NQT Special: Wellbeing and work/life balance in your first year

Written by: Emmanuel Gyan-Bediako | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

School leader Emmanuel Gyan-Bediako offers this year’s NQTs some advice on surviving their first year while maintaining their wellbeing and work/life balance

It is nearly a term into the induction year already. The transition from the training year to the induction year is such a massive jump, no wonder we sometimes hear complaints of burn-out.

The expectations change – more lessons, more classes including exam groups and possibly more demanding groups; the demands of school duties – break and lunchtime, parents’ evenings, and the list goes on.

However, year-on-year NQTs successfully complete the induction and head into the teaching profession to embark on their career as a fully qualified teacher. Despite the pressure, the NQT induction year is the opportunity to consolidate all the good practices from your training year.

So how have others done it over the years? How do you get through the NQT induction year?

The Teachers’ Standards

It may seem obvious, but getting to grips with the Teachers’ Standards is important as these outlines any judgements that will made about you as a practitioner. It is a basic requirement to meet all the standards in order to be called a teacher. It is therefore imperative to track and evidence how you are meeting each of those standards.

Prepare your pupils for the future

Great teachers can have a hugely positive impact on a young person’s life and future. As teachers, we need to be able to inspire, motivate and help children and young people to achieve their potential. This means creating an environment and a relationship in which the children in your care will develop both academically and socially.

As a subject teacher, you must ensure that your teaching enables the children to make good academic progress and that your role-modelling offers pastoral care that contributes to their social development. You must lead by example. Practise what you preach and preach what you practise.

This very interesting paragraph from an article I read recently says it all: “If you want to be a great educator, you must connect with your pupils and reach them on multiple levels, because the best teachers are committed to their students’ wellbeing both inside and outside the classroom.

By forging strong relationships, educators are able to affect virtually every aspect of their students’ lives, teaching them the important life lessons that will help them succeed beyond term papers and standardised tests.” (Teachers Change Lives: https://teach.com/what/teachers-change-lives/)

The teacher-student relationship must be founded on mutual respect. Be careful however about the level of relationship – remember you can be friendly but you are not a friend.

Become a master of time management

Time management is an eternal struggle for teachers. In your NQT year your workload increases dramatically. Whether you are teaching, marking, honouring pastoral commitments, or delivering extra-curricular provision – you are busy. My advice to stay on top of things:

  • Work to meet deadlines. Do not procrastinate. Once you’ve lost the time it is difficult to regain control.
  • Plan your days beforehand. Having a strategic plan that categorises your activities into priorities will enable you to carry out important ones first and others later.
  • Schedule specific times for planning, marking, professional development, and so on. Consider including these in your teaching timetable so they become set in stone. However, it is no good having a schedule if it is not followed. If you don’t stick to your plan, ask yourself why and try to address it.
  • Develop opportunities to share resources or plan together with colleagues. Arrange times with your mentor, subject leader or colleagues where you can sit together to plan common lessons or exchange resources.
  • Seek out resources online – there are many available and a lot are free. Do not attempt to re-invent the wheel.

When you plan your time well, even the most mundane tasks are more enjoyable. Enjoyment breathes new energy into what we do and you will project that positivity in the classroom.

Avoid burn-out

Enjoying a good work/life balance will seem impossible at times if you are a teacher. Getting the balance right and clearly dividing your time between work activities and personal and leisure activities is extremely important for your mental and physical wellbeing. Children will benefit more from you if you are not burnt out.

Seek out advice online. See later for a few recommended links, including to Chris Hunt’s 2013 article in the Guardian, which offers 10 stress-busting tips and is a must-read. He suggests that we need to put aside some “me” time every week where we can just be ourselves. This won’t just happen. As a busy NQT, you’ll probably need to plan your downtime as you’d plan a lesson.

If you feel things are getting too much and you have stress or anxiety, you must seek help immediately. Talk to your mentor, line manager, other NQTs and other colleagues. They may be going through something similar, or might have done so in the past. The remedy is right next to you. Talk to someone.

Stress ultimately leads to a shorter fuse in the classroom, and will have a negative impact on your pupils if it isn’t addressed quickly. If you’re starting to feel the pressure build up, make sure you:

  • Get enough sleep and exercise.
  • Remember you don’t have to respond to requests and emails immediately. Set time aside each day unless something is urgent.
  • Shift your technology focus at home. The SmartPhone has the tendency to become the second office. Beware. Find something else to do.
  • Know your limits and stick to them.

Remember, there is work to be done and it can be done SMARTER.

Reflect, Recharge, Respond

Reflect: This is possibly one of the more difficult things to make into a habit, but it is vital that you make time to look back on lessons and identify what worked and what didn’t, and how it could be even better. If something didn’t work, interrogate why. I recommend setting a particular time of day or week where you focus on reflecting. Fridays are ideal as you can review the week and plan for the one ahead. Keep a diary of your reflections. Teachers’ Planner is a good one for keeping instant lesson-by-lesson records.

Recharge: Make some time to regain your energy. The demands of the teaching day are very energy-sapping, but don’t stay up all night marking – recuperate and be fresh for the students.

Respond: Now you have had time to reflect and recharge, it’s time to put things into action. What can you do immediately, and what are the longer term goals? This cycle of reflect, recharge and respond can result in effective and efficient practice as it helps you to become a reflective teacher who responds to the issues you identify.

Use the people around you

There are times when it feels like you are on your own. This should not be the case as it is a collective responsibility to educate our children. If you feel like you’re struggling, or want to develop yourself, speak to someone.

  • Talk to colleagues, both experienced and inexperienced. You always learn something from someone, irrespective of their level of experience. If unsure, ask.
  • Observe others. Find out who the outstanding practitioners are and make time to observe them. This should be both within and out of subject area. If you find something useful, try it in your practice. It may be the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle.
  • Value and use feedback. Always see the best in feedback given to you and draw positives out of it. The people giving you feedback may have seen something that you don’t.

This article is by no means the answer to a perfect induction year. It is an accumulation of ideas and advice from my personal experiences as a teacher, a former NQT, a middle and now senior leader (once with past responsibility as an induction tutor).

Most of all, remember – be kind to yourself. Look after your needs and you’ll be in a much better position to look after your pupils.

  • Emmanuel Gyan-Bediako is an assistant headteacher at Arena Academy in Birmingham and a graduate of the 2015 cohort from Ambition School Leadership’s Future Leaders leadership development programme.

Useful websites

Useful websites and articles as recommended by Emmanuel include:

Ambition School Leadership

Ambition School Leadership is a charity that runs leadership development programmes in England to help school leaders create more impact in schools that serve disadvantaged children and their communities. Visit www.ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk

NQT Special Edition

This article has been published as part of SecEd’s autumn 2017 NQT Special Edition – eight pages of guidance, advice and practical tips for new teachers. Topics range from wellbeing, workload an work/life balance, to classroom advice, feedback tips, behaviour management and advice about your own rights and entitlements. You can download the entire eight-page section as a free pdf via http://bit.ly/2Bv5dIc


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