A new way to boost teacher and student wellbeing

Philip Watson | 26 Sep 2016 | Comments

I read a worrying article recently. It said that our teachers’ health and wellbeing is at an all-time low. It gave some even more worrying statistics: that 79% of teachers feel anxious about their workload and one in ten have been prescribed anti-depressants.

These statistics are shocking and made me question, as architects and designers working in the schools sector – what can we do to make a difference to teacher wellbeing in the workplace?

The article suggested to teachers that there were five ways to boost their wellbeing: mindfulness, love and friendship, exercise, psychotherapy and learning. But there is something we as architects can do to help teachers before they get to breaking point – we can ensure they find themselves in the least stressful and unhealthy environments possible. 

Designing for wellbeing in a school environment is as much about designing for teachers as it is for students. We need to design schools that encourage teachers to move, to connect to one another and their surroundings, and to feel ownership about the building where they spend much of their time. We also need to give them the best physical environment – lots of natural light, good ventilation and comfortable temperatures – so that their surroundings never interfere with their ability to teach and their students’ ability to learn.

These are basic principles we can apply to every school we design so that teachers can focus on what’s important – providing effective and innovative learning environments for our children – instead of being put into environments that actually acerbate their already stressful jobs.

At Atkins we’ve started to apply these principles of design for wellbeing in all of our school designs. Lime Tree Primary Academy and Harraby Community Campus are great examples of this. And we’ve even taken this one step further by creating a tool – WellBriefing – that engages teachers before the school is designed to understand what elements of the design are most important for their personal wellbeing. The idea here is to really understand what environments teachers need to thrive, not only in delivering the best curriculum they can, but in actively improving their own health and wellbeing. This way we as designers can make sure we’re not part of the problem, and are, just maybe, helping to stop mental health and wellbeing issues for our teachers before they start.