Well-being – a concept that is personal to every teacher and has strong importance for the modern teacher. We spoke to Elizabeth, author of A Practical Guide to Teacher Wellbeing, on her thoughts on the topic.
From wellbeing breaks in hotels and spas to wellbeing aisles in supermarkets - the topic is splashed across magazines, books and websites and found in wellbeing hubs and clinics.There is no doubt that taking care of ourselves is a hot topic right now. So hot, that “wellbeing” can feel like an over-used term.
Yet there is so little focus on what wellbeing actually means, and more importantly, what it means to us as individuals. There is a danger that it will simply become an over-familiar word that conveys little meaning if we don’t take the time to consider the role and purpose of wellbeing in our lives.
Amid the cacophony of comments on wellbeing it can be hard to pin down exactly what the word means. There is no single definition that is shared by all in the field. But it is useful to think of wellbeing in terms of feeling good and functioning well. When we experience wellbeing we are usually in a comfortable, happy or healthy state. For the purposes of starting to consider exactly what wellbeing means for you, this is enough initially. But it’s also worth considering deeper complexities of wellbeing such as our overall impression of how well our lives are going, how well we are functioning, how we feel about the communities we live and work in, and the degree of vitality we feel, among others.
The first thing to keep in mind when considering wellbeing is that it is personal. There is no single path to wellbeing that will work for everyone. Self-knowledge is essential. What works brilliantly for you may not have any impact on someone else.
An effective way of discovering what wellbeing means to you is to ask yourself how you know you have, or do not have, a sense of wellbeing in your life. Think about these questions:
Do you find it easy to recognise a feeling of wellbeing?
What does it look like? What does it feel like?
Who else does it involve?
What is the balance between teaching and all other features of your life?
What would a life characterised by wellbeing look and feel like to you?
It can be helpful to write your responses down. A bulleted list works well, as does a paragraph of prose. You decide, it’s your wellbeing!
Now that you have a greater sense of what wellbeing means to you as a teacher, it’s worth taking steps to bringing that picture to life.
For wellbeing to mean anything as a concept, it needs to be embedded in our lives; perhaps, even, our primary consideration in all we do. Keeping wellbeing at the front and centre will help us to be able to address the concerns in our professional and personal lives with strength and compassion. If we are committed to our wellbeing, perhaps we are less likely to say “yes” when we really should be saying “no”. We are also more likely to be able to look out for the wellbeing of our colleagues and the children and young people we teach too.
There is an important caveat here, however. While we must, of course, be responsible for our wellbeing, we have to acknowledge that teachers are working in a system that can demand more than is reasonable. The retention of teachers in the profession is a major issue at present and we cannot pretend that workload isn’t a significant factor. But we also must acknowledge that the best way for us to reach a life of greater balance is to learn what wellbeing means to us, and pursue that with ruthless intensity.