Wellbeing is the new black

Kristina Gambling, a SEND and high needs tutor, explores the wellbeing barriers faced by some of the unsung heroes of education – network managers

Published with permission from the ANME website

With the 2017 government green paper on children’s mental health citing schools as central to the wellbeing of young children and adolescents focus has, rightly, turned to wellbeing across the education sector. Much research has gone into the promotion of wellbeing and mental health across the board, but what, exactly, is wellbeing?

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), which provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law, identifies wellbeing as: ‘The way people feel about their lives, including their jobs, and their relationships with the people around them’.

Wellbeing is an area of responsibility which employers must take ownership of, yet it comprises myriad strands – including those which exist outside your workplace. Workplace wellbeing covers your physical state, including biophilic concepts – such as access to natural light and working temperatures – which have a physiological effect on your body, and also encompasses your psychological health.

The lone wolf; the network manager’s lot

Within most schools there are countless operational staff, all of whom perform important, yet often poorly-recognised, roles, but in most areas there is usually more than one individual performing those roles; this is generally not the case for network managers and technicians who are, more often than not, the sole post holders. The responsibility for IT provision and efficacy falls to these lone wolves who shoulder the burden without the support of similarly-encumbered colleagues with whom they may share their woes.

As a teacher myself, I recognise the value of the staff room – a haven away from pupils where I can indulge in a quick idea storm with colleagues, a rant or a moan, or a scan through education magazines; this is a privilege most network managers do not have access to which, therefore, must have an impact on their workplace wellbeing. I have been known to lament the long hours spent, oft unnoticed by SLT, slaving at my keyboard of a weekend or evening, or the CPD event to which I must trek for my own improvement. Yet, as the partner of a network manager, I have come to recognise that demands are made of these unsung heroes are tenfold. (Think about it; who is maintaining your remote desktop service while you’re knocking-up that last-minute lesson plan?).

Is teaching stressful? Indubitably, but so is the role of network manager, and without the benefits of a team of like-minded colleagues with whom to commiserate or share the recognition (albeit grudgingly bestowed) of pupils and parents.

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Significance and value

In a recent article the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families stated that, “Any conversation about supporting our children’s wellbeing must also include how we support our teachers.” A subsequent survey evidenced that over half of respondents would approach a colleague in a similar role if they were troubled, with fewer indicating that they would turn to their line manager or SLT. The consultation noted that it is, perhaps, a cause for concern that 11% would not approach anyone about work-related stress and worry; perhaps this number might reflect those staff members who do not have access to a colleague in a similar role.

ACAS notes that staff respond positively to a sense that their job has significance within the workplace, as well as the perceived value of the job to society, and that wellbeing can be improved through providing opportunities for employees to use and develop their skills. In education, these opportunities are often available to staff through interaction with their peers, at breaks in the staff room, during team meetings or CPD events, all of which offer opportunities for mutual appreciation and/or commiseration, and the sharing of best practise is commonplace.

However, these opportunities are generally lacking for network managers and technicians. Lone working, limited front-of-house exposure and the unspoken drive for their work to go unnoticed by end-users (admit it, how often do teachers stop by IT support unless there is a problem?) frequently result in these amazing men and women going entirely unrecognised and unsupported.

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