Teaching can be one of the most stressful careers, especially at those bottle-neck points in the year where everything seems to happen at once! Being a line manager means that you haven’t just got the responsibility of your own work/life balance, but also that of your team. Here’s five things you can do to proactively support the wellbeing of your team:
- Get to know them!
It might seem obvious, but you can only spot something is amiss if you know the personality and typical behaviours of your team. People respond differently to stress: some people shout; some people become the voice of doom; others become insular and isolate themselves. Without knowing them, you won’t know if someone is acting differently.
- Don’t encroach on their down time.
When I was a Head of Department, I liked to sit down on Sunday evening with my diary, look at the week ahead and send a ‘summary email’ to my team to remind them of any important events, deadlines and ‘need-to-knows’ for the week ready for Monday morning. I even started each email with ‘Good morning, everyone!’ with the genuine (and naïve) expectation that they wouldn’t read it until the next day. However, what I was actually doing was intruding on the last bit of their weekend with a list that would make anyone feel the Sunday Blues. I thought I was being super-organised and helpful, but in fact I was igniting their work mind when they should have been quite rightly relaxing. Teaching is an intense job and your team need to try and find a balance between work and home. Make sure you respect this by steering clear of emails outside of work time.
- Be a Role Model
We talk about this all the time in relation to students, but have we considered what our actions say to our teams? Arriving early, staying late, working all weekend and constantly pursuing work ideas, even at social events: everyone has come across a Head of Department like this. The fact is as a Head of Department, you might sometimes have to spend a bit of extra time due to your extra responsibility – but make it clear that this is not the same expectation for your team. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty too – it isn’t just about doing this for show: you also need to make sure you have a work-life balance too! You could have an evening a week where you don’t stay for meetings or to mark; share a hobby that you have that you make time for as part of that balance; or share a marking routine that means you do little and often instead of being surrounded by marking at the weekend. Don’t skip lunch. Have a break time where you grab a cup of tea with someone for a chat in the staff room. Show them how it’s done.
- Make opportunities for your team to relax together
Arranging a particular break time where you all have a cup of tea in the staff room or some time before a department meeting to chat for a bit can really help your team to gel and get to know each other. This means that if they are feeling down or overwhelmed, they can find support from someone in your team if you are not available. Another good reason for this is because we do spend the majority of time at work and it is a much more pleasant and supportive environment if people are on friendly terms with each other. Other opportunities could be an end of term drink or even something like an escape room for team-building and fun!
- Say thank you!
Perhaps another obvious one, but making the time to thank your team on an individual basis. This could be done through an email, a little note or ideally face-to-face. Other ways to show your appreciation might be through little treats left on a desk as a surprise pick-me-up; taking the time to make them a cup of tea and dropping it in for them when you know they are busy; or treating the team to some cakes in a department meeting. People who feel appreciated know that their actions are worthwhile and valued.
By Amanda Varley, former Head of Department.