Schools are not run by individuals, they are run by teams. Team spirit needs a ‘buy-in’ from everyone, which requires leaders to set and drive the tone.
To be effective, wellbeing really does require a strategy and a commitment from the school leadership who must stand squarely behind any wellbeing initiatives.
Suggestions for a wellbeing strategy:
Your school should have a wellbeing lead (either a member of SLT, a middle leader, or even a staff wellbeing committee, involving colleagues from all sections of staff).
The SLT team should try to model a concern for their own wellbeing and self-care, and ensure that they do not have a negative impact on the wellbeing of staff in the way they conduct themselves around accountability, observation and monitoring.
If you conduct a wellbeing survey, be prepared to accept some stark and possibly uncomfortable truths about staff experience.
To create an authentic, positive culture of wellbeing, you must have an open-door policy and to engender a lack of fear in the school so staff feel comfortable raising concerns. Wellbeing goes wrong where attitudes are negative and cynical, or when staff don’t feel trusted or are experiencing undue pressure and stress.
Your school development plans should include a section on wellbeing and mental health, both for staff and children.
Look at expectations around planning, marking, reporting and assessment. Are teachers required to email their plans on a Saturday to senior leaders for ‘feedback and improvement’ by Sunday evening? Are marking policies requiring teachers to mark in a plethora of highlighters with different coloured pens and codes? Consider how to reduce any policies that might contribute to stress and burnout.
Look at staff absences - do they tell you anything about stress or workload?
As leaders, we should get to know our staff in exactly the same way as we get to know our students. Consider the conversations you have with your staff during the day - are your interactions entirely professional? Are you leaving room for anything more than a stilted relationship to develop? The conversations we have can be the basis of our relationships in school. Take time to get to know the names of your colleagues’ partners or children, find out about their holidays or how they spend their spare time. Relationships build trust.
Consider whether there is any evidence of workplace bullying in your school. It’s a common misconception that workplace bullying in schools is only carried out by headteachers and senior leaders. While I found evidence for this while researching my first book, I also saw that the conduct of other members of staff could be an issue – middle leaders, class teachers and support staff were also involved. Bullying affects wellbeing and it largely falls into two categories; unwarranted and undeserved professional criticism and social exclusion both within and outside school.
This may seem obvious, but be proactive about wellbeing by planning carefully around the key pinch points of the school year. When there is a week of parents’ evenings, don’t also have a major assessment deadline, or a staff meeting. Nativity plays should never coincide with learning walks or book looks. A thoughtful approach to diary planning can reduce stress.
Leading with values
Leading with values, where these are authentic, means that strategic thinking and a proactive approach will be at the heart of the way you approach wellbeing in your school. There are many values which can be embraced by school leaders.
Here are my suggestions for the most important for creating a wellbeing culture:
- Courage: to stand up to what you consider poor advice and to external pressures that will not benefit your school community.
- Resilience and perseverance: to model the ability to keep going but to manage the pressures by sensible decision-making, identifying what to delegate, what to delay and what can be safely ignored.
- Celebration: to know when and how to authentically thank your colleagues for what they have done.
- Empathy: to understand that every work, action and even thought has an impact upon others, either negatively, neutrally or positively. Celebrate the positive, but own and act upon the negative and remember that genuine apologies go a long way.
- Time: to understand that time is the most precious resource headteachers, teachers and support staff have. Respect it, protect it, nurture it but never waste it, because if you do, there will be no time for wellbeing.
Wellbeing resources for schools you might like:
This article was first published as a Teachit talks newsletter in 2022.