24 Nov 2022

Why supervision matters

It’s alarming to see the recent reports on teachers struggling with their mental health whilst working. The Teacher Wellbeing Index, a survey commissioned by the Education Support charity, found that 77% of teachers experience poor mental health due to their work. With the impact of the pandemic on pupils, schools buckling under the pressure to support young people with mental health issues and even the effect of the cost of living crisis, you can see how all of this cannot be kept out of the classroom and the minds of teachers.  

It is therefore no surprise that teachers are reaching burnout. Schools are aware of this and are under increasing pressure to find ways to support staff. The problem is that even the most well-meaning initiatives can feel stressful. Take this secondary school for example that decided that it would be really nice for teachers to pick names out of a hat and anonymously give a token gift to the person chosen. In theory, this is a great idea, a little pick me up and a reminder that someone is thinking of you but my friend said she felt so stressed because along with her heavy workload and busy family life she couldn’t cope with the responsibility of looking for a present for someone she didn’t really know.

It’s difficult because how do you support your staff (which includes yourself if you’re their line manager) where the stresses keep growing?

This is something we have always had to keep in mind as a  hospital school because our teachers work in classes where trauma is powerfully present. Our teachers do have to be resilient, robust and boundaried to manage, but this doesn’t take away from how challenging the role can be.  Over the last year, we have as a way of dealing with this put supervision in place. Supervision affords a safe place for teachers to explore, voice and share what is difficult or even what’s going well. It has been a journey to find the right type of supervision and for this to happen you do need the right supervisor. We’ve been lucky – our sessions started with a supervisor who used to work at the school but then moved to work as an assistant psychologist for the hospital. She was able to be the bridge between both places in the supervision sessions. This has continued with our second supervisor who is able to offer the perspective of the hospital whilst holding the place for the school experience.

Supervision matters because the emotional well-being of teachers matters.

I was recently talking to Jane Holmes a retired educational psychologist about our school’s supervision journey. She had been brilliant in the early days when I was seeking the right solution for the team. I was giving her another update and she said to me that, in her experience, supervision should be something that is available to all teachers, not just those in hospital schools. It dawned on me in that moment that she was right – the pressures on teachers are only growing, particularly under the cost of living crisis. Supervision should be available to all teachers. Teacher well-being won’t be solved with one-off token gestures but with a long-term strategic package of support.

However, supervision doesn’t have to be about the difficult moments, it can also give you a space to reflect and bring together why we do the job we do.

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