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Richard Gerver

Teachers TV's wellbeing expert Richard Gerver has been answering your questions, giving his advice on everything from balancing workload to dealing with stress in the workplace, with suggested Teachers TV videos that you may find helpful.

Watch Richard as he advises teachers on matters such as gaining confidence and coping with stress in these two Teachers TV series:

Wellbeing at Work

Teacher Tune Up

Visit Richard Gerver's website to find out more.

Allegations from staff

Dear Richard,

A temporary lecturer who worked in my department for only a short while has made a formal complaint about me. They claimed that my behaviour towards them undermined their ability to do the work they were employed to do during that period. This complaint was very personal and vindictively worded. It is being investigated by senior management and HR in the college and I have been told that I will have to meet with this person to ‘discuss’ their grievance.

I have been very shocked and hurt by the whole episode and am currently waiting to find out when this interview will be. I completely refute all their allegations which were a total distortion of my actions. They kept a diary of every interaction with me from the day they arrived in college and made their complaint direct to the headteacher on the day they left. Normal procedure would have been that they spoke to me first, and if that did not resolve the problem, they should have gone to our line manager.

Is this kind of allegation common? I have worked in my profession for 18 years and have never had any problems with my relationship with colleagues so this has come as a dreadful shock.

RE: Allegations from staff

I am sorry to hear about your case and the personal distress it must be causing. Episodes of this nature occur in all work places and particularly in organisations that operate under high pressure. Firstly I want to reassure you and say that sometimes these cases are brought by people who are under intense personal strain themselves and that the accusations can be a symptom of their own stress. I was on the receiving end a couple of times during my time as a senior leader in schools.

It is easy for me to say but the key is to try not to take it personally and to look at it objectively and to think about what I have said above. If I were you, I would agree to the meeting but insist on having a colleague or even better, a union rep with you to provide moral support. Before the meeting I would request a meeting with your line manager, again with your union rep, in order to go through the allegations and the agenda for the meeting and the strategies for its resolution. In any situation like this I would also recommend seeking legal and professional advice from someone like your union rep, local citizen’s advice bureau or similar organisation, or a solicitor.

The most important thing for your own sense of wellbeing is to take professional steps that help you to feel less like the victim and more in control. At all times try to remain calm and objective!

Best wishes

Richard Gerver

New job worries

Dear Richard

I am in job transition from Head of Beliefs and Values to Head of Yr 7. I am excited about the role but I will also have to continue teaching 8 classes, with a view to my timetable changing to 9 classes of 26 students who have philosophy 3 times a week.

I am anxious about being stretched too thinly and not doing my head of year 7 or my teaching job to the standard that is expected of me. I need to negotiate my timetable with the Principal who will undoubtedly be looking at financial resources instead of my well being any tips on creating a win/win situation for me.

RE: New job worries

Congratulations on your new job!

I remember feeling the same anxiety when I first joined a school leadership team; particularly when it came to giving my best to the students. I think that you are absolutely right in pre-planning for your new role and thinking through the demands it will have on you.

The first thing I would do is seek out someone on the staff, or a colleague in another school who has a similar workload to the one you will be taking on and talk to them about the way they deal with the challenges; it is always best to go into meetings well prepared with other perspectives!

Having a meeting with the principal is absolutely the right thing to do; keep it positive and constructive. I would suggest that you go into the meeting with a couple of ideas that you can present that solve the issue. Too often, people go into meetings with a principal or senior manager and articulate a problem, waiting to be given the solution; like all of us, senior leaders are under immense pressure and it is always refreshing when someone who is bringing a concern also comes with possible solutions. That keeps the meeting positive and focused on finding a resolution.

It may be worth, prior to the meeting, looking at the resources available to you to see if you could create a plan to present; do you have GTPs, HLTAs or learning support staff available who could help for example. Above all, be prepared for the meeting, it may be worth rehearsing your points with a trusted colleague who could play ‘devil’s advocate’, that way when you get into the real meeting you won't be thrown.

I hope that this helps and good luck.

Best wishes

Richard Gerver

New headteacher

Dear Richard

Currently we have a new headteacher and my relationship with previous head and recent associate head have been perfectly fine and no worries about performance, assessment teaching etc.

The new headteacher seems to have a method of talking at you rather than dialogue, been sat in front of her and told unprofessional, confrontational, and very negative. A teacher in a parallel class who shares responsibility with me for creating newsletters has had no problems, and no work back. When the work I have passed is identical to the other teacher comes back for re-doing with post-its and scribbles all over.

When comments are made in staff meetings other people can make comment, when I join in discussion the headteacher stops me. Other people have commented on this and I feel at the moment I don't want to go to school. As I don’t seem able to do anything right no matter how hard I work. I arrive at 7.30 ad leave at 5.30 bring home marking every day. With 30 children in my class, it averages at about 90 pieces each night that need marking.

I am newly working with a Year 3 and 4 class, when my experience has been with Key Stage 1 children. The move was without negotiation as another teacher wishing to move up the career ladder needed key stage one experience and they inherited my class.

Please help its all taking over my life..

RE: New headteacher

Thank you for your email and for sharing your concern. I think that it raises a number of issues.

Firstly your own position; I know how it feels to be moved not only across year groups but across key stages; it is a nervous and uncertain time. You spend time building up your expertise, routines and approaches and then find yourself starting again. These feelings are not uncommon and what I would say is that when a teacher moves as you have, there must be support mechanisms put in place to make the transfer as easy and as stress free as possible. In the term before a move for example, teachers should have time to shadow teachers in their new year group and have opportunity to teach in that year group occasionally prior to the move. If you didn’t get the chance for this kind of support I can understand why you are anxious. For you to have made this move at the same time as the arrival of a new head is like a double whammy; as the arrival of a new head can also mark a time of uncertainty linked to change.

Secondly trying to build a new relationship with the new headteacher when you are feeling unsettled can also be hard; especially as the new headteacher, no matter how outwardly confident or experienced, will also be suffering some anxiety and will be keen to 'make their mark'. They may well construe your feelings as being 'difficult and/or resistant to change', which of course, you are not. The important thing to do is not to allow this problem to persist.

Take the initiative and in a quiet moment, ask the headteacher for a private meeting. At that meeting discuss your concerns about how you feel; try to keep it objective and don’t get personal. In preparation for the meeting, list the concerns you have, both about her perceptions of you and your worries about your new year group assignment. The main thing is not to allow it to fester any longer. Make sure that you show your passion for the job, the kids and the school.

Don't go in to that meeting with just a list of complaints, make sure that you have thought through some positive strategies; ask her to help you find time to co-teach with the another junior teacher and to have some time with them to discuss marking and planning strategies, it may also be helpful to use some of your PPA time to visit other schools in order to broaden your experience of Y3/4. At the same time, in order to keep the atmosphere of the meeting positive, ask her if there is anything specific that you could help her with.

If the problems continue then contact your union and ask them to support you in a mediated discussion. The main thing is not to suffer alone and to realise that you are not unusual, for the two reasons I have suggested, it is quite understandable to be feeling the way you are at the moment.

I hope that this helps!

Best wishes

Richard Gerver

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Difficult colleagues

Dear Richard

How does one cope when wellbeing is treated as an item on a tick list? So far this year the following events have occurred:

I was asked to deliver a presentation on Dyslexia at an afterschool meeting by the deputy head. The rationale behind it was that I was the only person in the school who knew anything about it, having successfully completed E801: Difficulties in Literacy. I spent a weekend preparing for this. On the afternoon of the event, I was told that they didn’t need my presentation; all they wanted me to do now was to produce a leaflet for every classroom (in my own time) so that they could say we were a dyslexia friendly school. I was very cross about this, so I spoke to the deputy head about it. He said that he was sorry, but that he had passed over the responsibility to another teacher, and that maybe they were both a bit naive about dyslexia.

I am meticulous about planning, and have devised literacy and maths planning formats for the school so that they meet the criteria for the Primary Framework for literacy and maths. These have now been accepted as the format for all plans throughout the school. I also produce a plan for the other subjects for the half term. Up until this year, I have also done short term weekly plans. This year I have been given a TA who is extremely selective about what she does. As a means of propelling her into actually doing some work, I introduced daily lesson plans which comprised of learning objective, staff deployment and differentiation according to pupil needs. The assistant head in charge of curriculum came into my room at the end of the day, having seen my planning file. She said that she was happy with the medium term plans, but not happy with the daily plans replacing the weekly plans and that I was 'missing a layer'. At the time, both my assistants and the cleaner were in the room.

I explained that the daily plans contained the same information, but were more detailed. She said that wasn’t the case! I read out to her the words 'the objective of this lesson' and 'X to work with xxxx on yyy, Z to work with wwww on uuu' etc. She was still adamant that I needed to produce short term plans in the proscribed format or 'Ofsted will go through your drawers, and you won't like that!'. I closed the conversation, and asked for a private one the next day. I explained that I did not like being taken to task in front of two members of staff and the cleaner. I pointed out that taking someone to task in front of members of staff might well lead to them being defensive.

Two students were being abusive to others and I reprimanded them. According to another member of staff, they were heard to be plotting an attack on me. This information was passed to the deputy head, but he did not tell me. I only found out about 24 hours later. Some duty of care!

In the case of the first instance, I spoke to the person concerned. His lack of interest was unacceptable.

In the second instance, I spoke with the person concerned and she told others that I was being defensive; a term I had provided her with!

In the third instance, I spoke to the NUT, and that was not acceptable!

RE: Difficult colleagues

You sound like a highly committed professional who has used her experience to great effect, in order to avoid conflict.

I think that schools are under more pressure now than they have ever been; with the enormous raft of initiatives and legislation they have to implement and account for, which inevitably results in high levels of stress at all levels. It sound to me as though the whole school community is feeling stretched and that as a school, you need to draw breath and create an objective, ordered and focused pathway through the work that is ahead. The school's decision to jettison your dyslexia session at the last minute would suggest that the leadership team are feeling under pressure.

I would suggest that as an experienced member of staff, you seek out a private conversation with the headteacher and talk through your concerns about the dyslexia training and your conviction, that it must be done as a staff session, not in the form of a booklet; at the same time try to remain supportive in tone and ask the headteacher what the other priorities and pressures are. If there are genuine, more immediate concerns, tell the Head that you would suggest, that rather than'rushing through' with dyslexia, you hold it back and deliver the training when people have time to focus.

With regard to your planning; I believe that continuity is vital and that when a system has been agreed and actioned it must be followed, otherwise it can become fragmented and not universally implemented, which often leads to problems. However, if you have suggestions based on your developments that could enhance the planning system, I would again suggest a conversation with the leadership team. In my experience it is quite incorrect for any senior member of staff to suggest that OFSTED will, 'go through your drawers'. My experience is that this is an urban myth, that certainly doesn't happen under the new framework; indeed inspectors rarely ask to look at individual teacher planning these days, they are far more interested in the headteacher's monitoring process and where teaching is concerned, that teachers can confidently explain why they are delivering learning to their children the way they are, based on clear knowledge of the children's needs and that they can then demonstrate impact. On the whole, the days of class teachers having to evidence through paper trails have, thankfully, long since gone. If you have any ongoing concerns regarding OFSTED, I would suggest you raise these with your headteacher or union representative.

With regard to the confrontation you experienced in front of colleagues, I agree that that should have been handled much better and that by defusing the situation, you acted with great professionalism. I would suggest that in a quiet moment, you list the concerns you have and then make a formal appointment to meet with the head and calmly and objectively discuss your concerns, I would also suggest that you give some thought to ways these concerns can be resolved and share them in the meeting. That way you will feel that the meeting is constructive and that you are not simply, 'having a moan'. This will also lead to the headteacher being far more positive about supporting your concerns.

Good Luck and thank you for your email

Best wishes

Richard Gerver

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Stressful training

Dear Richard

At this time last year I walked out of a PGCE partly out of disgust, partly out of feeling powerless, and partly out of fear.

As part of our “audit of requirements” in our first placement, we were required to submit a report of our initial observations undertaken in the first two months of the course. I duly, but reluctantly submitted my report, because it contained some rather awkward experiences I had in that placement, one of which was witnessing a teacher yelling at Year 4 pupils only 2 inches from their face, on a regular basis, such that I believed they were doing them harm. The headteacher told me they didn’t want me in their classroom ever again and that I’d lost my placement with that school and would have to find another. The director of the course told me I shouldn’t have challenged the situation and said he would find it difficult to find me an alternative placement. However, he finally found me a placement in a location which involved me travelling many hours on the train each day.

Although I entertained the idea of going to the union to begin with, I assumed that it would do no good because in my experience, employers don’t like people who ‘cause trouble’, so I carried on without union support.

At my new placement, I found the behaviour shaping techniques totally opposite to those in the first school, but the external Link Mentor accused me of “nearly loosing my temper with the class”, not really wanting to listen to anything I had to say, not answering any of my questions and giving contradictory advice, that I felt they had been set up by the leaders of the course to be impossible. When I phoned the director to let him know, he said “We didn’t tell the link mentor to be like that, she didn’t know anything about your first placement”. I hadn’t suggested that he had! I left having told him of my disgust with it all and letting him know that the travel and the workload combined was making me feel ill and that I wasn’t prepared to risk my health for the sake of success.

Even though I had left the course, I finally contacted the Student Union rep who said the first school headteacher had no right to ask me to leave, and did I want him to get me back into their schooI, but I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. He suggested I go to a SCITT course nearer home and offered to support any application I made to them. I contacted the local SCITT but they said I would have to do the whole course from scratch again, so I didn’t know what to do!

I have been out of ‘proper’ work ever since leaving the course, in spite of endless applications and interviews I have had in local schools.

What can I do?

RE: Stressful training

Firstly, please don’t give up on your dream! We need passionate people in teaching. I remember my own PGCE being a pressured and at times frustrating year and I did not have your prior experience in school. I remember being in classrooms with teachers that I wouldn’t want anywhere near my own children but I also remember working with teachers who have served as an inspiration through my entire career. I looked on the PGCE is a means to an end and no more than that, a way to get the badge that says that you can do, what I would guess given your experience, you can already do. I often tell teaching students that on placement, you can learn as much from lousy teachers as you can great ones…looking back on my own journey both helped me define what kind of teacher I wanted to be.

I think that the most important thing is to remain true to you and your own instincts because as we know the very best teachers are ‘natural’ and honest and allow their personalities to shine through; its what children love and respect.

Regarding the unions, you must contact them and explain your plight; they are experts in supporting members just like you. I know it feels like it but you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last…your union will know exactly how to help you through this. Please don’t think about stigma. If necessary get the school where you worked as an HLTA to write you a character reference that will support your ability.

Although what you did in approaching the Head was morally the right thing to do, I would suggest that whenever you have a grievance with a placement school, approach your tutor and talk through what you should do; as you know, schools are like tight knit families and often will round on anyone who criticises a colleague. This may not be right but it is why it is important to go through your college links.

The vast majority of schools, teachers and link tutors are fantastic people who care passionately about schools, children and the development of future professionals and I am so sorry that your experiences have been so difficult.

I would suggest that you contact the TDA directly 0845 6000 991 and ask them to help you find a new route into the profession.

Best Wishes

Richard Gerver