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FEATURE FOCUS: MENTAL HEALTH & WELLBEING


been trained in can cause a great deal of stress, so we need to consider the impact on their mental health too. It’s crucial therefore that we train senior staff


members to give them the skills to support, listen and empathise with those who are experiencing mental health issues, which in turn will encourage people to talk out. Similarly, stress can arise when a teacher is


trying to support a child with mental health issues. Providing youth-specific mental health training to all teachers is vital, not only to protect the pupil but the teacher too.


Set up two-way internal communication Across the UK, our lives and working environments have drastically changed and teachers may be experiencing a range of emotions and feelings about going back to the classroom full-time. Whether it’s pupil bubbles, dealing with parent


concerns, handwashing and cleanliness issues, or having to catch up on lost time, teachers will quite rightly have anxieties around this new way of working. It’s really important therefore that schools communicate honestly with teachers about how things are going to work in the classroom and with colleagues. It’s essential to check in with teachers regularly


at this time and give them the opportunity to talk about how they are feeling. Schools could also consider creating a forum of some sort for teachers to share their concerns and feedback on the measures in place. Teachers will understandably want reassurance of what steps have been taken, how things will operate and what systems are in place within the school under the new guidance.


Replace the small talk with big talk If we’re going to make any progress, we need to create environments where people can talk about their mental health in the same way they talk about their physical health. It’s important that all schools create confidential and safe places where staff members can go to talk through their concerns, without fear of repercussions. For us to really breakdown the stigma that


exists around mental health, we need to talk about it more to raise awareness and normalise what people might be going through. Whether it’s internal communication with teachers, posters and flyers in staff rooms, regular one-to-ones, sharing mental health stories and articles, or wellbeing surveys, schools should constantly be talking about mental health and reminding staff why it’s vital to talk out. We know from our own research that 64% of


people hide their mental health struggles at work. We also know that two thirds of employees in the UK have pretended to have had a physical ailment to take sick leave, when in reality they were struggling, mentally. Rather than allowing cultures of fear to breed


within our workplaces, let’s promote open cultures. Let’s really make an effort to check in with our teachers, ask how they’re feeling, and listen to what they say. Insightful and open-ended questions will provide opportunity for more real and meaningful conversations in the workplace, which will in turn create engaged workforces who feel valued and supported.


Encourage self-care Self-care helps us to take responsibility of caring


September 2020 www.education-today.co.uk 27


for ourselves and looking after our own mental health. We know that people can often neglect self-care and working long hours may mean that we feel there isn’t enough time to do so. We tend to support others better than we support ourselves, especially when we work in roles like teaching, where the focus is on looking after other people. However, we can’t be there and provide support to others if we don’t look after ourselves first. It’s important to encourage teachers to find


things that help them relax and for them to take some time out. Bear in mind though that self-care is different for everyone and what one person finds relaxing, won’t necessarily apply to someone else. Our research found that regularly talking with colleagues and getting fresh air are the most popular ways teachers support their own wellbeing throughout their working day. Exercise and hobbies are also fantastic ways to


promote positive mental health. Schools could consider holding carefully planned, socially distanced activities for teachers either side of the school day which allow them to focus on something other than their day-to-day stresses.


Leadership Let’s not underestimate leadership behavior and the impact it can have on a team member’s mental health. More training is needed to help leaders understand how they can influence mental health through their words and actions. As well as the workday pressures that we all experience, work-related stress and anxiety can be fueled by bullying, harassment, and even a lack of managerial support. Negative leadership behaviour will often have a


ripple effect throughout an organisation, creating a culture of fear which will only serve to stop people talking about how they feel in work. Leaders are role models and in order for a mentally healthy culture of openness and trust to exist, this has to be demonstrated at the highest levels in the organisation.


Looking to the future Over the next few months, there will be many challenges for schools, including rearranging spaces, supporting pupils with social and mental health concerns, having clear guidance in place to keep people safe, and monitoring compliance. One challenge that may not have been considered is the impact that all of these changes will have had on teacher mental health. If there’s one thing this crisis has made clear,


it’s that there is still a long way to go when it comes to providing effective mental health in all workplace settings. A clear mental health and wellbeing strategy for your teachers will be key in helping all staff members feel safe and supporting during this difficult time. The psychological strain of the crisis is


impossible to ignore and it’s likely to have an impact on our teaching workforce for a long time to come.


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