At some time or another most of us in education will have lain awake at night fretting over stresses in our lives: we will have lost concentration in lessons, been nervous before key events and felt overwhelmed by work. We will have acted towards others in a way that does not reflect their behaviour but our own angst.
The practice of mindfulness helps us achieve awareness of those moments so that we are able to manage them better, see them in a less destructive way and achieve a sense of wellbeing.
I have been appointed head of staff formation and wellbeing at Ardingly College, West Sussex, a 2-18 co-ed school. This is an SMT post and, for the independent sector, I think quite a progressive move. Ostensibly it is a pastoral role for staff. Part of it means enabling my colleagues to pursue interests that will allow them to find a balance in their lives, giving them, hopefully, greater quality of life and productivity.
At Ardingly pastoral care for pupils is central; within the curriculum we teach eudaimonia, centred on wellbeing and human flourishing. In our pre-prep and prep school, children practise massage and empathy; throughout the college students aim to be reflective and mindful. Nowadays, mindfulness cannot be ignored in education and, with Sir Anthony Seldon, the master at Wellington College, I am running a conference on wellbeing and mindfulness in schools on 27 November at Ardingly. It will focus as much on teachers as on pupils, seeking to help prepare staff for anything and everything, professionally and personally.
Recently, I met the Deloitte UK head of HR, Stevan Rolls. With more than 17,000 employees, Deloitte believe they are a step ahead of other major companies with regard to staff wellbeing and career progression; they work in what they call a “high performance” environment and want to support colleagues to maintain that level.
In teaching I think we should aim for “best performance”. We often ask of the boys and girls that they are the best possible versions of themselves – while each member of staff wants to deliver the best possible lessons/coaching/pastoral care. A greater sense of wellbeing will help us do that, as will a more guided career path and a strong awareness of personal growth.
In today’s employment landscape many feel that if they are not given opportunities to climb the career ladder, then they will want to move on. Deloitte hire 3,000 people a year, yet appoint just 45-50 partners. Similarly, in education, for most deputy head jobs there are well over 100 applicants and progression isn’t always possible. Yes, we need to support vertical progression, but I want horizontal development too, and my role at Ardingly is to ensure we make the most of each person’s talents, adding to their sense of worth, fulfilment and self-realisation.
One of our focuses is on the whole person. If we can bring as much of our whole self to work, then that should lead to greater contentment. I started having drum lessons a few years ago, for example, and we now have an IT technician taking singing lessons and a PE teacher learning to fly. Our staff band has made a CD, a maths teacher has taken a counselling course, a prep school colleague has been on a mindfulness retreat and I am getting very good at the drums! Aside from that we have more staff than ever doing Masters degrees, young staff looking for teacher exchanges in Dubai, Malaysia and Hong Kong, and I am now confident that we will keep hold of the staff we have.
T.S Eliot wrote: “Be still and still moving.” This embodies what I am looking to achieve.
Tom Caston is housemaster at Ardingly College, West Sussex W: www.ardingly.com. He is leading a mindfulness conference at Ardingly on 27 November and runs an interactive website W: www.teacherflightpath.co.uk