Future terms: Looking after each other after lockdown
Watch the third of our Future Terms online panel series, exploring how schools can protect the mental health and wellbeing of staff and pupils.
This panel session aired on 18 June 2020. Watch the full recording below.
- Shelley Gonsalves - Executive Director for Programme Delivery, Teach First
- Jaz Ampaw-Farr - Speaker and Resilience Ninja
- Lisa Fathers - Director of Teaching School and Partnerships (BFET Executive Team), Alliance for Learning Teaching School
- Cornelia Lucey - Psychologist and Positive Leadership Consultant, LIVEWISE
- Tom Shaw - Senior Manager of Research and Development, Carr Manor Community School
- 0:02 - Shelley Gonsalves introduction
- 3:10 - Cornelia Lucey opening statements
- 11:07 - Jaz Ampaw-Farr opening statements
- 15:17 - Lisa Fathers opening statements
- 20:12 - Tom Shaw opening statements
- 27:21 - Question: How can we match a focus on positivity and wellbeing against the dominant government narrative on deficit and failure?
- 33:25 - Question: How do we encourage a culture of reflection and authenticity in schools where this is not currently present?
- 38:45 - Question: How can we prepare for the next year when it is so uncertain?
- 45:04 - Question: How do new teachers reframe and reset, coming into a new profession at such an uncertain time?
- 51:39 - Question: What would the future of teaching look like if we put wellbeing at the front?
The entire nation has experienced collective trauma. This discussion explored the approaches schools should implement to protect and prioritise the mental health – and rebuild the resilience – of the whole school community.
The panel agreed that making a sustainable recovery will be a slow, gradual process. The school community has shown great endurance, but this is a marathon - and we are running towards uncertainty. No one has had a break since lockdown began, and though schools are thinking ahead (planning for social distancing and PPE, for example), this pandemic is constantly evolving. Mistakes will be made. People will be anxious. What is important is that we properly address these anxieties and practise empathy. Schools should feel confident to relax their focus on the pursuit of ‘catching up’ on academic accomplishment. Instead, they can use this situation as permission to build effective systems that support wellbeing and resilience. This could be the key difference between our education system’s restoration or burnout.
The panel emphasised that, though we have experienced trauma as a nation, it is important to be mindful of individual experiences. Staff are experiencing fatigue; some students may be managing post-traumatic stress; members of the school community may be suffering personal bereavement. Bespoke support for each of these instances, and more, will need to be considered. However, by making people feel safe in their environment, schools can build some level of resilience that applies to everyone.
The panel members signposted attendees to various wellbeing models: LIVEWISE suggest Martin Seligman’s PERMA model, while Restore Our Schools has its own ‘three-phase’ structure. Importantly, they emphasised that whatever strategy is applied, it serves to enhance good practice already in place.
Drawing on their experience, the panel shared several principles to strengthen school wellbeing. Good relationships must be in place before any learning happens. The panel recognised that the boundaries between home and work are no longer concrete, meaning it is imperative that staff and students feel safe. School leaders must acknowledge problems instead of pretending things are back to normal, actively listening to and engaging with those in their care. This also means enhancing opportunities for positive emotions and creating room in the school timetable for play and fun. And though safety from COVID-19 is a big priority, this should be seen as part of school recovery, where the effects of isolation and mental health issues require adequate attention.
The panel agreed that now is a huge opportunity to change the school system for the better. Value in our society is going to be restructured. Wellbeing and mental health are no longer optional extras – they are fundamental to our existence. We can now do things with children instead of at them, encouraging honest conversation that invites them to engage with their education, instead of seeing it as an inaccessible system. We can open up to the communities that we serve. By taking charge of their wellbeing, schools can gain a greater sense of agency and question hierarchical structures. This entire process opens the door to doing things the community has wanted to do for years in the school system – and could very much change it for the better.
Regardless of the government and media focus on ‘academic deficit’, the panel emphasised that now is the time to act with integrity. That means having the conviction and bravery to do the right thing for pupils and staff, whether people are watching or not. The term ‘catching up’ can be damaging and emphasise negativity. Psychology shows we have an in-built bias towards negativity. We need to break through that and explore the news in an objective way, separating fact from fiction and re-writing that narrative set against the education system. As a community, we need to reframe the end points - exploring the gaps in knowledge that need plugging while building resilience.
To encourage a culture of reflection, schools need to embrace collaboration. The panel iterated that we are currently reaping the consequences of years of competition in the education system – but fundamentally, when children win, we all win. This crisis is forcing us to collaborate, and we have to show an active desire to work with other schools. The panel suggested running staff circles and collecting feedback from the whole community (instead of one group). This can also serve to empower the entire community with a sense of agency. Additionally, this is an opportunity for early career teachers to become role models for their students. For example, in the morning they can dedicate time to reflect on their feelings and current events.
The next academic year looks uncertain. The panel expressed that schools should avoid making granular plans until more parameters are available. Instead, this is an opportunity to upskill and improve learning more broadly; some teachers are immersing themselves in subject knowledge and cognitive learning. What’s more, it’s a chance to apply wellbeing to school routines and embedded practice. Planning for the next year may very well involve teachers eating well, sleeping well and getting themselves to the best they can be for the Autumn term.
New teachers face an intimidating start to the new academic year. The panel emphasised that there will always be support available, whether from mentors or the school community. The biggest mistake new trainees and NQTs make is not asking for help - this is especially problematic in such uncertain times. All teachers, including those with substantial experience behind them, must normalise and embrace their vulnerability; while schools must do their part to bring understanding and empathy into the school context. And new trainees would do well to note that, even though they have not taught, they have valuable experiences to bring with them: those of being in school as students themselves, and of being in lockdown. This is a great opportunity to connect with pupils and build positivity.
To close, the panel were asked to consider what an education system that prioritised wellbeing would look like. To find out their thoughts on this, follow them on Twitter:
We'll be running a live Twitter debate during the panels. Join the discussion and submit your questions using #FutureTermsPanel.
Find out more about our leadership opportunities, including NPQs designed to turn teachers into inspiring leaders (including Middle Leader, Senior Leader and Headship), and our Leading Together programme, designed to bring stronger school leadership across your senior team.
We are also rolling out the Early Career Framework to support newly qualified teachers during the early stages of their careers, fully funded by the Department for Education.