Cultivating wellbeing through great leadership at Isca Academy

Gary King

Gary King is deputy headteacher at Isca Academy in Exeter, where he leads Teaching and Learning. He frequently writes an educational blog focusing on all aspects of teaching, learning and wellbeing, and is also a keynote speaker. Gary works with every member of staff across the College to promote excellence in the classroom, and his vision is to encourage collaboration across the learning community to ensure Isca’s young people are the best they can possibly be. 

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I truly believe that poor, ruthlessly judgemental leadership of teaching and learning will damage morale, unnecessarily increase workload and therefore create avoidable anxieties that inevitably damage teacher wellbeing. On the flip side, and what I feel this article is all about, is how we can enhance wellbeing through effective leadership of teaching and learning throughout our schools.

On the first training day of this academic year, I asked all teachers to share ideas and concerns around their wellbeing. This, of course, focused heavily on the ‘extra-curricular’ aspects, those that are the more obvious elements and common in many schools, such as; staff go-karting, art therapy, staff picnic, team building time and numerous leisure activities. All very important and essential to implement. Teacher wellbeing has been talked about for a long time; it is becoming a growing topic in many schools up and down the country, and rightly so. However, having the intention is one thing and actually embedding wellbeing as a culture is another. One significant aspect that often gets overlooked is the ‘day-to-day’; the demands placed upon teachers both intentionally and unintentionally. For example:

  • Pointless marking expectations that see teachers being told how to mark and how often.
  • Fads that are implemented and serve only as a distraction from quality first teaching.
  • Judgemental lesson observations / ’clipboard’ learning walks.
  • Last minute calendar entries.
  • Blanket emails.
  • Excessive perceived pressures that working late is a measure of how ‘good’ you are.

This is where the leadership overview and strategy for teaching and learning has a significant impact. Ultimately, as teachers, we are accountable for student progress and accountable to the teacher standards. These are the shared constants for us all as a profession; everything else varies from school to school. So why, in some cases, does teaching and learning become overly bureaucratic, judgemental, unnecessarily workload intensive and for some, a box ticking exercise?

I believe it’s time for schools to take a long hard look at the big picture and address teacher wellbeing through the leadership of teaching and learning. And it’s this day-to-day understanding and appreciation of how hard teachers work that mean school leaders can enhance or destroy teacher wellbeing. Simply by adding superficial ‘bolt on’ wellbeing sessions without addressing the day-to-day practice are merely token gestures, and will not create a true culture of high morale and teacher effectiveness. The visual above was created from discussions at our wellbeing steering group, a voluntary body of staff who want to drive wellbeing deep into our culture and ethos.

Recommendations to enhance day-to-day wellbeing

Our wider wellbeing strategy seeks to reduce workload and includes, but is not exclusively limited to:

  • Creating academy marking guidelines and giving departments the freedom to create their own specific marking policy.
  • Wellbeing Wednesday: no emails, finish by 4pm at the latest and an optional     staff-led session for those who wish to attend (pilates, trampolining etc)
  • Fika Friday: a chance for teachers to unwind with a cup of coffee / tea and cake in our wonderful atrium area before they leave for a relaxing weekend.
  • When considering a new strategy, initiative or potential ‘fad’ (which could be avoided!), there is a wellbeing impact statement/audit to undertake before this is put to trial and implemented. We have created a teaching and learning ‘Think Tank’ to work on this extremely important aspect.
  • Academy leadership ‘check in’ with teachers every day (I personally walk the school every day and speak to every teacher in lesson time to ensure that all is well).

Finally, as a profession we are never fully in control of what the next initiative or policy that will inevitably be thrust upon us at some point. However, we have to control the controllables. At Isca Academy we offer this wellbeing planner to all our staff, should they wish to use it in order to be in control of their work/life balance:

It’s early days but already our approach to wellbeing is having a significant impact. It will take time to embed and become ingrained in our culture, however, exciting times lay ahead. After all, we are all in this together.

How do you promote wellbeing in your school / academy? Let us know below!

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