Professional development of the education workforce will be crucial to the successful implementation of Wales’ new national curriculum. But learning is a gradual process that can’t be rushed, according to Catherine Kucia…

‘Wellbeing’ is no doubt one of the current buzzwords in education. A recent Twitter educhat (@networkEDcymru) highlighted that teachers from across Wales had varying experiences in both their understanding of wellbeing and how it is developed within schools.

To provide a starting point with defining what is no doubt a complex concept, the Oxford English Dictionary describes wellbeing as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy ’.

I believe as educators, it is our moral duty to ensure the children within our care are happy and safe. For me, the notion of wellbeing in education is more than just the dictionary definition, it is the very essence of being ready to learn.

So if schools are tasked with developing and supporting wellbeing, surely the challenge is to ensure practitioners’ wellbeing is also considered. The concept of ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’ springs to mind.

The expectation upon the teaching profession is high, never more so than in the current climate of mass educational reform here in Wales. It is vital that practitioners look after their own wellbeing.

As a headteacher I see that this can be articulated in two ways – professionally and personally. Personally, I make time for running; getting my trainers on, getting outside and enjoying new challenges.

I often have comments about how I find time to run, my response is always ‘I make the time’. In doing this I hope to set an example, albeit a small one, that in doing something I am passionate about improves my wellbeing and impacts positively upon my professional work.

Professionally, it is about ensuring learning is the key focus in all that I do and that time for learning is valued. In our fast-paced society, time is a precious commodity, we are often time poor and activity rich. If we truly want to ensure high levels of wellbeing we need to respect a slowliness of learning.

In my experience, to develop a slowliness of learning for both practitioners and children it must begin with the school culture. A culture focused on learning requires both a vision and behaviours which drive leaders, staff and children.

However, this can only happen if there are strong relationships within and beyond the school community. A positive climate for learning requires clear, open and honest communication. It also requires high levels of trust.

School leaders set the climate and culture of trust within a school. To enable a slowiness of learning requires leaders who carefully consider systems and structures which focus on learning.

From experience, providing time for practitioners to talk and collaborate is essential. Providing a freedom for staff to develop ideas and not feel bound by the traditional shackles of education is central to this way of working.

Current national curriculum expectations in Wales are considered by many teachers to be overburdensome and overcrowded. In my opinion, the new Curriculum for Wales, currently available in draft and which will become statutory in September 2022, takes away such constraints and permits a level of freedom previously not experienced.

This does not mean that there is a laissez faire attitude to learning, to the contrary, a clear curriculum design developed with and by teachers which provides an outline for the planning of learning opportunities is essential.

As a headteacher of a school who has decided to adopt the essence of the new Curriculum for Wales, I have conversations with teachers who now feel that they have more time to think and discuss learning themes. They do not plough through schemes of work within set time periods.

They are flexible with the direction of learning and ensure that learning is driven by the children’s needs and abilities rather than external pressures. This is only possible with a culture which places trust in them so that they can organise learning in a way which is best for their children.

This is enabled through high quality professional learning. Teacher agency is encouraged, collaborative agency expected and time is provided for all staff to research, talk and trial new ideas. There is clear purpose and this joined with a slowliness of learning impacts upon staff and children. 

Children learn from everything around them – people, environment, atmosphere, routine and experiences. Developing a slowliness of learning impacts upon children’s feelings of being happy.

Learning does not feel like a race. Children are nurtured and supported to develop and given time to engage with the experiences offered. To enable this requires practitioners who deliberately practice a slowliness of learning.

The term wellbeing is much more than a dictionary definition, for me it is the core of learning. It is about the right culture, the right relationships and time. It should be driven by purpose, not by what people do within schools, but why they do it.

I would urge school leaders, embarking upon the challenges of a new curriculum, to consider their slowliness of learning so that all practitioners and children are afforded the opportunity to thrive.

  • Catherine Kucia is headteacher of Jubilee Park Primary School, Newport, and a student on Yr Athrofa’s Doctorate in Education programme

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