How The Himalayas Can Stop Teachers From Quitting Teaching
Welcome to this week’s instalment of my absolutely ‘out there’ statement based on reflections this half term which will hopefully support well-being and give you all something to reflect on.
As some of you may already know from following my Instagram, I’ve been able to travel around Nepal this half-term break and it has been absolutely tremendous to break from what has been a long climb’ of a half-term: I’ll try and throw in some more puns as we go. I can’t suggest it enough for those of you seeking a scenic, reasonably-priced adventure but this isn’t what this is about.
As you can see from the picture, two of the hotels (although more expensive) had the most INSANE view of the Himalayan mountain range. Each morning we would wake up to see the sunrise over them and during that time, my phone would be in Time Lapse mode giving me no way to be distracted. This gave me plenty of time to reflect on some of the challenges I’ve faced in teaching this term and made me also question some of the challenges that others may have faced in the past climbing the range. My partner and I decided to venture through the lines of inquiry to do some digging as to which mountains had been climbed and which, if any, were most dangerous.
We found that the range we were looking at (in the photo) was the Annapurna range: there’s 4 key mountains. Each of the mountains we looked up had been climbed but we found 1 which isn’t visible in this photo was significantly more dangerous than the others. 29% of climbers who attempt Annapurna 1 (I’ll call it A1) die in comparison to only 1.5% on Mt. Everest… baffling I know. I needed to know why through visuals so I hopped onto YouTube to why it was so dangerous: avalanches.
The reason for this writing is not to tell you about some dangerous mountain; it was the team’s story that struck me the most. The team who tried to climb A1 was extremely experienced. Their ascent took a significant amount of time and effort but they eventually reached 5000+ metres, over halfway. At that point, one of the lead climbers paused, reflected and noted a potential change in the weather. While the chances of snow were minimal, they shifted their attention and climbed back down the mountain as this snow could potentially cause an avalanche which would kill them, potentially turning the 29% into 30%. I found this so bizarre as so many inexperienced climbers in their position would let ego take over and climb up. This is where psychology enters the room and links to teaching.
Sunk cost fallacy is the principle that people will continue with something negative due to the initial investment of time and energy: a bad date, meal or even a toxic relationship. This could also link to policies in schools that no longer serve the school best but don’t get changed as ‘that’s how we do things'. The collective experience of the team enabled cooler heads to prevail. Their experience led them to safety and saved them.
While we’re not climbing A1, Remember that every person who is dead on A1 was once an ambitious person. Ambition is great but the ability to kill ego is critical. In this case, it is not a life and death situation but in the world of teaching we face a mountain each term; it’s steep too. If we don’t air on the side of caution, the conditions in the profession can cause potential problems as we encounter our own ‘avalanche’ of emotions. These emotions affect our ability to perform effectively as educators and unfortunately, for some, lead us to leave teaching. A shocking 44% of England's state-school teachers plan to quit by 2027, according to the latest NEU poll; that’s huge.
We can draw some key takeaways from the story which can reduce the likelihood of teachers leaving teaching. If you’re in a position of leading a team, pause and reflect on how things are going; use your experience. You can decide whether you need to take a few steps back through this reflective process. Like the climbers who took time to reflect every couple of thousand metres, you can choose to reflect on each half-term:
At higher levels of authority you can:
Review the marking policy to see what can be reduced
Scale back on communication platforms
Reflect on the observation cycles to reduce pressure
Dial back on meetings that could be emails
Ensure emails are comprehensive to reduce double/ triple emails
Not everyone is in leadership (like me) so it’s also crucial to use the strategies the climbers would have had when climbing. There are a number of safety checks climbers have to consider when climbing up to 8000+ metres such as A1. They have to ensure their kit is maintained and ensure they have enough Oxygen for above the death zone (8000 metres) From this we can reflect and understand that we must also reflect on our own practice both in and out of school:
Review what work can be self-assessed
If some activities can be practical on particularly heavy admin weeks such as parent’s evenings
Develop children’s routines further to ensure that they are taking responsibility for the classroom like you, reducing time spent tidying.
Make sure notifications are sorted so you’re not getting pinged outside of work.
Outside of school is just as important too. I hate feeling like I’m being patronising typing this but I know I need reminding about looking after myself too sometimes as I’m so keen to support everyone else.
Ensure you’re establishing a solid sleep foundation
Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water
Try to sort out times throughout the week when you’ll exercise, even a walk helps.
Reduce screen time (my biggest problem)
While I know it can feel like we are ‘climbing a mountain’ emotionally, understanding and establishing some of the habits found in experienced climbing teams can help develop well-being in educators for the future. This is vital for the longevity of educators and the sustainability of education.
If you're interested in becoming a teacher in Dubai, I highly recommend checking out the guides that I have created to support the process. Guide 1 will support you with understanding the process and getting a job out here in Dubai.
Alternatively, if you have a job lined up already, Guide 2 will support you with the move.