Stop Talking About Wellbeing, by Kat Howard

Why I read it:

As I’ve mentioned before, I carried out a research project on staff wellbeing in 2019-2020, which was a fantastic opportunity to look at wellbeing with a research-informed eye. During that project, I saw that Kat Howard was writing, and then publishing this book – and knew it would be a vital piece of work to help school leaders and teachers to gain a footing with wellbeing. I read it once when it was published, once when I was appointed as a Deputy Head, and have revisited in in the last few weeks in anticipation of writing this blog post. And there’s more to discover each time.

In summary:

Stop Talking About Wellbeing has a wide scope; it covers much more than the traditional, perhaps tertiary views of wellbeing, such as perks or mindfulness. Kat is incredibly ambitious in her approach, exploring teaching and learning, curriculum, behaviour – virtually all aspects of school life are covered. And, that’s the point! Kat’s message is simple: we should stop talking about wellbeing as a separate, bolt-on entity, and understand it as a process that involves all aspects of our work.

Each chapter focuses on a different area of school life, such as curriculum, planning, communication, imposter syndrome, and many others. Kat includes her own startling level of expertise, in addition to the views and input of others, through sharing tweets, twitter polls, and cameo reflections from big hitters such as Jonny Uttley.

The title of this book is catchy and clearly makes the point that wellbeing is about all aspects of our work, but I can’t help but feel that there is so much more to this than people realise. Everyone should read it! Kat even includes a ‘reading route’ at the start, advising an order to read the book depending on your role, from trainee, to senior leader, to ‘I want to quit’.

Key takeaways:

Stop Talking About Wellbeing is comprehensive and thoughtful. While some pages are broken up by bullet points and boxes, most of the text is written in fluent, comprehensive prose. There isn’t a short cut to wellbeing, and Kat’s discussion of the subject is detailed and considered; as such, there are far too many takeaways to list – so I’d really suggest buying this book if you have any interest in wellbeing, valuing staff, or school improvement.

  1. Health and wellness – Kat gives some practical advice about the physicality of our jobs, such as how to watch out for back pain (we’ve all been there!) and how to make sure we get enough sleep to stay healthy. She also explores some of the community-based ways to promote wellness, such as the teacher5aday hashtag. The book is more about treating causes rather than some of these symptoms, but nevertheless the guidance here is useful and well informed.
  2. Marking vs feedback – this is an expertly considered and resourced chapter, discussing how marking has turned into an administrative, onerous task, and has lost its way from what it intended to do: provide useful feedback. Kat reflects upon how to turn marking policies into purposeful feedback, and also features some insightful guidance regarding initiatives such as whole-class feedback and comparative judgment. Implementing these could be a game changer for you and your school!
  3. Communication – how many hours have we lost due to poor communication? How much stress does a late email cause us when we are trying to unwind? Kat calls email ‘the kiss of death for conversation’, and lists some tragic (and I found, slightly amusing) cardinal sins of email. Kat then moves into a discussion about organisations and leaders who prioritise human connection at all levels; this, in turn, leads to an exploration of behaviour within a school. Put simply, everything connects in the pursuit of the wellbeing of all in the organisation.
  4. Fewer things in depth a lot of our workload problems come from onerous tasks that don’t add to the core purpose of education and learning. Kat discusses how if it doesn’t serve a purpose, we should stop doing it. Not only will this reduce our workload, but it means we should be left with tasks that are fulfilling and serve the purpose that we are so motivated to achieved as educators.

As I said, there are so many takeaways from this book, but they are nuanced and detailed – you need to read the book through with a pen, your values, and experiences to get the most out of it.

Favourite moments:

‘My why’ – the main opening chapter is one of personal reflection, vulnerability, and purpose. Kat opens up about some of the challenges in her personal and professional life. It’s clear from reading this chapter that the author has had many typical experiences of a struggling teacher, and has clear passion for the subject. It is also the perfect time for the reader to reflect on how they feel as a teacher, and if the sense of purpose they felt when entering the profession is still being fed by their current workplace.

Reflection questions – the chapters end with a set of reflection questions; these are cleverly worded, taking on what I’d call a ‘coaching approach’, which aids the reader to actually reflect!

Favourite quote:

‘Wellbeing is hard to attain because it is not an outcome, but part of the process’

This is a vital quote for those who are pursuing happier, healthier careers or workplaces. Wellbeing isn’t solved with a checklist or a certificate – it doesn’t end. Every aspect of our work should consider wellbeing, so that our day-to-day processes are ones that help us to thrive.

Question and Reflect:

  • How much time have you spent considering wellbeing as part of the curriculum, teaching and learning, or pastoral areas of the school? Have we spent as much time as a profession discussing how wellbeing links to each of those areas? If you have a wellbeing lead at your school – are they connected to all areas of school life?
  • If you could review your organisation in order to put staff wellbeing at the centre, where would you start? Which tasks are entrenched but unnecessary? Which add value? Which serve your core purpose?
  • Does your school or workplace have specific guidance about workload, or policies regarding emails and communication?

Read this if..

You are interested in wellbeing or school improvement

You are a teacher or leader

Support book shops and find it here

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