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CULTIVATING TEACHER WELLBEING

Kate Brierton and Christina Gkonou Cambridge University Press and Assessment, 2022 ISBN: 978-1-108-93286

In his preface, Cambridge Educational Management series editor Andy Hockley correctly points out how wellbeing in the workplace is a subject that has risen to prominence over recent years. Evidence of concern for a healthy work-life balance among stressed-out language teachers can be found in *Mercer and Gregersen (2020), a review of which appears in Issue 471 of the EL Gazette. Whereas the former largely adopts a classroom practitioner’s first-person approach, Cultivating Teacher Wellbeing looks at matters from a higher level. The focus here is on how school managers themselves should take responsibility and act accordingly to help avoid burnout and attrition among not only themselves, but in relation to overburdened teachers in their respective departments.

Co-authored by a clinical psychologist (Brierton) and a professor of ELT (Gkonou), this title is written in two parts; the first half consists of chapters on the human mind and cultivating wellbeing, the second a lengthy toolkit of three one-day training workshops for teachers. In their introduction Brierton and Gkonou explain how wellbeing is rarely (if ever) prioritised among departmental issues such as policies, appraisals or goal setting. They provide examples of some ELT managers’ disbelief when suggesting that instead of ever more workshops on perhaps learner-autonomy and classroom management, devoting time to teachers reflecting on their own emotions might in the long run be a more constructive move.

The key point made throughout is that, in the same way cabin crew on an airplane prior to take-off advise parents to put on oxygen masks before dealing with their children, managers of educational institutions will, by focusing on teachers’ likely mental concerns, be putting on their own metaphorical oxygen masks and be at their best when working with teachers and students. In order to illustrate such concerns along with other demands of the ELT profession, the authors introduce several fictional educators from around the world. One is ‘Vinicious’ in Brazil who, unless he receives urgent support, is unfortunately about to become another example of early career teacher attrition. Also included are five case studies of actual teachers such as Stella, teaching in the UK and who explains how she guards her own wellbeing as a teacher.

The first of four chapters is devoted to understanding the human mind. This looks closely at the three-circle model of emotion regulation systems: threat, soothing and drive, and how emotional health can be found by developing the ability to move more freely between these three mind states. Also explained are how blocked goals may lead to frustration and demotivation, along with the causes and effects of trauma, loss, depression and anxiety disorders. This provides the necessary background to the following chapter on cultivating your own wellbeing, where the emphasis is on managers’ mental health and the importance of developing self-compassion – the motivation to care for ourselves. One sentence is worth quoting in full: “It is through daring to be vulnerable, developing self-compassion and then seeking support in a safe environment, that leaders can develop and maintain the resilience to cope with the demands of their role.” (Page 56). Worthy of note, too, is the list of signs indicating when professional help may be required, such as persistent patterns of alcohol abuse.

Creating a whole school culture of wellbeing is the concern of the third chapter, in which one of the six ingredients listed to enable this is servant leadership, which is where, the authors explain, the leader’s primary role is to serve the needs of their followers. Teacher wellbeing inside the classroom is the topic of chapter four and consists of nothing but sound advice on how to develop what, after almost four decades of involvement in the profession, I personally feel is the most important factor in the ELT classroom: teacher-student rapport.

All of the above is followed by a tool-kit of ready-made sessions with accompanying worksheets that should help managers carry out their duty to care for those they lead. This title is a most welcome and valuable addition to the growing literature documenting the importance of consideration for the mental concerns of those in the ELT profession.

*Teacher Wellbeing, by Sarah Mercer and Tammy Gregersen, OUP, 2020.

Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Izmir, Turkey.

Images courtesy of Library and Ron
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