A mental health first aid kit for school leaders – Patrick Ottley-O’Connor

School leaders must be first responders for teacher wellbeing says Patrick Ottley-O’Connor.

“Look after yourself before looking after others.” It’s the mantra that every first responder is taught and was the message I shared with my staff on my first day as Executive Principal at North Liverpool Academy.
The simple fact is that you are unable to help others – or effectively teach others – if you yourself are suffering. It’s about putting on your own oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs.

This is the philosophy I champion throughout our schools and with virtually anyone else who will listen.
Look after yourself first.
Having high expectations of staff, with a ‘no excuses, no exceptions’ approach to teaching is important in ensuring that we are aspirational for all children. However, on its own, this approach can lead to a high-stakes and often toxic level of accountability, leaving staff feeling vulnerable, exposed and isolated.
So we make this high expectations approach apply to teacher wellbeing too. Staff must prioritise their own wellbeing without excuse or exception. It’s a belief that stems from my own journey as a leader, as I know if I look after my own wellbeing I am able to be more supportive of my staff.

Listen and act

It’s important to talk openly with colleagues about mental health and wellbeing. We start with the survey on workload that comes with the DFE Workload Toolkit, and we conduct our own regular staff perception questionnaires. These allow staff to talk anonymously and freely to let senior leaders know what is happening from their perspective.
But it’s not enough to just listen to staff’s views. The skill as a leader is to respond to feedback, not just with words but deeds.

We offer a minimum of 15% PPA time for all teachers, so planning is not left to after school hours. And every time a new policy is introduced or reviewed, we ask: ‘What impact could this have on staff wellbeing?’
As well as talking openly about mental health and giving staff time to plan, schools need to celebrate those who are looking after themselves and others. We do this in our weekly staff wellbeing briefing where staff nominate colleagues in recognition of the support they have received from their peers, and we celebrate our mental health and wellbeing star of the week.

Wellbeing policy

There are paid wellbeing ambassadors across the trust, and organised wellbeing CPD sessions are scheduled throughout the year.
A really powerful initiative is the mental health first aid training we have introduced which equips staff to recognise the signs of mental health issues in others and to listen without judgement to a person who is in distress. The training teaches staff how to respond in a crisis, and how to reach out before a crisis happens.

In addition, we hold regular #teacher5aday wellbeing activities. #Teacher5aday is a movement that started on Twitter to encourage teachers to share ideas for promoting their wellbeing around five key pillars, which are connect, notice, learn, volunteer and exercise.
Our initiatives on the ‘connect’ theme are designed to bring everyone together to talk through problems and solutions – and have some fun. These include bringing in strawberries and cream for everyone to share during Wimbledon fortnight, wellbeing advent calendars for staff to open in the run up to Christmas and our ‘Wheel of Misfortune’ game which is a roulette style prizegiving of some lovely and some cringeworthy prizes.
There’s nothing ‘soft’ about our wellbeing approach. Children only get one shot at school and it’s vital they receive the highest quality school experiences to get them life-ready. So teachers have to be feeling mentally fit and well to do their best work in the classroom day after day.

Lead by example

The key to success in creating a culture of wellbeing is to have not only the involvement but the active participation of school leaders. Heads need to enable teachers to take their wellbeing seriously by looking after their own mental health and being wellbeing supermodels for their school.
When a school’s leadership puts wellbeing at the top of the agenda, that school becomes a better place for everyone to thrive, teach and learn.
Patrick Ottley-O’Connor is executive principal of North Liverpool Academy. He is a passionate supporter of the National #Teacher5aday wellbeing week, which runs from 2nd to 6th December 2019. School leaders looking to improve wellbeing in their school can sign up for tips and resources at on this site.

national #teacher5aday week ideas – check out our YouTube channel

At the end of 2016 a group of fantastic educators shared their #teacher5aday pledges via a vlog. If you are looking for inspiration for the inaugural national #teacher5aday week there is no better places to start.

The brief was simple. To share ideas about the #teacher5aday pledge and tips to improve teacher well-being.

@MissVicki_ V provides an excellent introduction here

If you would like to share a vlog please get in touch our alternatively if you would like to do a written pledge for 2020 details are here http://wp.me/p4VbxY-mI.

