Teacher Wellbeing and Self-Care, by Adrian Bethune and Dr Emma Kell

Why I read it – as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I embarked on a staff wellbeing project in 2019, and set out to read as many books and pieces of academic research as possible to understand the ‘why’ behind our feelings at work. Soon after engaging with wellbeing, I came across Adrian Bethune and Dr Emma Kell on Twitter and have followed their work and musings since.

In summary –   this is a concise, practical guidebook for teachers, focusing on how they can take control of their wellbeing. Bethune and Kell don’t labour the causes of stress and burnout in schools, or bemoan the shortcomings of the education sector in protecting staff; instead, they challenge us as teachers to improve our self-efficacy, with plenty of practical strategies and reflections. This approach was refreshing to me, having spent 18 months examining system-wide problems, declining retention rates, and considering how schools could do more to help their staff thrive.

Here, the authors focus on what individuals can control. The premise is empowering, their tone encouraging and enthusiastic, and the exercises original and enjoyable.

Key takeaways

  1. Negativity Bias – at the outset, we learn about Negativity Bias, the notion that our brains are wired to focus on the negative experiences over positive ones. Psychologist Dr Rick Hason is then referenced as to his theory that we can reframe this thinking and make our positive experiences ‘stickier’, that is, more prominent in our minds. It’s not an attempt to delude ourselves that everything is perfect, but rather a way to level out our natural tendency to dwell on the negative. That’s a useful idea to reflect on at the beginning of a book where you are challenged to take control of your wellbeing.
  2. Agency – the majority of research that I have read about wellbeing proposes that staff agency (or autonomy) is vital to being able to thrive. Here, Bethune and Kell suggest that teaching, as a vocation that people enter to make a difference in the lives of young people, has a particular duty to its staff to give them a voice – teachers actively want to contribute their passion and expertise to their school and its children. In this chapter, research is cited about how important it is for schools to provide agency for staff, but, as I mentioned in the summary, the focus turns back to teachers and how we can evaluate our traits and our choice of school to ensure we have more control and agency over our work.
  3. Form your crew – one of the three pillars of Self-Determination Theory is ‘relatedness’, that is, your relationships with people in the organisation. Studies have found that, for teachers, relationships with pupils can be more important than their own colleagues, and this chapter explores how we can take steps to foster the best possible relationships with staff and students. We all want to work with people who share our values and mutual trust, but sometimes it takes some active thought regarding how to nurture these – no relationship is ever straightforward, but they are worth investing in.

Favourite quote

‘Wellbeing is not about fluffy, bolt-on things. At the heart of teacher wellbeing is a sense of professional integrity and trust. Teaching will always be busy and emotionally demanding, but getting home at the end of the day and feeling that your efforts are worth it is the key.’

Favourite moment

I must admit, I am the cranky teacher whose eyes flicker when an INSET presenter asks the table to do a group task or ice breaker. I want to listen, read, process, make notes. But leave me alone! I’ll ignore the fact that I often then enjoy the activities that are forced upon us.

Throughout Teacher Wellbeing and Self-Care, Bethune and Kell include an array of reflective activities, complete with the space to fill out your thoughts. I was initially sceptical. But in for a penny, in for a pound. I sat with a chapter once a day, read it, and completed the reflections with a cup of tea. One of the reasons I’m such an advocate of coaching is because I believe that when you verbally articulate a feeling, sometimes things jump out that you weren’t conscious of. This is the same premise; we are encouraged to write down values, attitudes, desires, concerns, and then have the choice to match them up to strategies within the chapter. If you find yourself caught in the whirlwind of the teaching day, I urge you to try this.

Question and reflect

  • We can’t control everything around us, but we can control how we look after ourselves. Do we spend enough time reflecting on how we feel? Or what we might prioritise this week / month in order to give the optimal chance of feeling well, and thriving, at work?
  • Can you name things you do already to help promote positivity and wellness in your work?
  • Think about what causes you stress at work; which factors are organisation-related? Of those, which could you influence or improve? And then, which factors come from within yourself? And again, can they be improved?

Read this if…

You want to learn more about how to engage with your own wellbeing and self-efficacy

You want a guide that will force you to reflect and spend time thinking

Find the book here

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