Epic Farts – A Review of Approaches, Materials and Ways To Improve Teacher Wellbeing and Reduce Teacher Workload

Posted by Matt Butcher on March 4th 2018
It works

We’re often contacted by a school’s newly-appointed Staff Wellbeing Lead to help point them in the direction of good practice; towards relevant resources; or to offer advice around ideas they themselves have; or things they’ve noticed other schools adopting. When it comes to teacher wellbeing, staff wellbeing; to reducing teacher-workload or improving teacher work-life balance, it can get a bit overwhelming; definitely a tad foggy. And it’s safe-to-say that the majority of staff faced with this new-found challenge of improving staff wellbeing are a little lost in the task. What tends to happen is this conga-effect of ‘I saw this in/on [insert name of school, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, school-resource provider or website] and looked great!’ or ‘They’ve introduced [insert generic approach to wellbeing] down the road – shouldn’t we be doing this if they are?’

In actual fact, there aren’t THAT many things you can do that get even close to addressing staff wellbeing at a level where you’re truly engaged and making a difference. So schools spend money they’ve earmarked for reducing workload, on things that offer hourly or daily wellbeing-boosts without addressing any of the underlying issues damaging to staff wellbeing and threatening to staff retention or recruitment. But their efforts look good on paper…right?

Introducing EPIC FARTS – The Teacher Wellbeing Pack: our cute take on the popular children’s card-game used throughout schools to demonstrate understanding of book characters, Aztec gods/goddesses or places of worship (you know the one!). It isn’t an assassination on anything you may have tried or used before – the fact you’ve cared enough can sometimes provide the vital short-term wellbeing boost you needed last week. Remember that – like in your classrooms – there’s no recognised best-way. But we’ve been privileged over the last two years to have been in round-the-clock contact with thousands of teachers around the world; all passionate about teacher wellbeing; and all offering feedback that’s helped shape the content of this humble offering.

Here, we review common and lesser-known approaches, materials and ideas seen as useful to help improve teacher wellbeing and reduce teacher workload. If it helps remove a little of the haze; if it alerts you to ideas or resources to help you in your role or setting then its achieved its purpose. If it helps school-leaders take a more considered approach; or engage in staff-wellbeing in a (slightly) more constructive way, then we can at least say its had an impact. Get in touch. Share the cards; share your thoughts. Have we missed anything? We can always add cards!? And here’s to a heathier and happier teaching profession. It is time.

