We know that schools are all about the children but do they come first? They are our reason for being there but there is another group of people who we need to prioritise – staff.
Value your staff and you can’t go far wrong. Their ‘wellness’ is such an important ingredient to the success of the school and so managing their health, safety and welfare is crucial.
Every school should have in place a Staff Wellbeing Strategy. A Governing Body’s ‘duty of care’ towards employees, legislation and case law, requires them to manage and safeguard the physical and psychological well-being of the school’s employees.
As part of this strategy, all schools need to have a robust and regularly reviewed Staff Wellbeing Policy in place because understanding and addressing the factors which affect staff wellbeing will have a wide range of benefits, both for the individual and the school.
As the leading professional in your school knowing your staff is essential for getting the best out of them. As Kevin Harcombe says in his book, ‘How to survive and succeed as a Headteacher’, “Get round to see everyone – cleaner, secretaries, deputy – at the start of the day, even if just to say ‘Good morning’. You can tell a lot about the well-being of your team this way. If you ask ‘How are you?’, be prepared for some frank responses.”
If staff feel valued then their wellbeing is going to be enhanced – happy staff are successful staff and higher levels of staff well-being can undeniably contribute to improvements in teaching and learning.
There are definite things you can do to help improve staff wellbeing in your school and many of these relate to reducing workload that can be implemented quickly and make real impact:
1. WELLBEING SURVEY
Every wellbeing policy has to start from the ground-up and so assessing the health of the school via an audit is key to getting things right. This enables you to assess what is working and what isn’t, share ideas and plan training and development opportunities to make positive inroads. Hold one-to-one meetings with all your staff and get to know their pressures and lifestyle challenges. An open-door policy is essential to helping staff achieve their full potential.
2. Wellbeing champion
Wellbeing is a serious business and not some sort of add-on. Corporate wellbeing comes through individual commitments to wellness and dedicated team efforts and both need to be orchestrated and coordinated. Do you have an appointed Wellbeing Champion or Staff Wellbeing Officer in place?
3. Wellbeing committee
One person cannot do it alone which is why having a committee devoted to wellbeing is important too. A group of staff with a growth mindset who are always on the look-out for each other and alert to new initiatives will make sure a wellbeing policy doesn’t gather dust. A team is able to pool ideas and work with a wellbeing champion to create a Wellbeing Charter and make wellbeing a reality so it responds to the needs of everyone.
4. Whole school wellbeing
There will be a raft of staff initiatives that you can plug into but the bigger picture of wellbeing should be a global approach that serves the whole school population. For example, many schools follow the Five Ways to Wellbeing developed by the New Economics Foundation. Their evidence suggests that adopting these actions in a positive and systematic way will lead to 7.5 years increased life expectancy. They are:
- Connect – connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships.
- Be active – find an activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your life.
- Keep learning – learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence.
- Give to others – even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you or a kind word.
- Be mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you.
Some schools have adapted these five ways to GREAT: Give, Relate, Exercise, Appreciate and Try something new. They have gone one step further and held GREAT days to celebrate these wellbeing pillars. Whichever path or programme you follow, do it together as a school and feel the benefit across the community of a wellbeing culture and how this feeds a happy school.
5. ‘Outside in' wellbeing
Schools cannot work inside their own bubbles – we all need to pop outside and see what support networks and help is available we can then bring back in. What are other schools doing? What strategies and ideas have they found successful? Can Wellbeing Champions join forces? Can you draw on the specialist help of health professionals in the community? Are there wellbeing experts you can draw on to provide top-notch CPD, e.g. Tree of Knowledge and the Art of Brilliance. You could create partnerships with external partners such as businesses aligned to health resources.
6. Workload wellbeing
There are lots of time stealers within the day that can suck wellbeing dry and meetings is one of them. One of the biggest staff bugbears is that there are too many meetings – they can be draining and most times they are pointless and unnecessary for the majority attending. Review your meetings, be flexible and ask: does everyone need to be there? Can they be shorter? Can the meeting be held at a different time? Can we hold the meeting outside or a different venue? Can meetings be made less formal? If you can free up some time for your staff they will thank you by the bucket-load and know that you really care.
7. Professional development wellbeing
If you aren’t investing in the CPD of your staff then they won’t be fired up, eager and enthusiastic. No member of staff should be dejected and depleted if they are being developed, nurtured, fostered and nourished with quality support. Staff need regular opportunities to develop their craft and engage in meaningful and genuine professional development. Invest in curriculum training but empower staff in other areas such as first aid, time-management, assertiveness, decision-making, counselling and leadership skills. Whatever your budget, CPD mustn’t suffer.
8. Wellbeing wishing well
There are lots of ideas that can feed into a Wellbeing Policy but what is it that staff actually want? Ask them to make a wish list of things they would like to see rather than impose what you think will work. Some ideas include: stress workshops, keep fit classes, lunchtime walking club, staff choir, pub quizzes, team-building, free flu jabs, healthy snacks for the staffroom, mentoring and buddy scheme etc.
9. Wellbeing welly
Any commitment to wellbeing has to have some welly behind so that the policy has some punch and the strategies don’t go all wishy-washy and wither away. Have you thought about employing a qualified HR manager and counsellor? Can you draw on any expertise within your community? Keep the wellbeing message alive and well every day and make your school a place staff want to work in and not leave!
10. Wellbeing praise
Do staff get to see you in the day? Are you visible and available to staff? Staff need to see their senior leaders and senior leaders need to make time for their staff to share pleasantries, support and say thank you. Sometimes it can be as simple as that: a thank you. How often do you praise staff collectively and individually? Heap on the praise, keep the glass half-full and maintain a positive vibe around the school where everyone knows their contribution is valued.
Wellbeing is number one. It can’t take a back seat because it affects us all. A carefully thought through policy that is well-designed and developed incrementally with realistic expectations is vital. Never before has our wellbeing featured so prominently in discussions and whilst it is a whole school responsibility to commit to health and wellbeing, head teachers need to keep their finger on the pulse at all times.
About the author
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books, and contributed over 1,000 articles and features to various educational bodies. John is Eteach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru, sharing insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.