Teachers, Just Say No

Of the 16 years I’ve been an independent coach, 14 have been heavily invested in the education sector. I’ve coached thousands of staff and students in Primary Schools, Secondary Schools, Colleges, and Universities both on a 1-1 basis and as small groups, teams, departments, and whole schools.

From NQTs, through to aspirational Middle Leaders and SLTs, one common theme always stands out: that educators have a huge passion for what they do, yet are their own worst enemies in letting that passion lead them to overwhelm, stress, and burnout.

My coaching work focuses around creating the right mindset for success, and helping people to get out of their own way. Whilst much of what I say people will already know, understand, and feel is common sense, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase: “The use of common sense is not common practice.”

Indeed many staff (if not all) at all levels are adept at telling those they work with and teach how the small things they do will make the biggest difference, for example:

“If you just increased your attendance, think how much more you’d learn…”

“Imagine what could happen if you paid attention more...”

“Think what you could achieve if you behaved better...”

“Changing your friendship group would make a huge difference for you...”

The list is endless, and the well-meaning and expert member of staff knows that if the student just took their advice, and applied those words of wisdom regularly and consistently, that the said student would indeed do better.

Many teachers are equally as supportive to other members of staff: giving out advice and guidance on managing workload, controlling behaviour, dealing with colleagues, etc.

Yet when it comes to taking their own advice, listening to their own inner wisdom, and doing the thing they know will make the biggest difference to their own wellbeing, it’s a different story. So many in the teaching profession put their own mental balance and wellbeing way down the list they have in their head, when teacher well-being needs to be at the top.

When it comes to our electronic devices, we keep them regularly and fully charged to ensure they work when we need them to and are at their most effective. There is no difference between this and an individual's mental state. The more fully charged it is, the better and more effective that person will be.

You already know that, right? But are you regularly and consistently doing those things in your day, week, month, year that you know will charge YOU up?

There are many strategies, tools, techniques, and mechanisms that can help you feel more in control, more balanced, and more effective. Far too many to mention here. So I’ll focus on one that comes up time and time again in various educational establishments, at all staffing levels: the ability to say “No.”

The power of saying “No”

“That’s easier said than done,” I hear you say while reading this. Just as I have heard face to face, many times. And yes, there is a skill to it. Yes, the whole school ethos and culture needs to be created such that it allows for “No” to be said without fear of consequences, nor out of sheer bloody-mindedness.

The truth is though, a heartfelt and considered “No” is better than a well-intentioned “Yes” that you will struggle to honour without detriment to yourself, your stress levels, your workload, and your life balance.

The cumulative effect of saying “Yes” to things that should be a “No” leads to pain. That pain often comes in the form of stress, sickness, burnout, anxiety, or emotional imbalance, along with a whole host of other negative effects. It impacts how a person thinks, how they feel, and what they do.

That pain can then lead to a real low: mentally, physically, emotionally, or indeed all three. Yet when that pain is over, when that low is reached, when someone has slammed their hand on a table and said “Enough!” they come back from it with a different sense of things. Back to the profession they love, or to another which they hope will be different. At that point, they can suddenly say “No” to all the things they used to believe they couldn’t, because they know the pain that saying “Yes” might bring.

How can we make it easier to say no?

It’s difficult to start saying “No” to things when we’re so used to saying “Yes,” even though we know we should. This is why we need to make a conscious decision to interrupt our gut reaction.

Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself:

  • Is what you’re being asked to do actually for you to do, or is it the result of another person saying “Yes” to something they now can’t fulfill, and offloading it?
  • Have you simply created a habit of saying "Yes" when you don’t mean it? Think about some of the things you’ve said “Yes” to in the past week, that you wished you hadn’t.
  • Are you perceived as the go-to “Yes” person at work? If you are, how would you like to be perceived instead?
  • What is your fear around saying “No”? What do you think will happen?
  • What will saying “No” allow you to say “Yes” to?

Don’t wait for the pain

You don’t need to wait for the pain from to come before learning to say no. It can be avoided. You don’t need to suffer before you make the changes you know you need to make now.

Here are three questions to answer today:

  • What’s the first key thing I need to start saying “No” to right now?
  • What do I need to say “Yes” to right now that will have the biggest impact for me?
  • What’s the best that can happen if I do this right now?

I encourage you, from now on, to say “No” more. Say no to stress, say no to being overworked, say no to anxiety, say no to feeling overloaded, say no to feeling out of balance.

Say no to all these things and start to say yes to your health, yes to your well-being, yes to your relationships, yes to your effectiveness, yes to your passions, and yes to your purpose.


David Jessop has been a self-employed Success and Life Strategist since 2002, and before that had 20 years of corporate experience. Since 2004, David has worked primarily within the Education Sector, in particular with young people and staff in schools, colleges and universities. David’s work focuses on helping them get clear on what they want and why they want it, then teaching the skills, tools and techniques not just for academic success but for life balance.

Connect with David on Facebook at Phoenix Coaching

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Find out more about David on his website www.phoenix-lifecoaching.co.uk