Advice for principals on how to support teacher wellbeing during the Covid-19 lockdown

Schooling during lockdown poses some unique challenges for teacher wellbeing. Teachers are now working in a way in which they have never had to before, with little time to prepare, and while facing anxiety about the current situation and uncertainty about the future. Here are a few guiding ideas for supporting teacher wellbeing.

Connection and understanding – what is happening for teachers?

Many teachers will be facing competing demands that can lead to stress and anxiety. Making an effort to understand teachers’ circumstances and how to support them can make a big difference.

  • Check in. Connect with teachers to find out what challenges they are facing. Try and call or video call every teacher, or send an email. Explain that you would like to know how best to support them and it would be helpful to know what challenges they are facing. Make sure teachers know they can come to you with challenges and receive support.
  • Listen (and act!). If people are struggling, then often simply listening to people with empathy and understanding can support their wellbeing. If you are connecting via email, make sure you respond to replies to acknowledge the challenges that teachers are facing. Also look out for ways that you can offer practical help or connect them to others who can help. Be alert to any school demands that are adding to their struggles and consider if there are ways you can help to alleviate those demands.
  • Provide signposts to support. There may be problems teachers are facing that require you to connect them with others for support. For example, many schools are registered with EAP services, and they are offering telephone support and e-counselling during the lock-down period. You can contact them through their website or on 0800 327 669.
  • Ongoing connection and support. Consider how to maintain connection with teachers throughout the whole period of lockdown, striking a balance between bombarding people with too much information and making sure people feel connected and supported. Think about ways to encourage ongoing connection between staff. 

Focus on what’s important to reduce the workload – what is sustainable?

Current circumstances have forced a change to the way in which teachers are working, so now it is more important than ever to keep it simple and just focus on what is absolutely necessary.

  • Communicate priorities and expectations clearly with teachers. Identify the absolute top priorities for your school, your teachers and your students. Set a limited number of expectations, and clearly communicate these with teachers. 
  • Reduce the load. Once you have decided on the priorities, look at what you can get rid of. Think about reducing the number of emails and meetings, and put off changes or new initiatives. For example, don’t expect people to learn new software to teach remotely.

Listen to feedback and be flexible – managing competing demands.

Routine is important for wellbeing but be aware that each household will face different constraints that determine how they organise their routine, such as sharing childcare or looking after sick relatives. Be wary of expecting teachers to stick to their normal timetable (and the same goes for students too) and consider if it is realistic to co-ordinate routines across all teachers and students.

  • Give teachers flexibility. Set out the priorities and expectations, but give teachers flexibility in how to meet these. For example, can teachers choose what tools they use for online teaching, or organise check in times for students that fit with their household routine?
  • Get feedback and listen to it! Find out how people coping with the expectations you have set and identify any changes you may need to make. Clearly communicate the actions you are taking to teachers. Again, balance is key, as changing too much can overwhelm people. 

And finally, ensure that you also look after yourself! Make sure you are connecting with others for support. Know your own priorities and don’t expect too much of yourself. Consider your own household routine and be flexible about how you fit school work around that.

By Rachel Cann

PREPARED FOR THE EDUCATION HUB BY

Rachel Cann

Rachel is a PhD student at the University of Auckland. She completed her Master’s thesis on the actions that educational leaders can take to help enhance teacher wellbeing. She continues to explore teacher wellbeing for her doctoral studies, in particular using the perspectives of positive psychology and social network theory. Previously, Rachel was a head of science in an Auckland secondary school, and has also led cross-curricular teams of teachers for project-based learning, pastoral care, and teaching as inquiry.