Staff wellbeing was this year’s focus at the Emotional Friendly Schools Conference and was very well attended. A big thank you to Hannah Cartmell and Anna Serjeant for organising this excellent event.
The key-note speaker Professor Neil Humphrey began the day with some alarming statistics around the poor mental health and wellbeing of teachers. To demonstrate the opinions of the delegates around this topic he asked them to take part in a live poll using Mentimeter.
The results of the poll showed that 58% said they had felt so stressed over the last two years that they had given serious consideration to leaving the profession. It’s quite possible this statistic would have been even higher had the room been filled with just teachers. He also asked, “What has an impact on your wellbeing at school?” and the option ‘Demands (e.g. workload)’ received a huge 87% response. Professor Humphrey also reminded us of why we continue to do the job, with 63% saying they experienced weekly “…one of those joyful ‘moments’, where you are reminded why you became a teacher in the first place” and 23% experienced this daily. The poll was, of course, done in a light-hearted and fun way, however, I think it’s a very good demonstration of the feelings within the profession today.
Unfortunately, I was one of those statistics. I became so stressed that I began to suffer with anxiety and subsequently developed a heart condition and depression. I was fortunate to be offered mindfulness as part of my recovery and it literally turned my life around. It wasn’t a quick fix but a lifestyle change. I began, for the first time, to see what I was putting myself through on a daily basis. I decided to leave my full time teaching job and I am now a qualified mindfulness teacher delivering mindfulness to schools, colleges and the mental health charity Mind in Salford.
We were heartened to hear from Professor Humphrey that the Manchester Institute of Education are including mindfulness as part of the teacher-training programme, so the new cohorts will have the tools under their belt to deal with the stresses and strains of the profession.
The Government Guidelines recommend all mindfulness teachers should have completed an eight-week mindfulness programme, plus a one-year supervised pathway (or other similar qualification), and have their own personal mindfulness practice well established. This is because mindfulness isn’t a quick fix, like putting on a sticking plaster. It is a subtle practice and can only be taught well by people with considerable personal experience. It is not something that can be learnt quickly. It is deceptively simple, and people can easily think that they know what it is when they are actually only using a small aspect of mindfulness. Presented simplistically, or with misinterpretations, the radical perspective-shifting potential of the approach is lost.
The success of mindfulness programmes in school depends to a considerable extent on the quality and experience of the teacher’s own mindfulness practice, and this can take several years of sustained personal commitment well beyond the formal training. Quality is also affected by how it is implemented; an isolated instance of a teacher working with one class is less effective than a whole school approach in which everyone in the school community including parents and all the staff participate in the programme. (Mindful Nation UK, Report by the Mindfulness All-Parliamentary Parliament Group (MAPPG), October 2015).
We were delighted to be able to deliver a workshop at the conference on mindfulness, which was really well received. We were able to give delegates a taster, which included:
- Stepping out of autopilot: to help you become aware of how much we operate on automatic pilot and don’t stop to notice what’s happening around us, or to enjoy what is happening in the present moment.
- Noticing distraction: to notice where our thoughts are. We get caught up in planning what we need to do, or thinking about what somebody said, or maybe having an imaginary conversation, which may not ever happen. Our minds are constantly caught up in thoughts and this practice is great for noticing what our minds are doing.
- Body scan: this helps us to become more attuned with
what’s happening in our body. We may be unaware that we are holding tensionin our body, and may not have noticed this until we stop and focus our attention. Through meditation we train our brain to notice when we are feeling anxious, what we are feeling and begin to recognise sensations such as shallow breathing.
The conference was rounded up by Inky Thinking who were amazing at getting everyone to come up with ways of improving their school’s wellbeing. They drew a huge graphic to reflect what the conference was all about (image at the beginning of this blog). Each group came up with unique ways to improve staff wellbeing, centred around the question, “What will staff wellbeing at your school look like?” Groups came up with ideas from toolkits to singing and it was interesting to see many people had included the need for mindfulness in their school. Below are ideas from a couple of the groups: