While heads of department might bear the responsibility to foster wellbeing within the team, everyone can learn from these ideas to help maintain morale
Instead of one-off wellbeing sessions, let’s consider how to take the first steps in fostering wellbeing within your science department and maintaining that wellbeing for all staff throughout the academic year. These steps form a framework: fostering connections, teamwork and feeling part of a network. As head of department, you may wish to lead a discussion on this, or support another member of the department in initiating these ideas. Use the Workload analyser and action plan (download as MS Word or pdf) each term to help find the main stress points and consider options to help.
Teaching can feel isolating. You can feel on your own with your classes, your planning, your marking. Other members of department will be doing their own thing. Create opportunities to meet informally such as Friday breaktime cakes or a communal lunchbreak once a week to share experiences. Consider agreeing to only respond and send emails between particular times, say 8am and 6pm. Agree to try to talk rather than email, perhaps at the informal meeting times you have created. Create connections, so that teachers can offer support and be supported.
Team effort at busy times
Events that occur within the school year, such as marking mocks, report writing and open evenings, take additional time alongside your normal teaching, planning and marking – adding pressure to a working week. To compound this, they often happen at the end of term, when you’re tired. An approach is to agree a time and place where you will work together to get the task done. Supply tea and biscuits. This will increase connections, with less chance of individuals feeling alone and overwhelmed.
Opportunities to network with other science teachers can invigorate your passion for teaching. Going to Teachmeets or conferences, inviting other teachers to share approaches can help refresh, revise and reinvigorate teachers, helping them to remember what it’s all for. Networking helps get perspective and remember why you came into teaching.
Three quick wins for fostering wellbeing
1. Lead by example
Share the time management issues you face and how you are trying to manage them, follow your email etiquette agreements, attend the team meeting and work sessions.
2. Giving permission
Based on your knowledge of your colleagues, use your position to give individuals in your team permission to leave early, take a break, leave work at school. As a leader, you can help make your staff realise that they need to take a rest and it’s okay to do so. Linked to giving permission, is promoting self-care to your staff. If a member of staff is regularly staying late, check in on them. If someone seems detached from the department, invite them for a chat.
3. Random acts of kindness
A chocolate bar, a piece of fruit or a muffin with a short note in a colleague’s pigeonhole in the middle of or at the end of a tough week can make a huge difference. The note can recognise how they have dealt with a difficult situation, thank them or recognise that they’re a valued member of the team.
What about me?
And what about you? What about your needs as the team leader? Connect. Connect with other department leaders, arrange to meet once a month over coffee. Compare notes, experiences and stresses. This will help you feel connected, networked and supported beyond your department.
Is teaching losing its spark? Take a look at the support and guidance in Science Teacher SOS.
Is teaching losing its spark? Take a look at the support and guidance in Science Teacher SOS (ase.org.uk/sos).
Euan Douglas, head of science at Saint George Catholic College, Southampton and Ross Palmer, head of physics at Cardinal Newman Catholic School, Hove who commented on earlier drafts.