Start As You Mean To Go On: Sixteen Ways With Wellbeing

Two years have passed since we founded Healthy Toolkit. If you haven’t found us before, we formed to promote values and principles led whole school wellbeing; let’s face it, if the school isn’t committed to wellbeing, teachers are going to be challenged to manage their own wellbeing.

Over the last part of the holiday we ran #WellbeingWorldCup on Twitter, asking for the initiatives that you have seen, or would like to see, in school this year. As schools in England return this week, these top sixteen ways  with wellbeing should be an essential read for everyone in school.

Sensible marking policy

Our runaway leader by a long way. Workload is only part of wellbeing, but it is the most time-consuming intrusion into it. Has the school read the workload reports from the DfE and the blogs promoting the impact of whole class marking? Or are we still on triple marking, multiple pens, responses from the children and replies back from teacher. Are your teachers staying until 6pm and taking marking home? Is the marking making a difference to learning? Probably not; so if it isn’t, why carry on with it? Because ‘OFSTED say so’ (they don’t), because it ‘promotes deeper learning’ (it probably doesn’t) or because ‘it works and we have always done it that way’ (this began around 2003 and built from there)?

A no-brainer; if it doesn’t benefit the children, then sort it so it does, and cut the time your teachers spend marking.

Whole school mental health training

Despite what some voices may say, there is a growing crisis in child mental health but also in teacher mental health. Recent years have seen a lifting of the stigma surrounding discussion of our own mental health and lessons to address this in school are becoming more widely taught. Organisations such as Place2Be and Young Minds offer professional training opportunities and if budget permits, this should be followed up for the benefit of the children and the staff.

Time to Talk

Know your staff. Not simply on passing terms. Not keeping your conversations to the professional only. Really talk, find out what makes them tick. Try our #TeaAndTalk initiative which can be found here and here which is a really simple way to generate conversation which might reveal a little more about your colleagues.

Wellbeing resources

A surprise finalist, the provision of wellbeing resources for teaching is one matter.There is much accessible online for free. Resources for staff are a matter for awareness and accountability.

What do you support your staff with? Do they have the chance to choose a session of mindfulness? Can they access support, such as the Education Support Partnership, where it is needed? Perhaps you provide a space where there is a chance to escape from education talk. Budgets are tight but if you can spare something to support staff wellbeing, then please do so. Retention of staff is as big a challenge as recruitment.

Our other finalists

Workload and marking was a clear leader in our poll. Wellbeing is more than workload as our forthcoming publication will outline in greater depth. Enough of our followers voted for mental health as a whole school issue, time to talk and the provision of resources to support wellbeing as of huge importance too. There were twelve other finalists, all of which are essentials to your entire wellbeing jigsaw.

Image result for wellbeing jigsaw

  • A Wellbeing Coordinator: if this is a member of staff who isn’t on SLT, it is important that they have a voice and that the voice is respected by SLT. Otherwise the role may simply be washed away as the one that organises social events and Secret Santa. If your lead is on SLT then they need to speak with passion and authority on the issue. Whoever has the role needs to be aware of budget. We would all like an extra person or two to allow for release, but without the funding it isn’t going to happen.
  • Focussed gratitude. School leaders; do you thank your staff enough and do you mean it? Or is it saved to the end of the term or year? Or maybe you don’t give thanks because you feel that someone shouldn’t be thanked for doing their job. Recognition and meaning it can have huge positive impact.
  • Empathy lessons. We are good at teaching this to children but do we show it to each other enough? Is there an understanding of your colleagues’ lives and the things that impact how they work? See ‘Time to Talk’ above.
  • Closer collaboration. Look at your school team. Who works in isolation and who works together? A shared goal shares the workload and the responsibility. Wellbeing is a group responsibility after all, but needs effective leaders to enable it.
  • Greater departmental time. Linked to above and a suggestion from our secondary colleagues. Again this is about collective goals, particularly if you are a department under high pressure with public examinations.
  • Wellbeing lessons. Do you teach your children mindfulness, healthy relationships etc. You probably do but is it wrapped in the PSHE banner or in a more holistic way embracing all of their learning, attitudes and behaviours.
  • A mindful space. Not the staffroom! It could be a garden space, a room with no books or reference to education at all. Mindfulness isn’t the entire answer to wellbeing and there are cynical voices about it but there are enough people who believe in the benefits of mindfulness to allow for a space to be free for it.
  • Staff community building. Staff teams aren’t built on cakes in the staffroom and Pilates every fortnight. Community is built on the mutual respect and celebration of each other person’s worth and efforts.
  • Team building activities. The bane of the INSET day organiser! Stilted and awkward doesn’t work. Some are potentially embarrassing, but well organised and thoughtful activities promoting talk and empathy are the way forward.
  • Wellbeing CPD. Use your staff survey to write your development plan. Do you include some aspect of wellbeing in each staff meeting or do you pepper them through the year? Whichever the option, please make sure it is addressed.
  • Coaching. The most effective impact in the use of coaching is on the language we use. Turning a challenge to a reflection allows for less confrontation and more effective discussion.

That is fifteen ways with wellbeing so far. Not tips for wellbeing, because tips are tokenistic and if you ‘cover’ wellbeing on your INSET days this week, be aware of this in December when flu, deadlines and Nativities strike. Wellbeing is for everyday, not just for INSET.

The last way for wellbeing is a simple one. Be kind. It ties with empathy, compassion and talking to your staff. It isn’t difficult to be kind, but it also isn’t difficult to be critical. Parts of EduTwitter have not been pleasant this summer, sometimes cynical, sometimes cruel. If similar attitudes and language, verbal or written, are shown to our colleagues, then wellbeing is going to be under the cosh. The simplest thing you and your school leaders can do is to put kindness at the top of your wellbeing agenda.

Image result for choose kind

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