#teacher5aday vloggers sharing their tips on improving well-being so far are …..


























50 ways as a leader you could include #teacher5aday in your school

As we approach the inaugural national #teacher5aday week (2 – 6th of Dec 2019) I thought it might be useful to pen some ideas which could be implemented in your school. As a leader I believe it is important not to be tokenistic about well-being. Its not about compulsory after school yoga sessions. I think we should look critically at our working life and review and refine some of our practices. To make teaching a healthy and sustainable activity where happy teachers can teach happy students and improve outcomes for all.

50 ways as a leader you could include

The list below is a collection of some of my thoughts. It’s not a checklist to work through. Just like the original ideas behind #teacher5aday it’s best to develop your own ideas to improve your school. Context is everything but, in my view, if you tackle your #teacher5day first and the use the five themes of #connect, #notice, #learn, #exercise and #volunteer then you will be surprised at the impact.


  1. Create opportunities for teams to plan together as part of directed time in your meeting structures
  2. Co-design your teaching and learning and feedback policies so that well-being is at the heart of both
  3. Build well-being into your briefings – recognise the contribution of your staff supporting each other on a weekly basis
  4. Develop a system that acknowledges supporting each other in school – shout out board / well-being buddy / random acts of kindness / all of the above
  5. Develop networks beyond school to support teachers to work effectively. Planning is easier if you share resources.
  6. Help you staff connect with others through social media. What are the best FB groups e.g. AQA Geography, AQA Drama. What can @LitDrive do for your English Department to reduce their planning?
  7. Connect the link between limited data drops and teaching so that all have a purpose
  8. Encourage your staff to join the Chartered College for excellent CPD
  9. Encourage your staff to take part in the @womened network
  10. Tweet your #teacher5aday to share what you and your school are up to


  1. #50isplenty https://chriseyreteaching.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/50-is-plenty/
  2. Observe the power of providing time. Help your teachers do the job in the most effective way. Working long hours is not a badge of honour anymore!
  3. Pay attention to the things that cause the most stress for your staff and plan to reduce them. Ask them directly for this feedback. E.g. Do you still need any written aspect to reports? Really?
  4. Be aware of the amount of data you collect and what you do with it. Like your wardrobe if it hasn’t been touched for a while do you really need to collect it in the first place?
  5. The impact of introducing something new into the school. What can you abandon as a result?
  6. Get your governors to complete a risk assessment of new initiatives. H and S with a purpose to safeguard the well-being of your students, staff and you.
  7. Keep the focus on the main thing. CPD for teams to develop the delivery of the curriculum and discuss T and L. Is there anything else to do in a meeting?
  8. Note the need to stick to a well-planned calendar that is balanced throughout the year
  9. The lack of awards for early starters and late finishers
  10. Be mindful of the impact of nature in your school and community and try to spend time in it


  1. Understand that Self-care is not selfish. The most important learn is for your staff to use their well-being oxygen mask first.
  2. Learn from each other by developing a culture of pledging your #teacher5aday and celebrating everyone’s achievements every half term
  3. Build opportunities for #teacher5day to be part of your appraisal structures. Help your staff to learn about their well-being
  4. Encourage teachers to learn beyond their subject and beyond school? Try to provide opportunities out of their comfort zone so they can experience what authentic learning feels like
  5. Can after school clubs be developed around the interests of your staff? Provide directed time so that they can to do the things they love with your students to foster even better working relationships
  6. Provide supervision to learn all about self-care like health care professionals enjoy
  7. Provide opportunities to use resources like future learn https://www.futurelearn.com/ to access 100s of short course to ignite a love of learning
  8. Teach your staff in a cpd session that they will love to attend on how to plan their holidays with the same effort they plan their SOW and lessons
  9. Set challenges that teachers will enjoy achieving
  10. Help your staff to master the skills of eating well by employing a professional chef and giving them great food to eat every day without the hassle of preparation like Park Community School do in Hampshire


  1. Encourage all your staff to discover a physical activity they enjoy for their level of fitness and mobility
  2. Provide time for them to do it
  3. Get your staff outside everyday to keep their vitamin D high. Especially between the firework season and the first daffodils
  4. Take part in the daily mile with your staff and students
  5. Schedule a walking meeting instead of an office based one. Sitting is the new smoking!
  6. Get on the gym bikes when you are having a meeting like the leaders of British Airways
  7. Start a staff running club for those that are interested
  8. Encourage group exercise for those that would like to take part e.g. Friday night Badminton Club. A staff that play together stay together!
  9. #OutrunMay and / or September together with your students and staff (who are interested). Set personal challenges to walk or run a certain distance by the end of the month. You could collect some more for charity at the same time?
  10. Help your staff acquire an understanding of  the link between exercise and better sleep


  1. A smile
  2. Thank your staff
  3. Develop coaching structures to give time to support your team’s development
  4. Give your trust to your teachers to allow them to teach in the way they prefer
  5. Provide time to allow staff to develop new aspects of pedagogy
  6. Conduct a regular review of paperwork. Does it improve wellbeing? For students or staff?
  7. Give your staff a chance to be heard. Collect views and opinions form a wellbeing survey as part of your H and S policy
  8. Spend some time in the local community with your staff and students
  9. Host a senior citizens Christmas party. Give something back to your local community
  10. Schedule a termly well-being health check

I hope some of these ideas make it into your school. If you do develop any, please let me know via idea number 10. If you have any ideas to add to the list, I would love to crowd source another 50.

Week 1 #teacher5aday #slowchatconnect

The intention behind national #teacher5aday week is to celebrate the achievements of the last five years.

Of all of the best aspects of #teacher5aday.

To inspire teachers who haven’t used the ideas behind the concept to get involved, to look after their own wellbeing as a priority and to motivate leaders in schools to continue to develop cultures that are supportive and caring. That values the individual and nurtures their growth.

The associated slowchats over the next five weeks have been planned to provide you with the ideas and inspiration you need to get started taking the #teacher5aday ideas off social media and into your staffrooms and classrooms.

The first of the slowchats is themed around #connect. If wellbeing begins with a WE then is there a better place to start?

To get involved with the slowchat this week at 7pm a question a day will be posted. This will hopefully provoke some discussion which can be responded to in a slow and considered manner rather than over a frantic 30 minute burst of tweeting.

The 5 Ways to Wellbeing Framework, the basis of #teacher5aday, originally shared by the New Economic Foundation (NEF) has been adapted by @ReachOut_AUS and used this October in Australia for a months worth of wellbeing activities.


In their view the demands of everyday life is not something we should underestimate. At its most basic level, they suggest, wellbeing is when you’re feeling good and functioning well. It includes feeling physically and mentally well, spiritually aware or connected, and that your life is worthwhile and has purpose.

Linked to the first theme of #connect the good people at @ReachOut_AUS believe that wellbeing has a multiplier effect. They propose that “when you’re happy and well, you’re more likely to experience positive relationships with others, a feeling of control over your life and a sense of purpose”.

So how can we develop ideas in and out of school on Monday the 2nd of December based around #connect?

At mindkit.org.uk ideas to develop personal wellbeing are suggested under the five themes.

5 Ways to Wellbeing

The ideas are grouped into 3 sections to reinforce the idea that everyone has a different approach to their wellbeing and can afford a different amount of time to give to it. They have ideas that take a minute, an hour and if you have longer block of time available and are definitely worth a look for some added inspiration.

So what could you do to get involved with Day 1 of national #teacher5aday week?

To promote the importance of connectedness?

Research has shown that social connectedness is at least as important for your health as regular exercise or eliminating nasties such as smoking.

The best ideas over the last five years of #teacher5aday have developed organically. The suggested ideas are only suggestions and not a tick list of must do activities. As the slowchat develops I’m sure the list will grow.

  1. As a leader in a school could you organise an event that brings people together? If you have a meeting scheduled in the first week of December could it have a wellbeing focus?
  2. Could you encourage the whole school to take part in a “talk to someone new day?”
  3. Encourage your staff to take an hour instead of attending a meeting in school to meet up with someone outside of school instead?
  4. As a leader of a team could you organise a get together with your team / another team to share some ideas about developing your wellbeing strategies?
  5. As a teacher could you take some time for you? To catch up with your colleague that you’ve been planning to for a while and not got round to it?

