Teacher wellbeing: leading by example

Happy teacher helping some of her primary students at white board

As teachers, we can be guilty of neglecting our wellbeing until problems start to arise. We may consider our mental wellbeing in terms of solutions during times of crisis. However, good mental health is important through the highs and the lows. We need to think about mental health proactively and preventatively. As John F. Kennedy said, “The best time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”

So, what is the value of teacher wellbeing?

1. Happy teachers are more effective teachers. Research shows that teachers with higher levels of wellbeing enjoy their work more, develop stronger relationships with students and cope better with the stress of teaching.

2. Teaching is an inherently stressful profession. Across the world, teachers report higher levels of stress compared to many other professions. Therefore, it is essential teachers use the resources available to them to manage stress in a healthy, sustainable way.

3. Teachers are significant role models. Students look up to their teachers and are influenced by the example they set. Yet, many teachers struggle to support their students while maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

Happy, confident teacher standing in front of a white board

Leading from the front – why being a good role model is essential

To encourage our students to build their mental fitness, as teachers we must first address our own habits. Pupils learn through social interaction, not just knowledge transfer. They look up to their teachers and will be influenced by the example they set. Therefore, it is important that teachers demonstrate what good wellbeing looks like.

Unlocking the power of healthy habits

To enhance your own emotional wellbeing, follow these key principles:

1. Experiment with small habits

We all have little routines that bring us joy; to support your wellbeing journey, why not experiment with new activities? Grab a pen and paper and make a list of some new habits you’d like to try.

It could be:

  • Trying a new recipe for at least one meal this week.
  • Performing an act of kindness for a colleague, neighbour or friend.
  • Writing a letter or a postcard to someone you have not been in touch with for a while.

Make sure to do your chosen activity mindfully, remaining fully focused.

Sticky notes with wellbeing tips, such as think positively, exercise or sleep well.

2. Small things, consistently applied, make a difference…

Evidence shows that when people weave small, regular practices into their routines, they contribute significantly over time to their wellbeing. Some other suggestions…

  • Say no to unreasonable requests.
  • Listen to a sleep meditation before going to bed.
  • Walk barefoot for a few minutes every day. It improves posture, muscles and sense of touch.

Do add your own ideas, but whatever you decide, remember to:

  • Set yourself a goal.
  • Think about any resources you may need.
  • Or any challenges you may face.

3. Defend your healthy behaviours

When you have identified what works for you, and you have made them part of your routine, you must protect those healthy habits. Prioritise them above all else, because your health and wellbeing, and your ability to be an effective teacher, depend on them.


Journal your way to mental fitness

The chances are you are aware of some of these fundamental wellbeing building blocks. But how do you stop yourself from giving up if you don’t notice immediate improvement?

Have a go at journaling. Taking the time and space you need to reflect and write down ideas will enable you to gain perspective over your professional and personal life and provide a permanent record of your progress. This will make it easier to stay committed and notice the long-term benefits of taking care of your own mental wellbeing.

Track your wellbeing journey by filling in these weekly prompts and record any changes or feelings you might experience.

Weekly section of a wellbeing journal

Wellbeing is not a fixed entity; we can’t feel happiness all the time, but there is a lot we can do to take good care of ourselves, so that we can enjoy teaching now and long into the future.

We hope that trialling different healthy habits and changing the way we think about teacher wellbeing will help you to gain a different perspective, put your thoughts and feelings in order, recognise and celebrate your achievements and go into the classroom as a stronger and more confident teacher!

Wellbeing curriculum author and expert Adrian Bethune

by Adrian Bethune

Adrian Bethune is a wellbeing expert and trainer, part-time primary school teacher and the lead author of the Oxford International Curriculum for Wellbeing. He is also the founder of Teachappy, Deputy Chair of the Well Schools Board and has authored and co-authored several books on wellbeing including the award-winning ‘Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom – A Practical Guide to Teaching Happiness’ (Bloomsbury, 2018) and ‘A Little Guide to Teacher Wellbeing and Self-care’ (Sage, 2020).