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'Wellbeing stuff' is tactic to keep teachers distracted from real issues, ASTI conference hears

Bingo, calendars to count smiles and kindness tunnels are being promoted as "wellbeing" in Irish secondary schools as opposed to focusing on improving management practices.

Motions on the topics of "wellbeing" and "overload" were heard at the annual congress of the Association of Secondary Teachers', Ireland (ASTI) in Wexford today.

"It's a bit like Alice in Wonderland and Humpty Dumpty where they say: 'words can mean whatever I want them to mean,' and in terms of wellbeing for the Department of Education, they're determined to make it mean what they want it to mean," teacher Mark Walsh said.

He went on to list the various exercises, that are being "pushed" as wellbeing in secondary schools.

"We have things like mindfulness, yoga classes, wellbeing bingo - this is where you tick off a number of acts of random kindness for the week, a gospel choir during Croke Park planning days, a staff wellbeing dinner with a guest speaker, a comedian during Croke Park hours, posters with wellbeing reflections around the school and in the staff room with phrases such as: 'Add a friend to your cup of tea'," said Mr Walsh.

He also described a "wellbeing calendar" where you can count how many people you smiled at in a day.

To laughter, Mr Walsh also detailed the "latest thing" he heard in relation to wellbeing.

"A kindness tunnel is the latest thing I've heard, where staff stand on either side of the corridor and hold up placards to students saying: 'You can do great things'," he said.

Mr Walsh then borrowed the term greenwashing, turning it into "well-washing", describing how this "wellbeing stuff" is a tactic to keep teachers distracted from the real issues.

"Well-washing applies to employers who cloak themselves in a veneer of caring for their workers while hurting them with bad management practices. So we get the bad management practices and all this wellbeing stuff is kind of a plug to keep us distracted from the real issues," Mr Walsh said.

He added that "wellbeing is a smokescreen for austerity."

Another speaker on the motion of wellbeing was history teacher James McGovern from Wexford.

He referred to the constant digital communication that teachers receive out of hours, and how some find this "very stressful."

"You could describe this as a kind of harassment - all work-related emails to staff, should be during work hours only, yet they're being sent at weekends and all hours of the day, some people find that very stressful," Mr McGovern said.