Since Healthy Toolkit HQ set up operations we have blogged and tweeted extensively about wellbeing in schools. We have however also been working behind the scenes in our real jobs at making wellbeing a workplace priority and been examining ways of addressing the issue of workload through a practical model which recognises the pressures schools face in an era of cutbacks. Today we present how one small primary school has seized the initiative and addressed the issue so far.
Wellbeing is not a tick box exercise. Nor is it a bolt-on attachment to the running of the school, a feature of the School Development Plan merely to address a perceived need, only to be forgotten about after a token ‘Wellbeing Day’ and some half-hearted INSET. It cannot be treated as a mere hashtag, nor can it be allocated to a less experienced team member ‘to give them some experience’ and then expect them to know all the answers.
Wellbeing needs to be in the very fabric of the school. It has to be lived and breathed by all stakeholders. Wellbeing may well be an abstract concept, but to deliver it effectively it cannot be woolly and ill-defined. It needs to be hard, realistic and practical. Wellbeing is not a ‘top down’ or ‘bottom up’ process; rather it should be ‘sideways in’ with every person contributing. With this in mind we have six core principles at the heart of our Wellbeing program, defined below with examples of initiatives in place: initiatives not
1. A Culture of Positivity
Good schools have a culture where there is respect and trust, shared purpose and clear channels of communication. This culture is driven and shaped by senior leaders who recognise that good mental, physical and emotional wellbeing is central to the best performance. If everyone is appreciated and valued, engagement and commitment should follow.
- All communication is clear with a weekly email containing staff newsletter and diary, a quick diary briefing once a week and personal communication of individual matters.
- A positive atmosphere in the staffroom. Negativity and gossip is absent because of a team culture. If staff members have issues they approach SLT and matters are discussed in an open and non-critical forum.
- Ten thousand things or more need to happen in a school each day. If one thing doesn’t, then it isn’t a crisis because one or more will always step up to the mark.
- There is no culture of ‘I..I..I’ or ‘me..me..me’, nor do we allow the loudest people to always get their way, because if this did exist, this would undermine trust and respect.
2. An Environment to Energise Everyone
The environment in which we work contributes to how we feel supporting us to be relaxed, focused and at ease or alternatively irritated, lethargic and disengaged. This includes everything from the classroom and office space we work in, formal and informal networks of support and efficient resourcing under a tight budget.
- A ‘team lunch’ to which everyone can contribute extended from an end of term buffet to a simpler weekly event. ‘Team salad’ on a Friday, with each participant bringing one ingredient transformed into ‘Team baked potato’ as the weather cooled with turn taking for the spuds and a variety of fillings provided. Great to bring everyone together.
- A Friday ‘Team Breakfast’ initiated by our younger staff. Croissants, fruit and bacon rolls add to our diary briefing.
- Clutter is minimised, be it a surfeit of classroom furniture or unwashed cups on the stafroom draining board. Clear spaces enable clearer thinking.
3. Highly Effective Leaders and Managers
The best leaders know their team well and recognise when they need help and support. They also model healthy working habits, feedback to their staff effectively and appreciate the strengths within their team. They genuinely care for the wellbeing of those that work for them as well as themselves.
- Appraisal is a supportive process designed to enhance career development , not something that is ‘done to’ staff nor, as we have witnessed in previous experience, should it be used as a stick to beat staff who actually need support.
- Behaviour issues are addressed and supported efficiently and consistently. Behaviour management strategies are modelled and support given to less experienced staff in a non-critical and supportive manner.
- All communication is clear and deadlines are given with plenty of notice. Key deadlines such as data, reports, parent evenings and major events are known at the outset of the year and no meeting or event comes as a surprise.
- Leaders shouldn’t appear in class just for observation and discipline. Using Mary Myatt’s model of ‘Management by wandering around’ means leaders can be found in classes as much as their office.
- PPA is guaranteed. This should be a given principle but if you have worked in a school where the attitude is flippant and this precious time is lost because of an absence then we share your frustration.
- The most approachable leaders are trusted, and respected. They can take being the butt of a joke and know they can be a non-judgmental shoulder to cry on.
4, Excellent Working Relationships
Central to wellbeing and resilience, strong working relationships build trust and respect. The strongest relationships thrive on a healthy mix of support and challenge, they celebrate success, resolve conflict quickly and allow colleagues the responsibility to look out for one another during pressurising and demanding times.
- Wellbeing buddies. These are secret, supposedly. They are not expected to give a gift each week, but to be there with a kind word, a supportive comment and to look out for their buddy.
- Staffroom banter is jovial and part of a good team but it is recognised that it doesn’t suit everyone. If someone oversteps the mark, a quiet word is usually sufficient to deal with it.
