Have you ever heard of the ‘curse of knowledge’? It’s a phenomenon where those who have expertise or knowledge in something no longer remember the difficulties they encountered at the beginning of their learning journey.
I was reminded of this recently when I was invited to speak to the trainee teachers at Oxford Brookes University about laying healthy foundations for wellbeing early on in a teaching career. Being involved in their discussions about the challenges they face was a real eye-opener.
It made me reflect on my early days in teaching and ask, ‘what can we do as experienced teachers to help lighten the burden for the new generation of educators entering the school system right now?’
Here are my thoughts.
Share your hacks!
One of the biggest barriers to wellbeing in schools I hear time and again is workload. In fact,
Dr Emma Kell and I dedicate a whole chapter to this topic in our book A Little Guide for Teachers: Teacher Wellbeing & Self-Care. Here we talk about the urgent matter of prioritisation and ditching the tasks that simply don’t matter, as well as skilfully tweaking practices to help become more efficient.
However, honing these skills can often take experience and a few years of practice. And, challenging the status quo can be difficult, not least for an ECT in a new school.
So, ask yourself:
What 3 things have you learned as an experienced teacher that help you to prioritise the work that really matters and stop doing the things that don’t?
Then, how can you offer that advice to teachers starting on their journey? This could be at your school in conversation or in formal training sessions or via your professional networks or online forums.
Don’t assume that any hack is too small – you never know, it could just transform someone’s working day!
Fostering positive relationships with time strapped ECTs
We know that relationships are fundamental to positive mental health. We can all relate to the importance of those staffroom chats and having 1 or 2 supportive colleagues who help get us through the tough times and who we can share a laugh with.
So, I was really surprised to hear a group of ECT’s discussing the ritual of building relationships as a drain on their energy and time. As one student put it:
“I know it’s so important to get to know the other teachers in my school, but with all the tasks I have to get through, as well as the added work set by the University, I just don’t have the time to chat after school for 30 minutes. I find it incredibly stressful knowing I should be spending that precious time working through my to-do list!”
What’s the lesson here?
I’m not for 1 second suggesting experienced teachers don’t reach out to trainee teachers for fear of draining their time. Rather, consider how you can make connections mindfully. Here are 3 things you could try:
Take 1 minute in the morning to pour your colleague a cuppa whilst you’re making one for yourself.
If you have time, pop your head into their classroom at the end of the day to ask if they need help with anything.
Before kicking off a chin-wag session, simply ask ‘Is now a good time to chat?’
Beware the Time-Stealers
Closely related to the point above, this one is aimed at SLT - and not limited to the experiences of ECTs!
The biggest gripe I heard during these conversations was the processes in schools that take up precious time but add little value. One delegate described the lengthy team meetings that he had to endure in one of his placements:
“One of these team meetings started with 45 minutes of chitchat before we even began. I found myself getting more and more stressed thinking of all the things I needed to do whilst waiting for the meeting to start.”
As senior leaders, we MUST consider the ways we work in school which are counter to our teams’ wellbeing. When it comes to meetings ask yourself:
Will the outcome directly benefit the staff or children? i.e. Does this meeting really need to happen?
If yes, does everyone need to attend?
Is the agenda and subsequent outcomes or actions clear?
How can you ensure the meeting doesn’t go a minute over than necessary?
When you think about it, none of the above is limited to Early Career Teachers. But the bottom line is if, as experienced teachers, we find some of this stuff difficult, imagine what it’s like for new teachers. So, beware the ‘curse of knowledge’! Cast your mind back to when you first started in your teaching career and don’t underestimate how hard it is to gather the knowledge you have now. In doing so, we might just be able to make that path a little smoother for our ECTs!