Epic Farts School Shoutouts With an estimated 300 million practitioners, surely Yoga provides everything a school needs to improve staff wellbeing? Many of these yoga-enthusiasts appear to be at the helm of our schools, with the activity being mentioned first (and most frequently) as we list ways to help ease the teacher-crisis we currently face. I mean, who doesn’t want to finish lessons (with three loads of marking!) to race to the hall (wearing their new sports-wear they were forced to buy from Big Asda on the way to school) after spending all night stressing that nothing they owned fit them anymore? I’m down with those unnatural positions and living with the all-too-real threat of ending up off work for six months with a ruptured achilles. Clearly, the health benefits for those physically able or willing to partake are plentiful; but is it something a school should be putting their staff through in the name of wellbeing? No. At least not universally. By all means provide opportunities should it float your staffroom’s boat; but – in the truest name of wellbeing – provide a clear opt-out option for those who the mere thought of twisting and bending in front of their colleagues, makes them want to vomit and run for the hills! No teacher-wellbeing card game would be complete without reference to school inspection bodies, namely: Ofsted. I liken Ofsted to Lord Voldermort; or ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’; and not because they’re attempting to rid the world of muggles and annihilate an innocent young boy. Unfortunately – for Ofsted themselves – when you’re the root of fear and loathing in schools, people don’t want to talk about you or offer you any more attention. That’s because all talk leads to anxiety and makes people sad. Maybe that’s why more recent attempts to find some common-ground have fallen slightly flat on their backsides? Maybe its become the norm – even cool – to loath Ofsted and view them as the root of all educational evil? Essentially, they’ve been Voldermorted. But (if they were genuinely evil) why produce a document clarifying their stance on the major threats to teacher wellbeing and workload; a stance that states 30 times they ‘do not’ require you to do many of the things you either think – or are being told – you must do. And although trust and consistency amongst inspectors will always be used as a weapon against them, this is an olive-branch that shouldn’t be dismissed. This isn’t a softened-stance; this is just their stance. The Staffroom: commonly cited as the primary site for a teacher’s sugar intake! We’ve read and heard the warnings regarding sweet-treats and their many (potential) negative effects on our bodies; but this is cake. Mrs Parkin’s Chocolate Guinness Cake – for those few minutes shoving it into my mouth while photocopying my Maths worksheets – made me forget that I didn’t have a work-life balance. Cake sees teachers move faster than they ever knew possible; become more ruthless than we ever imagined. Yes you’ll pile on pounds, have to tackle the come-down from your sugar-highs and (no doubt) need more frequent trips to the dentist; but do we care? Not a chance. Because we are teachers. And this is CAKE! This was/is actually a thing!? At a cost of £226,000 (ex VAT) - paid from the coffers of the Department for Education – the Reducing Teacher Workload Toolkit was a costly and mediocre attempt to guide schools towards good practice in their attempts to support staff wellbeing. It has/had potential: a series of audits and ideas for school INSET to (at worst) open dialogue around the key threats to excessive workload. We ourselves were consulted and (I’m pretty sure!) largely responsible for the inclusion of its ‘Planning a Yearly Calendar’ module: a way for schools to identify threats to workload based on ‘pinch-points’ (or fit2teach scores?) across a school year. This could have supported schools; it should have supported schools? With resources and PowerPoints, it was semi-polished and good-to-go. But it bombed. Not according to the DfE, who - when we contacted them - were gushing in their self-praise, citing 62,000 downloads six months after its release. That figure - which equates to 2.3 downloads per school – suggests universal usage; and yet our own investigations at the same time revealed a different picture entirely! Of the 548 teachers we asked, a staggering 97% had never even heard of it. 8 teachers had been asked to ‘Take a look!’, 6 had been introduced to the toolkit during school INSET (its primary purpose), 2 (quite ironically!) had it added to their job-list and…wait for it…not a single teacher or school were adopting it as an ongoing tool. Zero. Not even a smidgen. Nowt. Nada. Nothing. I once bought a Guided Reading scheme that (for whatever reason?) gathered dust on a shelf and never got used; and I felt guilty. But this thing cost a quarter of a million quid!? But like other DfE olive-branches, it was released on the first Saturday of the UK Summer holidays – oh the irony! Its roll-out lacked the necessary communication fundamental for reducing teacher-workload and maintaining and improving staff-wellbeing. Again, it has that all-too-familiar feel of a box-ticking; jumping-through-hoops task that (sadly!) failed to live up to its price-tag and promise. The one that got away? It was never going to change the world; but its lack of impact makes me sad. I (kind of?) believed in you, Reducing Teacher Workload Toolkit. How wrong was I!? You let me down. Now, can we PLEASE embrace this for what it is; without a better-late-than-never or a I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it vibe? No negativity. No scepticism. And absolutely no Voldermorting. What we have here is a genuine shift in the approach to school inspections – one moving away from testing and (for its inclusion here) one that will soon make schools, governing bodies and school-leaders accountable for their efforts to engage in staff-wellbeing and reducing workload. It’s the boldest move we’ve seen. A move we anticipated. And one that we should be unequivocally thrilled with. Haters gonna hate; but - trust us – this is good. Very good. Imagine a world where the strength of a school’s leadership and management draws on the extent of its efforts to look after their most valuable assets – its staff. A world where good schools must engage and communicate with staff around workload concerns; where threats to wellbeing are identified, discussed and measurably improved in an open and constructive way. We heard recently from Ofsted’s National Director for Education - Sean Harford – who expects final publication soon; and for schools to be inspected using the new framework from September 2019. So when asked from September about your efforts to measure and improve staff wellbeing, have a better plan than Yoga! Actions speak louder than words; and it’s easy to talk a good game when it comes to the challenge of actually doing something constructive and engaging in safeguarding staff wellbeing. For the record, last term’s Yoga-INSET won’t cut-it when judged - from September – on the extent that school-leaders take into account the workload and wellbeing of their staff (Ofsted). We called this two years ago. It had to happen. And we’ve been refining our fit2teachSchools system for this very eventuality. Working alongside consultants, local authorities, school-leaders, teachers and support-staff, fit2teach (think Fitbit for all-things-school!) allows an educational setting to collate real-time anonymous data from over 70 wellbeing, workload and work-life balance outcomes. We provide the tools; the insights to truly identify and engage in the wellbeing of your staff. Personalise your approach with daily, weekly, monthly or termly data collection; with access to charts, oucomes and instant unlimited reporting through your unique fit2teachSchools admin-panel. Use us to identify worrying trends or focus-areas; to launch fun challenges or whole-school initiatives; and to evidence and celebrate your future success in – until now – a once unmeasurable area. We’re not a one-off survey capturing a one-off mood that fails to provide a balanced or accurate reflection of staff wellbeing in your school. Nor are we delving deeply into individual mental health issues. But if anyone gets teacher wellbeing and work-life balance, I do. We do. And we’re certain that if you’re looking to engage with intent - in a simple, novel, non-threatening and exciting way – then (for just 50p/month per staff member!) fit2teachSchools ticks ALL your wellbeing boxes! Check out our website for more information, including feedback from school-leaders and teachers about how fit2teach has helped lift the fog around teacher work-life balance, bring about change; and play a crucial role in nurturing happier, healthier and (naturally!) more effective practitioners.