Schools are soon going to reopen next month after the summer holidays; teachers, staff and students will be stepping into a new normal in the midst of a raging worldwide pandemic. Schools will be either online, onsite or blended, depending on their geographical region. A common factor in the new normal is that everyone wants to return to school even though there are many different permutations and combinations involved in doing the same. School leaders and administrators are working tirelessly to ensure a safe, flexible and practical way of returning to school. One thing the entire education fraternity, and this includes higher education institutions, are focusing on is the staff and student well being as they try to adapt to the new normal. Whilst student well being has been a paramount focus in teaching and learning for many years, it is time to implement solutions to focus on teacher well being.
Why? Teachers have not had a break since the pandemic broke out in early 2020! Whether it was teaching online, or struggling to juggle home and work, or dealing with the stress of losing their jobs, teachers have been through a lot. Some other reasons include international school teachers have been displaced from their home countries, caught between borders, separated from families, have had to take pay cuts, look for new jobs, the list is not exhaustive.
Hence, in the academic year 2020, the primary focus of educational institutions across the globe should be teacher well being. Here are a few pointers that school leaders and administrators should have in place to help their teachers settle in after having undergone a tumultuous half-year of stress and anxiety.
1. Workload- Reassess workload of each and every teacher, starting with the contact time, duties and responsibility hours wherever possible to prevent teacher burnout. Increase efficiency not productivity.
2. Timetabling- While creating the time table for the academic year 2020 opt for longer periods which will allow the teachers to have longer free periods for planning. Longer lesson time also facilitates meaningful teacher-student interactions creating a culture of positivity.
3. Human Resource- Ensure HR plays a crucial and supportive role in maintaining teacher well being. If logistics like bank accounts, housing, permits, visas, taxes etc, are well organised by HR, teachers get more time to breathe.
4. Communication- Be brief, be bright and be gone! This is a mantra I have applied as a leader; be direct, keep emails short, reduce emails, maybe to once a week. Remember lengthy and repetitive communication only stresses people out, also research says most people don’t even read emails due to their length.
5. Stay connected- Anything that can be discussed in person should not be communicated through emails. As a teacher I find it extremely agonizing to reply to emails in the middle of a teaching day, it only leads to a nagging pain in my head throbbing with the words: “reply to the email, reply to the email…”
6. Mindfulness practices- Indulge in weekly activities for teachers like cultural dress-up days, healthy snack day, share your food day or even drop everything and breathe for 5 minutes a day!
7. Intrinsic motivation- Educators are motivated by career development or intellectual discussions, schools need to budget for meaningful professional development opportunities and ensure no one is left out, this will keep teachers passionate and motivated.
8. Cut down on meetings- Weekly collaborative meetings can only be productive if there is an agenda, send out the agenda in advance and if there is no agenda don’t have the meeting. Try to combine department meeting allowing more planning time for teachers.
9. Documentation- Reduce redundant documentation by creating a database for all resources to ensure no one is tasked with recreating and reproducing the same work which already exists. Meeting minutes should be linked with resources online and in-house, making it easier for teachers to look for necessary documents.
10. Culture of Appreciation- Send out more positive emails, shout outs to acknowledge the great work teachers do every day, shower praise and positive reinforcement to drive away any residual blues from the past few months of stress and anxiety.
There are many more action points schools can put in place to nurture teachers’ mental health after the trauma they have undergone due to Covid19. Let this year set an example of how taking care of teachers’ well being became an educational aim and translated into necessary school policy. Remember happy teachers create happy classrooms whether online or on-site.