Catherine O’Farrell

Catherine is an experienced senior & corporate leader driving inclusion across the UAE and beyond. She has a masters in systems and bachelors in both education and psychology. Catherine has been consulting in the UAE for almost 10 years and is a regular conference speaker and media contributor.  She is currently Group Head of Student Services for Bloom Education. She is passionate about developing communities of practice through collaboration and multiple voluntary & charitable endeavours striving toward achievement of SDG’s Goal 8.

Teachers are consistently reported to experience an increased risk of developing mental ill-health (Stansfeld et al, 2011; Kidger et al, 2016) and this couldn’t be more the case than in the current climate of change and uncertainty.

Wellbeing is too often centred around ideas of ill health and mental instabilities but it is so much more than that. It is about what it means to have a good life, positive relationships with others and job satisfaction.

Poor workplace wellbeing causes a decrease in productivity for 63% of employees, research finds. As a result of poor wellbeing, over two in five (42%) said they’d taken more sick days (CABA, UK 2020).

This is reflected in the classroom where a teacher who is experiencing compromised wellbeing may find it more difficult to manage poor behaviour, leading to higher levels of disruption for the rest of the class.

Teachers may miss signs of anxiety or struggle in their students if they are struggling themselves and attention to academic excellence can slip.

Overall poor wellbeing can be detrimental to the teacher’s performance.

So what are the key factors that affect a teachers wellbeing and how can we be mindful, indeed wary of them?

Apart from the current situation during the COVID pandemic, where there is much change, uncertainty and unrest due to restrictions in practice and living conditions,  Education Support in the UK lists 6 ongoing and historical key contributing factors to teachers’ wellbeing:

  • Demands – such as workload and work environment
  • Control – a person’s own influence over how their job is carried out
  • Support – from colleagues, line-manager and organisation
  • Relationships – to reduce conflict and deal with unacceptable behaviour
  • Role – understanding of the job content and expectations
  • Change – how change is managed in the organisation

Being mindful of your personal experience of these factors is key in monitoring your teacher wellbeing.

Teachers should ask themselves these 6 questions to understand their phenomenological experience in the school environment

  • Do you feel stressed at work?
  • Do you feel adequately supported at work?
  • Do you feel equipped to manage your workload?
  • Where/who do you turn to if there is something wrong?
  • Would you like the opportunity to have counselling?
  • What do you enjoy about your job?
  • What do you not like?

Really taking a close look at how you view yourself within your classroom, within your team, as a part of the broader school community can help to identify gaps where dissatisfaction can lead to an overall feeling of reduced wellbeing.

If flags are raised by your answer to any of these 6 questions one should carefully consider what it is about that answer that is causing dissatisfaction.

Speak to colleagues to see if others are facing the same challenges. Reach out to the community. If there is an issue with the school, it is always advisable to approach your manager or leader.

Think carefully about how you wish to present your concerns, troubleshoot with a friend. Be clear about what is bothering you and effecting your wellbeing and be clear about what you would like to change.

The majority of leaders are happy to listen and open to suggestion. Sometimes leaders themselves are so absorbed in day to day activities they too fail to see burdens that build up and impact their teams.

Empathy and understanding are key to supporting the whole team both top down and bottom up.

Open dialogue is one of the most powerful tools in instigating change and gaining the support your need to be the best teacher that you can be.

Be empowered and be confident, by understating your personal experience and having a clear vision as to how that could be better paired with positive action can completely change your experience as a teacher for the better.