Growing through wellbeing in 2022
According to Jim Knight, Rt Hon Lord Knight of Weymouth, dealing with Covid has come at a cost, but significant ways to improve teacher wellbeing are also at hand this side of the pandemic.
Meeting the challenge
One of the most striking things about these extraordinary last two years has been the resilience of international schools. Despite seemingly overwhelming challenges, the staff working in the sector have ensured that most learners have been able to progress and the sector has continued to grow.
However, this coping has been at a cost to wellbeing. In some parts of the world, children have been in extended lockdown and unable to access the outdoors. We all know good education is about more than academic learning and the constraints on social, emotional, and physical development have been a real problem. Humans are social animals, and we need that in-person interaction. In addition, all the evidence shows us that access to nature and exercise are important for mental health.
The price paid by staff
It is no surprise that pupil wellbeing has been impacted by the pandemic, but it doesn’t stop there. The same staff who have done so much to keep the train on the tracks have also had their own wellbeing impacted. Staff improvisation ranges from having to rapidly change and teach in ways you haven’t been trained in, to having to be a cleaner and mental health nurse, to managing the chaos of cancelled exams. Many have simply not been able to get home to see family. All of these have taken their toll.
School leaders have of course responded to these wellbeing problems within their school communities but, like COVID, the impact lingers on.
Recruitment and retention
I’ve tried to keep up with what schools are doing to tackle the wellbeing challenge. Recruitment is a long-standing issue, made worse in some parts of the world by visa restrictions. The use of recruitment subscriptions has helped manage the cost risk and provided a range of tools to help target the right candidates.
Retention is a much bigger issue as many teachers will be looking at opportunities to return home to family after an unexpectedly long stretch abroad. It is therefore all the more important to go the extra mile in hanging on to great staff where possible.
An action plan for wellbeing
The starting point is often regular staff wellbeing surveys that are short and easy to complete. This can then be used to create action plans and track changes over time using real time data. Most plans include training in some of the new teaching challenges – from technology to mental health – all increasing professionalism, confidence and job satisfaction.
Developing a strategy
As schools come together again in conferences and other events it will be important to capture what else is working and what innovations schools have found to tackle these issues. In the longer term, there are some bigger strategic questions if we want a more successful school system in the future that includes growing the wellbeing of learners.
The school system is assessment heavy. A break from traditional summative exams has created many problem, and has had a mixed response from learners. But it has also made room for reflection on whether we should go forward with more continuous assessment and course work.
Are we testing all of the right things for whole child development? Are there other forms of testing that can assess a better range of learning beyond the purely academic? Do we need so many exams at all? Should examinations better reflect the embedded use of technology in the real world?
Letting technology take the strain
Technology adoption has been a big feature of the last two years. For many school leaders it is moving from being tactical to something of strategic importance. In the past there have been worries about technology replacing teachers, or artificial intelligence reinforcing unconscious bias in the system. Those worries are real, but we can now also start to think positively about how technology tools can be used to ease the burdens on teachers and give them more granular insights to improve the quality of their work.
Gains to be made
There are huge gains for teaching when pedagogy is redesigned to reflect what becomes possible when virtual learning is blended seamlessly with in-class teaching. The data that is captured can replace some of the assessment and the reporting. Teachers can connect professionally online to share practice and resources, and can receive training and even team teach with a remote colleague.
Teacher retention will be improved by reducing excessive workload. One example is reporting to parents. The pandemic has shown us how that can now be done in real time with a variety of products, and very few who are doing virtual parents evenings would want to go back to how it used to be done.
The way forward
Teachers also want to increase time for reflection with other teaching professionals. Adjusting the timetable to allow for that change is in turn made all the more easy by using the more advanced timetabling software.
No one knows how long the pandemic will frustrate teaching and learning in our schools. We may even have to just learn to live with COVID. As things normalise it will be important to grab the chance not just to recover the wellbeing of the people in our schools, but embed that wellbeing. In doing we so I believe we set up a solid foundation for further growth.
Former UK Cabinet member and Minister of State for School Standards in the UK (2005–2009), Lord Jim Knight is now a Labour member of the House of Lords.
FEATURE IMAGE: by geralt on Pixabay