Do you love a party with a happy atmosphere? National #Teacher5aday Week Christmas Party (2.12.19)

If your calendar is anything like ours then December is a very busy month.

From 25 years of experience I know that it is time to batten down the hatches. From the screech of the first firework to the emerging of the first daffodil this is where we in education earn our corn.

national #teacher5aday Christmas party

At school I can look forward to dark nights and dark mornings. The usual run of meetings, lessons, data crunching and dealing with behaviour. At home preparations for Christmas and the least stress free of the holidays will be well underway. Tap and ballet shows and hockey Christmas parties. The local Youth Theatre now plays a big role in our movements over the festive season. And its our first year with the dog!

The blog that has helped me the most with maintaining a balance over busy periods like this is Chris Eyre’s “50 is plenty”. https://chriseyreteaching.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/50-is-plenty/ Written in 2016 Chris had been inspired following a twitter discussion about the number of hours in a week we work. His idea was simple. Which is part of its appeal.

What if we stopped working each week when we reached 50 hours?

Chris argues that the figure isn’t arbitrary but is backed up by research from Industry. The hours we work over fifty are less productive to a point that after fifty-six they diminish in value.

Have you ever had that feeling when what you try to do takes twice as long? I wonder how will you be feeling before the Christmas holidays? At the end of a busy term? How many hours will you be doing at work and how busy will your life be in December 2019?

I wonder if we should go into training for the best Christmas holidays ever?

After a fantastic coaching session this week the idea of a #leadmeet was born to launch national #teacher5aday week.

On Monday the 2nd of December, the first day of the national week, the theme is #connect, so what better way to start the festivities than to organise a party. Five leaders will share how each of the five elements of #teacher5aday have impacted their life. The invite is open to all, but tickets are limited to 30. Small is beautiful after all!


In my head the launch event is the live version of the #teacher5aday vlogs. The aim of the month is to try to take the ideas form social media into staff rooms across the country. Hopefully all 30 attendees will go back to their schools and staffrooms and share the ideas they have heard from the discussions they have had. And who doesn’t like a chance to get together at Christmas? A chance to pay a wellbeing shaped Christmas present which might have a lasting impact into the new year.

Could you do the same in your area? Could you organise a #teacher5aday Christmas Party (#leadmeet / #teachmeet) on the 2nd of December?

The Holiday Inn in Winchester could not be more helpful. The room is free? Hopefully I will be able to source some funding for some nibbles, but this isn’t obligatory. Everyone knows it’s the guest list that makes a great soiree. They even have a spa and would like to have a meeting about how they can help. Apparently, they would like to offer reduced rates to teachers in the holidays! I’m sure they will be convinced to chuck in a freebee or two.

So, no matter what the size of event could you help celebrate the start of the first #teacher5aday week? A chance to come together to think about your own wellbeing. To help everyone understand that wellbeing begins with a WE.

The first job probably will be to check your diary. My advice would be to work out what you could abandon in order to take part? To make sure that 50 is plenty. Then after that get some help to organise the party. It might end up become a wellbeing working party?

If the answer is yes to getting involved, then please get in touch. It would be great to capture as many of these events as possible and we have a fantastic group of people who are supporting the week who I am sure would be keen to help.

If not then how about getting into training? Could you try 50 is plenty next week? Then the week after? Would it make your half term even better ………

How to get involved in national #teacher5aday week (2.12.19 – 6.12.19)

Plans are coming together for the first week in December.

The first national #teacher5aday week!

Five years on from launching #teacher5aday at the SSAT National conference https://martynreah.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/teacher5aday/ instead of presenting at the teachmeet this time #teacher5aday has reached the main stage. A five day focus for leaders and teachers to develop a positive approach to well-being. A start of something which will hopefully become a regular event in school calendars across the country.

