I loved attending the Positive Schools Conference 2016 at UWC East, Singapore . There was so much useful information that I’m still processing everything I learned! Here are two key points which resonated with me. 

1) “You can’t have student wellbeing without teacher wellbeing” Dr Linda Graham

It’s been quite frightening to notice the huge increases in teachers’ workload and the huge numbers of teachers who leaving the profession as a result. This quote from Dr Linda Graham really hit home for me. As a teacher, despite my best intentions at the start of each term, my work/life balance (balance, ha!) always changed so the work aspect dominated very quickly. I ignored my energy levels and less-than-optimal health, cancelled planned exercise and ate increasingly more junk as the term progressed and I became more and more tired. From speaking to friends and colleagues, I know for a fact I’m not the only one with this experience. With such a heavy focus on student wellbeing, now is the perfect time to give serious thought as to how schools can promote teachers’ wellbeing. I truly believe that a culture of wellbeing for staff comes largely from the leadership team. An important piece is the professional behaviour which leaders model. If your leader leaves at a reasonable time, avoids working at the weekend and emphases staff wellbeing in an authentic way, you can bet that teachers are happy to follow. Another key aspect of increasing teacher wellbeing is the workload. Listening to teachers and regularly questioning why we do what we do is a fantastic way to evaluate workload. There’s a big difference between productive tasks which positively impact student achievement and engagement and busy tasks which teachers find themselves doing without any real underlying purpose. 

2) “Emotional literacy is so important: can your students differentiate between sadness and depression?” Dr Michael Carr-Gregg

I was delighted to hear this comment as I’ve always considered emotional literacy to be a vital skill.  We know from research that the process of labelling one’s feelings actually decreases the ’emotional reactivity’ in the brain (Lieberman et al, 2007). This is huge! Let me explain why. Say you have a child who’s devastated after an argument with their friend, or a student who is frustrated and angry with a difficult task. If those students can articulate their exact feelings, the emotion subsides more quickly, making it easier to resolve the situation and move forward. This is a huge bonus for teachers, when you have a number of children to attend to at any given time during the day. Happily, emotional literacy is a skill which is relatively easy to teach and learn when you know how*! In my own doctoral research, my Year 5 students completed a range of independent activities which dramatically improved their emotional vocabulary over a relatively short period of time. Not only that, but they used that language in their discussions and in their writing across curriculum subjects.

I’d thoroughly recommend attending the Positive Schools Conference 2017 to all educators, particularly those responsible for leading wellbeing and pastoral care.