Emma Kell blogs for the RSP on the challenges of being a teacher and a parent (part 2).
Teacher well-being, teacher-effectiveness
My studies are founded upon my fundamental belief, as a school leader, in the inextricable link between well-being and effectiveness. This comes from my experience both as a teacher and school leader, and is also reflected in an established body of academic literature (Peter Day, Jennifer Nias, Pat Sikes). In short, the more fulfilled and happier teachers are, the better they perform, and the more students benefit.
Teachers were asked to identify factors which help them combine work and being a parent effectively. The people closest to them play a key role, with a supportive partner being crucial. Close friends and extended family are also important – for those of use who have progressed into leadership positions with young children, this is thanks to hours of unpaid childcare from infinitely patient friends and family. Despite frequent suggestions to the contrary, teachers do appreciate the holidays as a chance to wind-down, recalibrate – oh, and catch up on work!
Over a third of teacher-parents identified financial stability as crucial to their well-being. With pay, conditions and pensions high on the agenda for teachers, and an ongoing dispute between unions and the government, it comes as no surprise that teachers also highlight financial worries as a barrier to health work-family balance.
Tiredness and lack of sleep were cited by three-quarters of teacher-parents as having a negative impact on well-being, and issues around healthy life-style also featured regularly, with a significant teachers stating that they are aware they need to eat more healthily, get more exercise, and smoke and drink less. In response to the statement, ‘I have a healthy work-life balance’, 56% of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed. This would appear to be at the root the challenge for us – as teachers, parents and those of us with responsibilities in – and for – our schools.
Most teachers see their job as a vocation, as vital, and as important, they are passionate about what they do and want to do it well and this is reflected in the experiences of focus group participants. The overwhelming majority of the teacher-parents who responded to the questionnaire – 97% – agreed with the statement, ‘I feel the job I do is worthwhile’ and 67% agreed that, ‘I am happy in my work’. In many cases, in fact, focus group participants spoke of being more driven, and more passionate, since having children because ‘I see each of those children as if they were one of my own.’
However, in response to the statement, ‘I have a healthy work-life balance’, 56% of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed. This would appear to be at the root the challenge for us – as teachers, parents and those of us with responsibilities in – and for – school.
I am currently collecting suggestions from teachers, leaders and policy-makers as to practical, meaningful action to improve the well-being, effectiveness and aspirations of teachers who are also parents; in many cases this will mean small ‘tweaks’ with potentially big impact. I want to provide a practical guide for teachers and schools as to how they can most effectively balance family and career. Why? Because, in the end, our young people will benefit.
‘If you’d like to continue the discussion, you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or find me at twitter @thosethatcan’.