Project Focus: Helping our teachers to thrive

In selecting project partners, Big Change thinks about the big picture – they look to identify the important factors and influences around a young person that help them to thrive in life, not just in exams. Considering that children spend more time with teachers than they do their parents, we figured that this is an important area to focus on. To help young people to thrive in life, we need our teachers to be thriving too, but as it stands teachers are one the UK’s most stressed workforces.

As a part of the 2016 project portfolio, and with the help of funds raised through the Virgin STRIVE Challenge, Big Change will be taking on extensive research into the area of teacher wellbeing. In this work, they will be looking to identify the biggest challenges that teachers are facing, areas where more support is needed, and initiatives already exist in the sector to address these issues. 

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The Problem:

Being a teacher has never been an easy job, but in recent years it has become increasingly difficult.  The heavy focus on measurement and testing has meant rising levels of stress, increased workload, and stifled creativity amongst teachers. According to research by teacher Emma Kell, many teachers experience mental health issues and have to take time off work because of them – on top of that, very few schools have a dedicated wellbeing resource for teachers at times of stress.

According to Kell, “50% of participants (in a study on teachers in the UK) said they worked more than 16 hours a week beyond their contracted hours” in order to fulfill their duties and adequately support students. In an interview with Big Change, another teacher noted, “if you want a life outside of work, teaching is not for you.”

With such an important role to play, the team feels strongly that teachers must be better supported in their wellbeing, not least because a happy, healthy teacher will make for a happier, healthier classroom.

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We all need support, whether it be on the bike or in a classroom.

 

What we’ve learnt so far…

From interviewing teachers and speaking with educational institutions, a few themes have come up about areas where teachers need more support. These include workload, pressure of meeting requirements and standards, and lack of professional development support.  There is also a sense that teachers are not well recognized or respected by the public, despite their importance of their role. These are only the ideas that Big Change has heard so far in preliminary research, and we are certain that we will come across many more as the team continues.

What is the solution?

It’s far too early to say what a viable solution to this issue is, as it is a complex problem that will require a great deal of thought and collaboration to address. At Big Change, the aim is to always be learning, and that’s what they are doing in this area right now.

There are a number of things being done at the moment to offer support to teachers, such as TeachMeets – an informal network of teachers coming together to share best practice and encourage professional development.

Some suggestions for solutions that have come up repeatedly are a need for more resources and support for teachers, greater investment in wellbeing, coaching and mentoring, and more research. As one teacher summarized in an interview, “leadership [in teaching] needs to be more than a focus on performance, but also responsible for staff wellbeing.”

What’s next?

It is clear that teacher wellbeing in the UK is something that needs to be addressed, and quickly. With the support of the Virgin STRIVE Challenge, Big Change is looking forward to continuing research in this area and identifying the best ideas that will create a big change and help our teachers to thrive, in turn helping our young people the thrive as well.

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