Author Chris Eyre spoke to us ahead of the publication of his new book The Elephant in the Staffroom.
What got you interested in wellbeing and led you to write this book?
I did a degree in theology so I guess I have always had a ‘pastoral side.’ I have worked in a couple of different places but also through exam board work and conversations with friends over coffee talked to a lot of teachers. A lot of people seemed to be saying similar things about their stresses and struggles so I initially began to blog.
The title is interesting, the Elephant in the Staffroom. Why do you think that wellbeing is so difficult to talk about in schools and colleges?
Like many institutions we had policies and procedures for almost everything you can think of yet nothing, at least officially, on wellbeing. When I first pitched the idea of a book I had several rejections so it seemed that wellbeing really was the elephant in the room. The good news is that the title no longer seems fully relevant. There are a number of books out or coming out and a number of excellent websites (such as this one!) or trainers whose focus is wellbeing. We are starting to acknowledge the elephant.
School budgets are increasingly under strain. What can senior managers do to support wellbeing on a limited budget?
Some very simple things are actually free. Saying thank you, asking how people are and listening to their answer, showing empathy and making people feel valued on those tough days. Providing coffee or cakes isn’t massively expensive. Encouraging staff to have breakfast together once a week, staff football after work or anything that can build team spirit. Recently our college had a wellbeing afternoon as part of one CPD day. This was facilitated by college staff putting on guided walks, quizzes, art therapy, jamming on guitars and drums, and tennis sessions. It was a great success and cost nothing other than time.
You have a chapter on surviving the school holidays – why do you think holidays can be difficult for some staff?
I think the problem is the change of pace. Term time can be frenetic and 50-60 hour weeks are not unusual. This means work becomes almost everything and when term ends there is almost an ‘existential angst’. We suddenly have loads of time and not a clue what to do with it. Also we’re not always aware of how tired we might be. My own attempts to do DIY at the start of the holidays have led to some unfortunate breakages!
On your blog you talk about managing energy rather than managing time (November 1, 2015). What’s the best way to achieve this?
I’d always been proud of my time management so the idea that energy needed to be managed was new to me. It’s about realising that when you overdo it you actually slow down and the thing that takes you 2 hours when tired could be done in half the time when you’re fresh. Managing energy is about making sure you get sleep, drink water and look after your physical needs. Then on a practical level, thinking about scheduling of tasks. Planning or marking first thing in the morning for instance – data entry or admin when the day is over and I’m tired.
How do you see the wellbeing situation developing over the next few years?
I’m quite optimistic. I don’t see a dramatic government or Ofsted change so I think the workload may not decrease by much but there are a couple of things in our favour. Firstly, good qualified teachers are now in demand. As shortages bite, existing staff may have more confidence to say no to things and that managers will need to look after the staff they have a little more carefully than some have done in the past. Awareness is also a big thing. The fact that wellbeing is coming more into the general conversation via books, websites and twitter can only be a good thing. However, as I say there isn’t a major national change coming so as teachers and managers we need to take the initiative in this area.
Curriculum Manager for RS, Philosophy & History