Teachers make a huge impact on our lives. They shape our self-esteem and attitudes, they inspire our confidence and aspirations and they are often the first to spot our unique gifts and talents.
This on its own is a massive responsibility, but on a daily basis they also manage the learning of 30 students – they are an expert in adverbial phrases at 9 am, Tudor history at 10 am and improper fractions at 11 am. Whilst making all of this engaging and accessible for all 30 children, they are managing bureaucratic demands, planning lessons for the next week, and are watching out for safeguarding issues.
Our teachers are struggling with this immense workload and according to a recent survey, 80% of teachers have seriously considered leaving the profession in the past 12 months because of this.
According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, teaching staff and education professionals report the highest rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in Britain.
Ofsted research shows that 75% of teachers experience behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work, compared to only 60% of the UK’s whole workforce.
We ran 7 interviews with teachers from primary and secondary schools. The teachers varied in age and experience from 26 – 65 years old. We asked the teachers a series of questions about their motivations, their work and life, about their physical and mental wellbeing, and about their resilience and coping mechanisms.
Teachers mapped out their emotions throughout a working day and talked us through it. This helped us identify the main causes of stress.
For example Will, 36, is a primary school teacher. He gets up at 5 to do paperwork, arrives at school at 7.30 and gets home at the earliest around 6 pm. He sleeps around 5 hours a night and rarely manages to have a full weekend off. He rushes to put his 2-year-old to bed in the evening in order to spend time marking workbooks, so he rarely gets to spend time with her.
Last week, whilst he was tackling difficult behaviour in his classroom, the headteacher came to observe his lesson. After the class, the feedback was really negative even though Will thought he has been handling the situation well. He is now thinking of resigning from his position, with no job to go to, despite having taught for 13 years, “I love the kids and teaching but I cannot maintain this for another 25 years. I’d break. They’d take me out of there in a box,” he says.
Teachers prepare and influence tomorrow’s leaders. So if our teachers’ mental health is suffering as a result of their workload, how can we expect them to deliver the high-quality education that our children deserve?
Pain points from our research
We have found that teachers’ mental wellbeing is suffering because of 3 main areas.
- Being a teacher is an isolating role.
Many of the teachers we spoke to expressed that they don’t have much opportunity to speak with other teachers and to share learning. The workload makes teachers feel constantly behind on their work and without knowing or seeing that other teachers are experiencing the same things, it makes them feel like they are not achieving as much as the others are.
- Teachers don’t feel supported.
Unlike corporate organisations, most schools don’t have an HR department, or formal channels to report work-related stress or anxieties. Many teachers won’t express how stressed they are feeling as they don’t know who to talk to, or they don’t have anyone to talk to.
- The immense workload is causing an imbalance between their home life and work life.
Many teachers stay late at work and don’t have time for their family, hobbies or just simply relaxing.
Among the teachers we interviewed, we found that there are three teacher archetypes for how they deal with work stress.
HMW question & Ideation & Testing
So the main question is – how can we help these teachers improve their wellbeing and slow the outflux of teachers from the profession?
From the research and interviews, we moved onto the define stage and identified 3 HMW questions:
- “HMW create opportunities for teachers to learn from children’s de-stressing techniques (ie play)”
- “HMW engage students to be more helpful to teachers”
- “HMW create an opportunity for teachers to support, share and learn from each other both internally and externally”
From these HMW questions, our ideation phase initially concentrated on solutions where teachers would be the direct service users.
We took our ideas to a headteacher and a deputy headteacher. Their main feedback was that by expecting the teachers to lead on our service or creating something that wasn’t a part of their normal working day, we were actually adding to their workload, and contributing to the problem instead of solving it.
We then had to reevaluate and realised that our service needed to not just address the symptoms of the problem, something that many existing services are doing, but to start with the cause. This meant we had to try and change the system within schools, and design a service to help senior school staff to do this.
We tried round two of ideation and came up with our final idea. We then ran this idea past 5 school staff, including teachers, business managers and headteachers. They gave their feedback and told us unanimously that our concept is something that schools would engage with. Once we had incorporated their suggestions we built a prototype and took it to a school to test it with a headteacher and a deputy headteacher, this led us to create our final service.
Only a handful of organizations are currently working towards the wellbeing of teachers. Many of them are only offering advice and resources to schools. Elevate and Teachhappy are offering wellbeing training to teachers and Education Support Partnership offer a helpline for teachers who are experiencing poor mental health as a result of their work. These services, although offering valuable impact are either expensive, or only addressing the problem at the surface.
Our service – Communiteach
Welcome to CommuniTeach. A website for teachers to share learning, find resources, and host of the Teacher Wellbeing Award.
The Teacher Wellbeing Award is a framework for school leaders to improve the school’s system to support teacher wellbeing. They can achieve three levels by working through a series of criteria.
CommuniTeach aims to address the problem at the root by empowering the management of the school to help teachers embed better practice into the school culture.
We chose the emblem of a bee because like teachers, bees are hard-working, they can only survive when they work together and their contribution to society is paramount – without the pollination of bees, we wouldn’t have food.
We came up with criteria interviews with teachers, headteachers and examining government guidance and policy. Once we’d created the initial framework, we took it to headteachers to test the viability of the criteria. We divided these by level of difficulty and by theme.
Our business would be separated into three main funding streams:
Schools that wanted to sign up for the award would pay a £99 yearly subscription fee to be enrolled. Once they were awarded they would need to carry on paying the £99 yearly in order to maintain their bronze, silver or gold status and would be encouraged to keep working through the awards by achieving the harder criteria
- Corporate partnerships
We would build partnerships with wellbeing training companies such as Elevate, a training company specialising in wellbeing, who have just launched a train the trainer programme for teachers and school staff. We would refer schools to their training programmes, in return for funding.
Another potential corporate partner could be the Teachers Building Society, a financial institution that offers mortgages and savings account to teachers across England and Wales. They have a strong CSR policy, and aim to support teachers and give back to the teaching community.
- Commissioning model
Local authority public health teams would pay for all of the schools in their area to have a subscription to the programme. The partnered training provider would also be a part of the contract and would mean that all schools would have access to the training for free, or at a discounted rate.
We have built our business model to be sustainable. As we evaluate our programme, we will be able to see the full impact of our service.
Our intended outcomes are that teachers achieve a more equal work-life balance, feel supported by the school, and feel less isolated in their roles.
Help us build a better tomorrow, bee a part of your CommuniTeach.