Author: Bethany Spencer
Posted: 06 May 2020
Estimated time to read: 7 mins
In schools, the wellbeing of staff and students is, and always should be, a top priority. We’ve spoken at length about how the wellness of teachers has a direct impact on students as well as teachers’ duty of care to protect students’ wellbeing. Now, during this period of distance learning, uncertainty and isolation, it’s more important than ever we work to support the wellbeing of our stakeholders.
But, given the new learning environment we find ourselves in, it’s difficult to adhere to the normal practices schools have put in place to support student wellbeing and teacher wellbeing.
We understand that schools go to an immense amount of effort to safeguard and protect both their students and staff and a lot of this work is carried out in person and relies on visual cues. In fact, the ability to observe student and staff behaviour is a key factor in being able to detect a change of character that may be indicative of a wellbeing concern. This, of course, is taken away when working remotely, making it even more difficult to offer social and emotional support.
This blog will look at how, during school closures and reopenings, schools can continue to support teacher and student wellbeing.
Supporting Student Wellbeing
One of the benefits of teaching our students every day in class is that we get to understand them - we recognise their idioms and notice their ticks. This means we can tell when there’s a change in behaviour that may indicate a change in wellbeing or circumstances at home.
When this is taken away from us, especially for those students we class as vulnerable, it can be concerning as we don’t know how we’re going to detect these change.. Fortunately, there are things that can be done to make up for the inability to see students in class that will mean they’re still supported during this period.
Connect with students
Communicating with students during remote learning is more important than ever, especially with those students you’re concerned about. Try and keep connected with students by sending whole-class messages through your learning platform or via email and open up the floor for conversations outside of schoolwork. Extending the dialogue outside of schoolwork can give students a much needed break from school stress and help to build/maintain rapport.
Additionally, enforce dedicated office hours for each school week that allows students to book in appointments with you to discuss any concerns they may have. This could range from schoolwork, feeling lonely to problems at home and could be conducted over the phone or video call. Providing students with this outlet will hopefully encourage them to speak to you if they’re in need.
You should also make time for general check-ins with students to see how they’re adapting to distance learning and managing studying from home to ensure each child is getting the support they need.
Alternatively, surveys can be an extremely useful tool in gauging the general wellbeing of students - especially if you make the responses anonymous. By issuing a whole-class survey you can gain a better understanding of your students’ wellbeing and the results can inform you of if there’s any actions you can do differently that would benefit the whole class.
Moreover, they’re a good opportunity to get feedback on any specific area which could be helpful during this period of distance learning.
Continue with PSHE lessons
It’s understandable that during this period of remote working, students' school days may not be as full as what they once were prior to lockdown. Teachers, students and parents are faced with new learning and working environments and there are an abundance of challenges that come with that which means studying a full day’s worth of lessons might not be feasible.
Examples of this include parents working from home and being unable to provide as much support to students, not enough study space for whole families to be working remotely together and schools’ inability to provide students with the same level of guidance as they were prior to lockdown.
Whilst the decision to minimise the amount of work we’re setting students to preserve wellbeing and lower stress is understood, it’s important that we still dedicate a sufficient amount of time during distance learning to teaching PSHE. The topics covered in the subject can support students during this time and help them to understand the current climate, subjects include:
- Online safety
- Mental health
- Domestic abuse
Teaching students about these important subjects can help them if they’re experiencing difficulty in any areas covered and provide them with the knowledge on how to seek help. Additionally, it will give students the opportunity to learn more about the current situation as well as how to approach any feelings they’re having and adapt their personal and school life accordingly.
As teachers, we have the ability to control the subject matter and activities in which our students immerse themselves. During this period, our students are bound to be feeling anxiety, concern and worry and as teachers, we can prescribe them a dose of escapism.
Where possible, try to take your students’ minds off the situation at hand through the work you assign. This could include setting a creative writing activity, encouraging students to read for pleasure, setting students homework to bake or asking them to participate in physical activity.
Learning doesn’t have to happen stuck in a textbook and sometimes students can excel when they’re given a little time off. Additionally, asking students to take part in a fun activity can help to alleviate any stress they’re feeling to take their mind off the situation at hand.