National #Teacher5aday Week

The aim of the week is to celebrate the successes of the previous five years. To bring all of the best elements of #teacher5aday from social media and into as many staff rooms across the country as possible. To curate and create a festival of well-being and provide a one stop shop for busy teachers and leaders across the country to find resource which will have an impact on their well-being and that of their colleagues. Working with the amazing team behind National Careers Week #NCW2020 a website is under construction to host all the resources which will allow the well-being conversation to continue after the 6th of December.

The week will be themed around the five aspects of #teacher5aday which was based on New Economic Foundations 5 ways to well-being https://neweconomics.org/2011/07/five-ways-well-new-applications-new-ways-thinking .

Monday #CONNECT Tuesday #NOTICE Wednesday #LEARN


Dr Sue Roffey has started the conversations for leaders and leadership teams to consider about getting invovled in the week. https://martynreah.wordpress.com/2019/10/05/national-teacher5aday-week-wellbeing-begins-with-we-facilitating-teacher-wellbeing-sueroffey/. As an individual taking responsibility for your self care you can also delve into the archives to start your own version of #teacher5day by following the advice in this how to get started guide https://martynreah.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/week-1-teacher5aday/.

Before the party gets started a series of slowchats will be hosted to help generate some ideas for leaders and teachers to take forward into their school. Context is everything and improving well-being can not be a bolt onto school culture. Additional activity without an understanding of abandonment would be an issue generally and during this week particularly.

This build up to the national week in December will be preceded by a week of well-being chat for each of the five elements starting on the 28th of October. Each week will start with the main idea about “how do you help others? – well-being begins with WE” followed up with ideas and discussions about how to develop self care in your organisation under the five main themes.

(WB 28.10.19) Week 1 #CONNECT hosted by Martyn Reah


(WB 4.11.19) Week 2 #NOTICE hosted by Bukky Yusuf


(WB 11.1.19) Week 3 #LEARN hosted by Rachel Atherton

(WB 18.11.19) Week 4 #EXERCISE hosted by Mal Krishnasamy

(WB 25.11.19) Week 5 #VOLUNTEER hosted by Tina Murray

Blogs and key questions will follow this month for each week. The idea of the #slowchats is to be part of a a weeks worth of well-being chat. To provide a “how to guide” for each element of #teacher5aday based around the themes above. To help create collective ideas which can be implemented in the national week and beyond. Rather than like some other twitter based chats a slowchat takes place over a long period of time rather than a half hour of rushed conversation. Join in from 7pm on twitter each night and use the hashtags to keep in touch and contribute e.g. #teacher5aday #SlowchatConnect. Examples of previous slowchats can be found here to give you any idea or two.

If you would like to know more about the steering group or #teacher5aday pledges for this year details are in the links below.

Pledge – https://martynreah.wordpress.com/2019/09/01/teacher5aday-pledge-2019/

Steering Group – Inaugural Meeting https://martynreah.wordpress.com/2019/08/26/teacher5day-steering-group-inaugural-meeting/

If you can spread the word beyond social media even better. How about orgainising a teachmeet on Monday the 2nd to help people connect and start the week in the right way.



National #Teacher5aday Week: Wellbeing Begins with We – Facilitating Teacher Wellbeing (@sueroffey)

The community that has developed through #teacher5aday is integral to its success in promoting teacher wellbeing.  It is not just the efforts of individuals but the sharing of their activities to connect, learn, be active, notice and give/volunteer that has boosted a sense of pride, joy and positivity in the profession – despite the many challenges in schools today.

In December there will be a whole week (2nd – 6th) devoted to teacher5aday to raise awareness of teacher wellbeing in every school in the country.  Senior leadership will be involved and this article is to begin the conversation about what they might do to support this great initiative.

  1. The first thing might be to ask teachers what would make the most difference for them.
  2. The second is to have a teacher wellbeing working group to put ideas into practice.
  3. The third is to check how much happier teachers are working in your school and watch your retention rates go up!

