Teacher resilience: managing the invisible curriculum

Rose Hardy, headmistress of Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls, says schools need to become better at acknowledging the pressures put on teachers, and provide support to boost resilience

It’s no secret that the demands placed upon teachers today have evolved beyond all recognition in the last 10 years alone. It’s no longer enough to be a first-class, enthusiastic and driven teacher with a passion for education.

Regardless of your previous training, you’re now expected to have additional expertise in all manner of areas from mental health and counselling to online safety and technological innovation.

Outside of this, it doesn’t help that general workloads are also increasing for teachers, both after school hours and at home during the evenings and weekends.

Of course, the workload argument is not new – it has been a growing issue for many years – but it does place more demand on teachers during what might be viewed as ‘leisure time’ to the outside world.

The truth is mobile phones and digital connectivity have placed even greater pressure on teachers in terms of the immediacy of parent communication because it now moves at a very different pace than it did 20 years ago, and that can be hard to manage.

Parents are physically better equipped to react in the moment, comment and contact teachers at any given point in the working day (and after hours) with questions, concerns and opinions.

This can be hugely intimidating for teachers who are dealing with a high number of issues every day, not to mention teaching in class, which always has to take priority over responding to emails from parents.

Teachers are bound by restriction

Interestingly, the digital world may operate ‘in the moment’ in an immediate fashion when it comes to communication, but the teaching world is not like that at all.

Teachers are bound by restriction during the core hours of the school day, they can’t just pop outside to take a phone call or check their emails, and that can pose problems in terms of managing parent expectations on response times.

Of course, this is all part of what most of us in the profession would refer to as ‘the invisible curriculum’ and it can be a challenge to cope with. Although, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that more needs to be done to prepare the new and emerging teaching community to manage this so-called teaching timetable that you can’t see.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that more needs to be done to prepare the new and emerging teaching community to manage this so-called teaching timetable that you can’t see

Extra demands placed on teachers will undoubtedly take their toll on personal health and wellness, not to mention how they operate in class day to day.

Teaching can be stressful at the best of times too, so schools need to become better at acknowledging the pressures placed upon teaching staff today and begin to look more closely at how they can provide the right support to boost resilience in teachers, and also to improve wellbeing inside and outside of the classroom.

Supporting the whole teacher

We also have to remember that for most teachers, their school can be a much-needed haven from the outside world. A place to thrive, enthuse and inspire.

Schools are generally healthy and mindful environments, and teachers enjoy the bustle and diversity of the classroom – it’s often the case that outside of the school gates is where it becomes more challenging. This is where schools need to step in and support teachers with a much greater individual focus.

Every member of teaching staff is different; schools often say they teach the whole child with an individual approach – the same must apply to teachers. This means looking at every teacher independently in terms of what support is needed.

Whether that is focused around health and wellbeing, time management, working towards providing more flexibility (where it allows) or bridging gaps in training and knowledge, schools can help teachers to progress more quickly with more tailored approaches to continuing professional development.

Time and space

Part of managing the invisible curriculum is about learning how to manage and organise yourself and your day, but it is also about preparation, mindset and building stronger connections with the team around you. Many teachers find they are not alone and that support can be found in all kinds of places.

There is also an onus on heads to ensure their staff have access to the right training and development, are well cared for, have the time and space to think and also the opportunity to unwind and de-stress when needed.

As heads we all want the best for our students and that means investing more resource into helping teachers manage workloads and expectations, while preparing for the evolving challenges ahead.

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