If you are concerned about how you can support your students or have specific worries for individuals and don’t know how to approach them, it’s vital that you communicate with your team members.
Most schools will have a dedicated Welfare Officer who you can seek advice from on how best to support these students. They can give you advice or can reach out to students themselves, they’ll also be able to provide guidance on how you can speak to certain students.
Additionally, if your school uses any software to support wellbeing concerns take a look into how these could support you. A discrete system that notifies relevant teachers of any wellbeing issues students may be having will better prepare teachers so they can prepare for how they can support these students.
For example, if there’s been a bereavement in the family and a student’s teachers are informed, each one of them knows to perhaps not call out on that student in an online discussion, or to change the subject matter for that lesson if it could be considered a trigger.
Supporting Teacher Wellbeing
The wellbeing of teachers comes under scrutiny on a regular basis. The profession itself is associated with risks of low wellbeing due to the stress and high levels of workload that come with the job, but schools are doing all that they can to support teachers and improve their wellbeing.
Ofsted have even updated their inspection framework to help reduce teacher workload by placing less emphasis on data collection as well as a core focus of the inspection looking at the workload of teachers to ensure they aren’t overloaded with tasks.
However, teachers are sometimes their own worst enemies as their drive to support their students can in turn mean they end up putting extra pressures on themselves by working late to mark, make lesson plans or provide extra support.
When this activity happens in school, SLT can monitor it and encourage teachers to leave school and go home, or to support them if they appear physically exhausted. When teachers are working remotely and the lines between work and home are blurred, teachers can easily slip into bad habits of working round the clock and putting themselves at risk of burnout.
Additionally, teachers, whose mental health may be taking a hit, may not know where to go for help or know how to ask for it.
Here are some ways schools can continue to support teachers’ wellbeing even whilst working remotely.
In order to truly understand how your staff are feeling you must first reach out to them and ask them. Sometimes this can be as simple as a question over the phone or via a video call, however, not everyone will feel comfortable disclosing this information so freely.
This is why surveys are a great way to gauge how your staff are feeling. You can make responses anonymous so staff are more inclined to answer truthfully and, if you send them to all your teams, you can find out the general mood of teachers across the whole-school and use the results to tailor approaches accordingly.
These could be especially useful during this period of distance learning to evaluate how teachers are adapting and if there’s anything you could be doing differently.
With school staff no longer all being in school at the same time, it can mean that it’s harder for SLT and colleagues to notice when teachers aren’t acting themselves and reach out to them to offer support. This is especially true for those teachers who are having to shield themselves at home. For this reason it’s especially important that schools clearly signpost ways for staff to seek help.
Whether it’s pinning helpline numbers for Education Support Partnership and Mind in your in-school and virtual staff rooms or sending out emails with their contact numbers alongside helpful resources that could support staff during this time, it’s important to make help readily available to teachers.
Clearly signposting this support reminds teachers not only where to go if they’re struggling, but that it’s okay to feel stressed, low mood or anxiety.
It’s important to provide staff with an outlet and encourage them to talk openly about their wellbeing and struggles. Creating a school culture whereby teachers can discuss their stresses and concerns and feel safe to do so is critical in ensuring the health of school staff.
To help facilitate this, try setting up a bi-weekly call where staff are free to discuss any issues or struggles they are facing and others can share their advice on what they’ve found to help their productivity and wellbeing during distance learning.
For senior members of the team, it’s important that if you want your staff to act in a certain way to support their own wellbeing, you should too. For example, if you encourage staff to enforce office hours where they only reply to work emails until a certain time in the evening to ease workload, you should do the same.
Additionally, if you are asking your staff to partake in activities that will help them mentally and physically such as yoga, exercise or reading for pleasure - you should do the same. To help motivate this behaviour you could set up a book club or join an online exercise class together to ensure everyone takes time out of their day to participate.
Furthermore, teach your students the importance of modelling behaviour and ask them to take some of the advice they’re currently giving their students to help make them feel happier and healthier.