The New Economics Foundation five ways to wellbeing that underpin #teacher5aday

five ways

Connect:   A sense of belonging is now recognised as being central to wellbeing – and feelings of isolation damaging to our mental health.   Establishing and maintaining positive relationships matters.  In schools this encompasses relationships with colleagues, with students and with support staff.   It is hard to have relationships if we don’t get to talk with people and find out a bit more about who they are.  Here is one suggestion:

A social event in which everyone has conversations with people they wouldn’t usually talk with.  One activity I use in Circle Solutions is Social Bingo.  This is a piece of A4 paper or card divided into nine boxes, each with a question to be answered by a different person.  These can include exploring things in common or simply finding out more about someone beyond their role in school.  For example:

  • Someone who has been to the same concert, film or play as you: What did you both think of it?
  • Someone who can speak two languages – what are they? How did they learn them?
  • Someone who is planning a big family event – what is this?

In a half hour event (perhaps with food and drink?) people can have brief conversations that make connections that change perceptions that might alter relationships for ever.

This activity could be completed during the week but it works better doing it altogether in a protected time.

leader listener

What else might you do to boost connection in your school?

How do people get to know each other?

Are positive relationships at the heart of the vision for your school?

Learn:  Schools should be learning organisations for everyone.  In these days of scarce funds and time-poor schools, professional development is often thin on the ground. Teachers who continue to learn their craft are more professionally competent and feel valued – both important aspects of wellbeing.  So how about the following:

  • Support attendance at Pedagoo / teachmeet events where teachers share their own practice
  • Instead of a speaker, show an education Ted talk once a month, followed by small group discussion. Find out what teachers would value?
  • Invite students to conduct seminars with staff with topics of their choice
  • Find ways for individuals to disseminate summaries and reviews for books they have found valuable.

How can you prioritise professional learning in your budget – the more wellbeing in your school the less you will have to pay for sick leave?! 

What do governors know about the importance of teacher wellbeing for effective education?  

Who might provide this learning and what might result?

Notice:  Teachers often go over and beyond for pupils but acknowledgement of this is not always forthcoming.  People might get noticed for the big things but not always for the little things.  So during this week how about finding ways to acknowledge all the little things that teachers do or say that make school life just that bit better for someone.

  • Prepare for #teacher5aday week by making a brief note of something positive you have noticed for every member of staff in your school – write this on a card and pop it into their pigeon hole during early December.
  • Provide a place for teachers to display photographs of what they have noticed that has boosted their wellbeing – this could lead onto interesting discussions with pupils

How can staff be acknowledged for what they do so they do not feel taken for granted?

How can we notice when staff need more support – with health, work, or life outside work?

Stay Active (Exercise)Movement raises serotonin levels and opens up cognitive pathways – it therefore promotes mental wellbeing and learning as well as physical health.  New government guidelines recommend 60 minutes per day of activity for students in school.   With everything that teachers have to fit in how can they also be encouraged to stay fit.   The answer is in variety / choice / doing things together alongside leadership encouragement and facilitation.

  • Dancing is great exercise, often enjoyed by all ages. How about a regular school disco?
  • Provide plenty of secure places to park bikes
  • Encourage staff to dress in ways that facilitate physical movement. For whose benefit are suits, ties and high heels?

Are there opportunities for staff and pupils to be active together?   Inside and out?

No pupil – or teacher- should be sitting still for more than half an hour – brief physical breaks need to be built into lessons – is this part of whole school conversation and policy?

How might senior staff model good practice?


Give / Volunteer :  Neurological research says that the ‘reward’ areas of the brain are stimulated by giving – so doing good does you good!  Teachers may be reluctant to volunteer for anything if time is of the essence so this aspect of #teacher5aday needs to not add to the demands on teachers.   The cue is in the word ‘volunteer’ – nothing compulsory!

  • Giving a kind word or a smile takes little time or effort but can generate positive vibes across the school.
  • School leaders could volunteer to give an hour of their time by taking a session with all students in the hall. Ask staff what they would like to do with this extra hour
  • There are families hungry and homeless – and the weather is getting colder. Perhaps hold a survey with staff and students about how the school can help. Doing things together boosts school belonging – valuable for everyone’s wellbeing.

Does teacher5aday give your own wellbeing a boost?

How can you give teachers over the year ahead a stronger sense that they are doing meaningful work that is valued by you and the community?

If you have read this to the end, congratulations, I am giving you a  big thank you from me!