Looking after teachers’ minds

How can teachers be expected to adequately support children’s mental wellbeing without support themselves? Julian Stanley CEO at the Education Support Partnership shares some tips for teachers on dealing with stress, as well as advice for leadership teams on the role they can play

As the only charity providing mental health and wellbeing support services to all education staff and organisations, Education Support Partnership is only too aware that whilst teaching can be one of the most rewarding careers, there’s a growing impact from increasing stresses and strains at every level, from school leaders, teachers and support staff to lecturers.

The demands of ever-greater accountability, smaller budgets, the growing testing culture and monitoring – as well as spiralling workload in schools, is clearly affecting the wellbeing of many students and staff alike.

Earlier in the year, the Prime Minister’s public recognition and commitment earlier to deliver better mental health services was welcome, if long overdue.

But aside from the fact that schools alone cannot solve this enormous issue, how can teachers be expected to adequately support children’s mental wellbeing without support themselves? If teachers and senior leaders are to successfully ‘lead by example,’ an ‘oxygen mask’ approach is surely what is needed to help stem this crisis.


We are here to help all education staff and organisations and it is our firm belief that everyone in education deserves to feel at their best. Indeed, last year we helped more than 30,000 education professionals who called our confidential helpline in a state of crisis.

Such damage to wellbeing continues to lead to high rates of sickness absence and staff choosing to leave the profession. As illustrated by our last annual health survey of more than 2,000 education professionals, 84 per cent told us they had suffered from some form of mental health problem in the last two years and over half (53 per cent) felt that their ill health had impacted on pupil’s studies.

More recently, in our YouGov TeacherTrack survey, a quarter of senior school leaders (27 per cent) said they don’t expect to be working in education beyond the next one to two years. But at the same time, nearly half said that better workplace support for their personal wellbeing could help keep them in the profession.

Enabling what is increasingly referred to as ‘self-care’ to help teachers build resilience and tackle crippling workloads won’t solve long-term issues but is one way you and your school can make a great difference to your own and the wider team’s wellbeing now and for the future.


We all experience stress as we adjust to a continually changing environment. Positive pressure can of course be energising, sometimes just what we need to help us reach our peak performance. However, too much pressure can turn to stress and it is prolonged exposure to pressure that can be harmful to both physical and mental wellbeing.

There are a wide range of sources of stress. These include day to day hassles to major life events, home and work factors. Home stress factors might include relationships, money problems, children, sickness and housework. Work stress factors meanwhile might include work overload, difficult relationships, a fast pace of change, deadlines and unrealistic demands.


Work out priorities: keep a list and make tasks possible. Prioritise them in order of priority and tick them off when done. Include important people in your life as priorities and attend to these relationships first.

You should also identify your stress situations by making a list of events or tasks that leave you emotionally drained, with one or two ways to reduce stress for each. When they occur, use them as a chance to practice stress-reduction techniques and keep notes on what works for next time.

Another tip is not to react to imagined insults – it is a waste of time and energy to be oversensitive to imagined insults. Give people the benefit of the doubt and talk it over with someone you trust.

Teachers should also think before they commit. People can often perform tasks merely to feel accepted or liked by other people. Practice saying ‘no’ to requests that are unreasonable or more than you can handle at the time, rather than suffer subsequent regrets and stress.

Another good tip is to just move on: don’t dwell on past mistakes. Feeling of guilt, remorse and regret cannot change the past and make the present difficult by sapping your energy.

Make a conscious effort to do something to change the mood, employ mindfulness techniques for example or do something active when you feel yourself drift into regrets. Learn from it and have strategies in place for next time.

Another way to control stress is to not bottle up anger and frustrations.
Express and discuss your feelings to the person responsible for your agitation. If it’s impossible to talk it out, plan for some physical activity at the end of the working day to relieve tensions. It’s also best to let go of grudges.


Set aside time each day for recreation and exercise.
Gentle repetitive exercise like cycling, swimming and walking are all good stress relievers. Meditation, yoga, pilates and dance are also excellent.

The trick is to find what suits you best. Hobbies that focus attention are also good stress relievers. Take up a new activity totally unrelated to your current occupation.

It is also vital to get enough rest. Everybody copes better with stress if they’ve had enough sleep. Wind down an hour or two before bed and ban paperwork or digital devices from your bedroom. If you’re struggling to clear your mind, try planning every day in advance with a list you can tick off the next day.


It’s a good idea to organise your paperwork. Many teachers recommend colour-coding storage in the classroom by theme, year group and level so you can find things more quickly.

Set aside time every day (or if not feasible, each week) to move paperwork from ‘to file’ to the relevant place in your filing system. Another simple but effective tip is to think positively. Smile whenever you can. It’s an easy and effective way of improving how you feel.

Try and find something positive to say about a situation, particularly if you’re going to find fault. Visualise situations you’ve handled well and hold those memories in your mind when you’re going into stressful situations.


Pupil wellbeing and attainment as well as school performance depends largely on your own wellbeing and that of your staff. By investing in this crucial area, you may reduce absence, boost recruitment and increase productivity. It’s important to recognise the signs of workplace stress in your teams.

As a leader you can encourage employees to periodically ‘unplug’ from workplace stress by taking time off and curtail too many long days on the job. You can commit to CPD and encourage skill development to help your teams manage new challenges. You can also plan monthly ‘stress busters’ which might include social events, stress-reduction workshops or motivational speakers.

Team leaders should also be quick to praise positive thinking and initiative, and tell staff about Education Support Partnership’s free and confidential helpline specifically for anyone working in education. You can ring 24 hours a day on 08000 562 561.

The charity’s Positive Workplace Survey can also be a quick and helpful way to benchmark how staff are feeling and indicate areas that could be worked on. Hannah Matthews, wellbeing lead at City of London Academy commented that having worked with Education Support Partnership, “wellbeing is now on the whole school development plan and factors into decision making. Our retention rates have improved and staff report that the school is a more positive place to work.”

In such challenging times, it is important to make you and your staff’s wellbeing a priority, to know that support is available and to access it. It really can and does make a difference.

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