- Everyone knows their role, supports each other and steps up where needed.
5. Career Satisfaction
Being in education is a calling as well as what pays the bills. Having the right stretch and challenge, training and support to develop skills and fair reward for the job are crucial. Feeling overwhelmed by the demands and pressures breeds stress and erodes resilience.
Staff who are content with the pace they have to work and feel confident in their ability to get the job done they are more likely to be engaged and performing at their highest level.
- CPD opportunities are available equitably across the school regardless of experience.
- Appraisal meetings allow staff to consider their future career paths and how they can gain experience, qualifications and confidence.
- Leadership opportunities are available to all staff, including support staff, be it a school wide initiative, a special curriculum day or otherwise. Everyone is valued equally.
6. Healthy Lifestyle
We cannot dictate what ‘healthy’ looks like but we do know that healthy lifestyle is a can determine our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, both inside and
outside work. Poor sleep patterns and bad eating habits can arise during challenging times it is often evident that people work long hours and have little time for any physical exercise, time for family and friends, and even less time supporting themselves. This risks burnout.
- Encourage staff to have no more than two hours non contact time in school, and senior leaders no more than three.
- Email switch off in evenings and at weekends other than to read weekly communication. If something is vital, then a phone call or text will suffice: how much however, medical emergencies aside, is that vital that someone needs to be contacted out of school hours.
- Modelling of time management strategies.
Alongside the principles above, the school has addressed the workload challenge, and have read, interpreted and implemented the three reports. Though there are no precise figures informal questioning including two surveys run on the @HealthyToolkit Twitter account suggests that many schools have not implemented these reports and the majority of teachers and also senior leaders are unaware of their existence.
Planning and resourcing
Subject to OFSTED myth and detailed examination in observation, planning need not be the bane of a teachers life. Who is the plan for? Not the Head, not a subject leader, certainly not OFSTED; it is for the teacher and the class. We have experience in the past of plans being criticised for ‘not differentiating the questions’, ‘not making assessment opportunities clear’ and ‘not being detailed enough’ and of lessons being judged according to the plan and not the lesson content. Detailed evaluations: are they really needed? Good teachers know their children and know what went well or otherwise in their lessons.
Detailed planning and detailed resourcing, these days largely in the form of flipcharts on the interactive whiteboard take time. The report suggests use of published materials which can be annotated and adapted. As a school we make use of a range of sources that we have bought into or are freely available. Time on planning is reduced allowing focus on the resourcing and activities which promote learning.
There is no real getting away from marking. It needs to be done and is an expectation of the role. Developments in recent years though with triple marking, extensive comments, multiple pen colours, stamps and stickers might mean three hours or so to mark one set of books. What is the use in writing ten lines of comments only for the child to ignore it, not be able to read it or take another five minutes for the teacher to explain it?
In our interpretation we have decided that marking is only really effective in the form of feedback. We follow-up in Maths with Task 1, Task 2 and Task 3 on the board at the outset of the lesson which reflect whether a child needs support, consolidation or challenge. Marking in writing may sometimes need other approaches, but the use of simple symbols indicates spelling, grammar and areas for improvement. We still employ the pink and green highlighters as the children fed back that they found this useful . Self marking, peer marking and simple self assessment also form part of our strategy.
Assessment and Data Management
Once upon a time there were levels. Levels that should only have been used for Key Stage 1 and 2 assessment. Then levels became fixtures in each year group. Levels begat sub-levels and sub-levels begat APS. APP emerged as the illegitimate offspring of levels. The report recognises this confused picture which grew from rumour and misinterpretation as much as from the plethora of materials. Too much data was produced and crucially it wasn’t used effectively for the benefit of the children and their progress.
We have cast aside our complex web hosted recording system in favour of term by term testing of reading and maths using a long-established and reliable set of test material. Using standardised scores is a trackable system that does not differ too greatly from scaled scores used in new statutory assessment. Teacher assessment alone would not provide this reliability and also burdens the teacher in tracking down evidence or designing activities which provide evidence rather than promote learning.
Our core assessment principles are: data needs to be useful and needs to be used to support outcomes; teachers need to have autonomy and accountability; formative assessment does not have to be formally recorded and the teacher has autonomy in the use of their own data.
The Story so Far….
The above is the result of many months of work. It is not a perfect solution but it suits our school and the needs of our children and staff. Wellbeing and workload are not easy subjects to cover and manage and there will be challenges on the way. Evaluation and monitoring, particularly of the extent to which teachers are marking, needs to be in place and we need to be mindful of everyone in our team.Team spirit, standing by and standing up for colleagues, a positive culture and leaders who want to make this work provides the best foundation for a school where the wellbeing of the staff, and therefore of the children, is valued and prioritised.