneath unhelpful beliefs (for example, ‘What’s wellbeing go to do with science?’) and the cycle of negative stress and all the harm that can do will continue.

When it comes to wellbeing, we don’t have a choice

The Foresight project explored research focused on mental capital and mental wellbeing through life. We know from this research that there are substantial benefits to be derived from nurturing wellbeing in a deliberate way in our lives. We cannot expect to ignore our many needs for wellbeing without consequences being felt to some degree. These may be catastrophic (a major life-changing health incident, for example) or insidious (low-level depression which kills the joy in our lives and renders us slaves to the roles we are committed to). If we want to be the best teachers we can be, and to experience life in the greatest way we can given the resources available to us, we have no option but to pay great care and attention to our sense of wellbeing.

So what might a focus on wellbeing look like in your school?

I have seen schools make the Five Ways to Wellbeing very prominent features of life there, and it can work brilliantly. First steps towards developing a focus on these in your school may be simply to make them visible around your buildings. Offer examples of what, say, ‘giving’ might mean in your school or local community. Encourage ways to be more active in your school. For example, how many steps does it take to walk the school’s perimeter? How many calories does that require? What is happening in your school’s nature spaces? Any visiting bugs and beasts? What should staff and students be taking notice of? How might mindfulness feature in your school? (Look out for a future blog on research and evidence on mindfulness). Whether your school takes this on board or not, it is possible for individuals to make a significantly positively impact on their sense of wellbeing simply by incorporating the Five Ways to Wellbeing into daily life. And unless you’re blessed with an unshakeable equilibrium, it’s well worth giving this a go. By Elizabeth Holmes

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