Many of us have been back at school for a week after half term. Many of us will have had the same conversations: ‘A week.. it’s never enough’; ‘It seems a long time away now’; ‘I’m exhausted already and it’s still six and a half weeks until Christmas!’
Though these words will have been heard in schools the length of the nation this week, term dates and holidays are an issue with consistency of school holidays between authorities and increasingly between schools. This matter is one to discuss in another blog at a later time though.
Over the weekend however we have seen some Twitter traffic on the nature of wellbeing in schools. One tweet was on the lines of ‘wellbeing can’t be put in a bag’ whilst others discussed ‘wellbeing was covered in a staff meeting’ and another mentioning wellbeing being covered on a mindfulness course.
Here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we launched #NurtureNovember last weekend. https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/nurture-november/
This is the first of a calendar of themed months, the concept behind these being to keep wellbeing on the agenda at all times. Though the use of motivational quotes may raise some cynical responses, the use of these in posters, newsletters, and emails can have a drip-feed effect into the ethos of an establishment.
Teaching is a stressful occupation. We don’t need research to tell us that. We just know it. Some pressures will be there regardless of your geographical location, sector or phase: there will always be meetings, assessments, testing, marking, sickness, Christmas etc. More recently, tighter budgets, curriculum changes and new assessment arrangements have added to the pressures upon the profession.
Our message is this. Wellbeing needs to be in the culture of your school. It cannot be delivered in a staff meeting and then forgotten about for the rest of the year. It cannot be delegated to a member of staff to deliver as part of their appraisal cycle. One course on Mindfulness and ten minutes of rather awkward meditation doesn’t solve anything. A bag of goodies can be a pleasant surprise, but if is a one off, the gesture becomes tokenistic. Wellbeing might be on the development plan but so might be extending the Nursery, building a new Science block or updating the first aid training.
School leaders: Wellbeing needs to be in the very fabric of your school. It isn’t ‘done to’ staff. It should be part of the working environment. We need to breathe it, feel it, touch it, smell it and live it. Otherwise it does simply become something to tick off the list of things to do, like testing the fire alarms or paying the bills. Though this is a cliché, you do need to think beyond the box!
We do hear of some extraordinary things through social media, the education press and through conversation: ‘I work my teachers like dogs!’; ‘I’ve got rid of twenty teachers in my time’; ‘Working to 11pm, that’s the nature of the job, get used to it.’
Do you listen intently to somebody’s issues, then as soon as they have left the room dismiss them as a whinger. Do you have ‘favourites’? Are you perceived as having ‘favourites’?
Excuse us, but if that’s you that you’re hearing there, take a long and hard look at yourself. You are talking about people; people with lives, mortgages, families and a career, a career which they are dedicated to. People who are giving their utmost to the children in their care.
There are a number of things as school leaders that you be implementing or ensuring are in place.
The government set up a commission to investigate reducing teacher workload. The report on marking can be found here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-teacher-workload-marking-policy-review-group-report together with those on planning https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-teacher-workload-planning-and-resources-group-report and data management https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-teacher-workload-data-management-review-group-report
The messages contained within each are simple, direct and ought to be simple to implement. Last week we conducted a survey through our Twitter account, and though we cannot claim it to be scientific or totally accurate, our responses indicated that only 6% of our readers had seen all three acted upon in their schools, 35% were aware but seen no action and a further 47% were not even aware of the existence of the reports. 82% of those in our survey had seen no action on an initiative sanctioned by the government. Why? Surely you are aware of these!
There are a number of things which you can do as a school leader to embed wellbeing into your school culture and your own practice.
- First- put those reports into action. Read them, set up a working party for each. Act on them and monitor it constantly.
- Wellbeing doesn’t come from a book, though there are some great reads out there. Likewise courses and dare we say blogs only deliver advice and tips. Culture comes from your heart!
- Be aware of what is going on in your school. Don’t stay in the office. Get out into the staffroom and classrooms. Notice what your staff are doing, praise them and thank them. Not sanctimoniously, because that can be seen through, but genuinely.
- Talk to your staff. Don’t do it all through email.
- Have a rule about email. No school emails to be sent or read in the evenings or weekends! If it isn’t urgent, it can wait. If it is important, such as the school burning down or an illness or death in the family, then a phone call will do.
- Be aware of what is going on in your colleague’s lives. Show an interest in their children, families and holidays. It will make it easier from them to approach you if they have a problem.
- Look out for body language and facial expression. They reveal if someone is under pressure. Then do something about it: talk; take their class, mark their spellings; hear some readers. Simple gestures do ease the pressure.
- Make yourself aware of what is going on in your staffroom. Handling a diverse range of people is a challenge to management. One negative person can kill the mood of a room. Don’t let that person be you.
- Do you have cliques? The existence of such can stress school leaders and other staff. Being excluded by a group does impact on people, particularly if they keep themselves to themselves. Cliques aren’t easy to manage especially if they existed before your arrival. Wellbeing isn’t all about being nice! Sometimes you are going to have to be hard to address such issues.
- Likewise you may have to deal with people who are loud especially when it comes to issues such as cover and timetabling. The perception that those who shout get what they want is not one that we like to see.
- Is everyone getting what they are entitled to? If there is a crisis, is the burden being shared? Usually it is PPA that is affected. If it can’t be covered, is it paid back later? Do the same people miss out? Is there a balance so that everybody gets something?
- Is everyone appraised fairly? Appraisal is something done with staff, not done too them. Is it a means of developing a colleague professionally, or an exercise in hanging them out to dry.
- Is there an open channel of communication in your school? Can staff express what they feel in a way that they won’t feel criticised or victimised?
- Don’t listen to myths and rumours! Just because one school had a particular experience of inspection, it doesn’t mean it will apply to you.
- Please, thank you, well done; simple words; big impact.
There are a few tough words in this piece. However a culture of wellbeing need not be rocket science. It is something that needs to be there without being a mere token. It needs to embedded in mindset and practice.
Keep your staff by keeping your staff happy!