Mary Myatt advises, writes and trains. She supports schools to think imaginatively about learners’ progress and is also the author of High Challenge, Low Threat. We recently caught up with her to talk about wellbeing in schools.
- Wellbeing seems to be high up on the agenda at the moment, with quite a lot of media coverage. Why do you think that is and what effect do you think it will have long-term?
There’s no doubt workload has increased. It seems to be driven by two main factors: an increase in expectations for marking and creating information to show pupils’ progress.
On marking, I am still getting colleagues asking whether they should be marking every piece of work? There’s a one word answer to that: NO. I think what has happened is that with the focus on pupils’ progress, including in their books, many schools have got fixated with the idea that ‘if it moves, mark it’. This is totally unfair. What needs to happen is schools asking themselves ‘why are we doing this?’ If something does not result in a difference to children’s learning then we should stop doing it. Ofsted has made it clear that it doesn’t expect any quantity of marking, so it shouldn’t be done to please inspectors. If schools don’t think more carefully about this, teachers will burn out.
- In High Challenge Low Threat you make a powerful case for school leaders developing a culture in which staff are valued and supported. How would you advise staff who are in a school where this culture does not exist to take care of their own wellbeing?
Find a kindred spirit either within the school or another school, where they can open up and get things off their chest. I think it is important that the other person is also in education as I think we should make an effort not to take the bad vibes home with us. I always encourage people to develop professional friendships as this can make such a difference when people feel isolated.
- Given the financial pressures on schools these days, what low-cost strategies would you recommend for supporting staff wellbeing?
- You draw on writers from outside of education such as Daniel Pink and Greg McKeown in High Challenge Low Threat, what do you think school leaders can learn from these authors?
I have drawn on writers beyond education to make the case that all organisations, whether they are businesses or schools face the same dilemmas – how to do things well with limited resources and how to deal with the complexities of human beings. But this makes things more interesting in my view.
- You recommend that school leaders make time for broader reading. What’s on your reading list?
The latest ED Hirsch book ‘Why Knowledge Matters’
Dylan Wiliams ‘Leadership for Teacher Learning’
‘Be Bad First’ by Erika Andersen
‘The Knives’ by Richard Kelly
‘Fathers and Sons’ by Turgenev
And right now I am reading and editing my next book ‘Hopeful Schools’
- You are quite active on Twitter, what impact do you see social media having on wellbeing?
I think it has been a tremendous platform for new ideas, debates, resources. However I think we need to be selective. It is easy early on, to think it is important to follow every link and argument, but used wisely it can be a source of great new knowledge, friendships and terrific ideas. I consider it the primary source of my CPD. I have met so many brilliant people on Twitter and as Caitlin Moran once said ‘It’s like walking into a club, at any time and picking up a conversation, or just listening in.’ Love that…
Mary’s reading list –