Book Review: Stop Talking About Wellbeing by Kat Howard

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Stop Talking about Wellbeing: A Pragmatic Approach to Teacher Workload by Kat Howard.

Published by John Catt Educational Ltd

English teacher, Assistant Principal and LitDrive founder Kat Howard has entered the field of teacher wellbeing books with this provocatively titled work aimed at teachers at all stages of their careers.

Unusually, the book opens with an Oliver Caviglioli inspired “reading route”, which invites the reader to select chapters based on their personal circumstances (for example, you can follow the path laid out for trainees, NQTs and RQTs, or that for Senior Leaders). This is an interesting approach. This is undoubtedly a hefty book, running to just shy of 400 pages: for the author to invite, even encourage you to only read half of it, will be appreciated by time-poor teachers. 

To further help navigate the text, Howard provides “A wander through” giving a brief summary of each chapter. This allows the reader to fine-tune the content to their own circumstances and interests. Howard’s experience as an English teacher shines through here, as it does in her prose. This book is designed to be as easy as possible for the reader to navigate and digest. Subtitles, fonts, graphics and clearly delineated sections are all used to illustrate and break up the text. 

Whatever your reader profile, you are encouraged to start with the chapter entitled “My Why”. This chapter invites you to find your core purpose, through following Howard’s journey and reflecting on your own. Her life is laid out for the reader, and some of it is difficult to read. Not due to the writing style, which is elegant and considered, but because some terrible things have happened to her. As I imagine they have to you. This sharing of experience is a common feature of teacher wellbeing books, and it is important for two reasons. Firstly, it establishes that the author has personal experience and so is an authoritative voice, and secondly so that the reader can see that this kind of experience is common and need not be the career breaker it looks like when you are in the midst of it. 

At the end of this chapter is the first of a series of self-reflection exercises, useful for personal use but also with scope to be part of a school or MAT’s wider wellbeing thinking. 

Subsequent chapters deal in some depth with other aspects of wellbeing, such as the impact of feedback and marking, giving specifics and case studies alongside broad principles. Pop culture references sit alongside links between pedagogy and workload. Some of the leading wellbeing voices from EduTwitter can also be heard in these pages. This book is an interesting read as Howard puts her own perspective on some crucial issues, blending the pragmatism of the subtitle with research-informed practice.

At its heart this book sets out the case for a more balanced approach to workload and the reasons why we need it, and naturally ends with a manifesto. I received this book immediately before the reality of the coronavirus hit home, and after my first reading I put it aside for a while. Returning to it now, it’s impossible not to read it through the lens of the pandemic. It strikes me that the sheer humanity at the heart of Howard’s manifesto, with its focus on support and lack of fear, is even more crucial in this time of uncertainty. As schools have been forced to reinvent themselves, knowing that shortly they will be called upon to reinvent themselves again in ways that are not yet clear, this book is a perfect lockdown read. The big ideas in it will be even more important in the task that lays ahead.