#teacher5aday: why I started it, what we’re doing now, and its impact

In his presentation to SSAT’s 2019 National Conference (ICC Birmingham, 4-5 December), Martyn Reah will explain what #teacher5aday is all about – and ask delegates to complete a pledge for their own wellbeing and that of their colleagues and students. He will discuss how it could work back in your school, including the leadership implications.

#teacher5aday promotes five actions, adapted from those of New Economics Foundation:

  • Connect
  • Notice
  • Learn
  • Volunteer
  • Exercise

Reah advocates that fellow teachers consider using these to improve their wellbeing, as he has done. But he’s not a perfectionist on this: “I’m not suggesting that they try all of the suggestions all at once.” Coming up to the fifth anniversary of his innovation, which was launched following a presentation he gave for a colleague on the theme, he is planning national #teacher5aday week, with activities for all to take part in, encouraged by blog posts and ‘slow chats’ on Twitter.

The group now has a 20-strong steering group, (including SSAT’s Alex Galvin), which includes primary and secondary teachers, and educational psychologists. They work with support organisations at a national level.

How did he get into this? “By accident: I was attending a teaching and learning conference in Hampshire (Teaching and Learning Takeover). 400 people turned up on a Saturday. It was inspirational – all these professional people giving up their time to take part in Saturday of learning. The following year, I presented at this meeting, on the topic of dealing with teacher stress in a positive way.

“But what got me ready to take this on board was an intense, negative experience in a previous job, which could have affected me badly. The school was under enormous pressure. It had been brought together by amalgamation, and required a focused approach to improvement. We were headed in the right direction, but not quickly enough for the powers that be – the MAT and Ofsted. Leadership changed. I got away just about unscathed, but I then saw what happened to some of my colleagues – the distress, the upset to their mental health and to their effectiveness in the job as well as their home lives. The pressures were not being dealt with.

“Luckily for me, through this experience I had come to accept the concept of learning when you are at your lowest: in adversity, when times are hard, you learn what things are the most important. It resets your moral compass and values. In this case it meant caring and looking out for people. But as a first step, you must look after yourself, otherwise you can’t do it. It changed me fundamentally.”

He referred to a Sue Roffey blog which stated the wellbeing of pupils and teachers are different sides of the same coin. “That resonated with me, I realised we all need to find a creative outlet in our working lives. Sometimes in education we get stuck in tight little boxes, where behaviours are expected to be dictated by and focused on roles and titles.

Has the emphasis changed since you started on this? “Yes. At first, I grandly spoke at the SSAT Teachmeet about “a year of wellbeing.” That was five years ago. People looked a bit strangely at me, a geography teacher and deputy head from the north-east talking about wellbeing in perhaps vague terms. Since then #teacher5aday has developed and given people an outlet and a structure for sharing ideas about how to improve their wellbeing. There have also been important changes in the education environment in favour of this approach: Ofsted is more into supporting teachers and mental health training for staff. And the DfE have suggested some strategies for reducing workload.

“Education used to be about being a martyr: how many hours can you put in? Culturally those things are changing, though not everywhere in education. In my school, we organised After school teachmeets leading to pedagoohampshire, a CPD event which looked at improving teachers’ development and wellbeing holistically. And over four years we have had over 1000 teachers coming to Eggar’s School for this style of CPD.”

It has improved work conditions and staff attendance, and helped with recruitment and retention, Reah has found – through colleagues openly sharing positive ways of improving one’s own self.

“Pinching an idea from National Careers Week I have developed the national #teacher5aday week (December 2–6 this year) to raise awareness of teacher wellbeing in every school in the country with a focus on what senior leaders can do to support. We are also developing our website offering free resources. I want to make focused self-care and improving outcomes a part of teachers’ daily conversation.

“#teacher5aday has been like a hobby which has developed so it is now the core of my fundamental practice. If I get a headteacher post, that’s how I will run a school: you can see how it can unite the school and be a force for improvement.”

Martyn is speaking on the first day of this year’s SSAT National Conference where we will be continuing our collective fight to put social justice at the heart of the education system. View the full programme with main stage speakers including Professor Sir Tim Brighouse, David Lammy MP and Nina Jackson; panel discussions featuring Professor Dame Alison Peacock, Priya Lakhani OBE and Tom Ravenscroft; plus over 30 school-led workshops exploring themes including wellbeing, curriculum design and eradicating illiteracy. Learn more.

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