Wellbeing starts with you! A teacher’s guide to a joyful classroom

By Alison Barber

What makes school a place where teachers enjoy teaching and, consequently, learners enjoy learning? Research over the last ten years has consistently found that wellbeing and academic achievement are very closely linked. OUP recently commissioned an evidence analysis impact study to explore the links between student wellbeing and academic outcomes.

As a student, a friend once told me, “They say your school days are the best days of your life.” I was horrified, as I really didn’t like school. Then she added, “My mum says that’s rubbish; life’s much better once you leave!” When I went into teaching as an English specialist, that comment from my friend’s mother defined my teaching. If I didn’t enjoy teaching a lesson, then how would my students ever enjoy learning?

Think for a moment and recall what you liked about your own school days. Was it the teachers? The lessons? The school meals? For me, it was the teachers who let us work with a partner or in a group, and who gave our learning a real-life purpose. It looked like they enjoyed their work too!

Classroom strategies

What can you do to improve wellbeing for you and your students? Start by using what you enjoyed at school in your own lessons.

When I was 10 years old, my teacher read a chapter of a story book to the class each week: Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr. Each week, we were all engrossed and when I had a class of 10-year olds of my own, I thought I’d read them the same story. I was so pleased to find they were as mesmerised by the story as I had been all those years earlier.

Learn from your own experiences as a student and aim to enjoy what you are teaching. What are your strengths and interests? They might be poetry, descriptive language, or grammar. Your enthusiasm will be infectious, so work out how you can include areas you are passionate about in your lessons:

  • Find a poem that you enjoy instead of using the usual one you have been teaching for years
  • Play your favourite music to your class and ask them how it makes them feel, and what they picture in their head, sharing your own feelings too.
  • Read the novel that your students are all reading so you can all share your ideas about the characters and storyline that they are gripped by.
  • Is there a story book you really enjoyed when you were a pupil at school? Your class may enjoy it every bit as much as you did.
  • If you don’t enjoy teaching something, then your class won’t enjoy learning it. Think about how you can change it to make it fun to teach.

Reduce stress and improve teacher and student wellbeing

We know that working all day every day will cause stress and that we need to make sure we have time each day for ourselves. Although this is obvious, it can be hard to heed this advice, for various reasons. Planning is an essential part of good time management. What you plan to teach and assess in a lesson needs to be realistic and clear, both for you and your students.

Some years ago, a teacher I was training brought me an example of student’s writing. It took her half an hour to mark it and give written feedback and she would spend 15 hours marking each set of assignments for her class. She knew this was unmanageable and asked for help. She was marking everything: spellings, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure and so on. My advice was to display success criteria for the assignment on the board to assess just a few skills, rather than everything that would be tested in an exam.

If you ask students to think about every skill, you are likely to overwhelm them. By giving them success criteria, differentiating for ability, your students will know exactly what to concentrate on:

  • Assess punctuation one day, and spellings the next. By planning the criteria you will assess, and sharing this with students, you reduce your stress and theirs.
  • Give verbal feedback, including peer and self-assessment. Giving feedback during lessons will help students recognise their mistakes and correct them while learning is taking place . What does this mean for you? Well, it gives you more time to observe and to scaffold learning, and the students’ finished work contains fewer errors.
School should be a place where your students enjoy learning and you enjoy teaching!

I have shared some ideas that I have found to be effective which involve reflecting on your own experiences and planning to give you more time with your students. Discover what works well for you and help to make your school-teacher days ‘the best days of your life’!

Alison Barber is a contributing author for our new Primary English course, Oxford International Primary English, that has a strong focus on wellbeing and an enquiry-based approach putting every child at the heart of the learning experience. With inspiring, culturally diverse content and practical language support to build children’s vocabulary and confidence, this series is designed to develop internationally minded young learners in literacy and language.

Discover more about Oxford International Primary English on our website.