Dr Sadie Hollins, Editor of the new Wellbeing in International Schools Magazine takes a look at how schools can enhance wellbeing in schools.
Wellbeing is undoubtedly more important than it has ever been.
During the ongoing pandemic, schools have had to resort to creative ways to ensure that the education of students can continue. Masks have been worn, screens have gone up, testing has ensued, teachers have been rapidly upskilled – these are just a few of the responses that have enabled schools to carry on!
Wellbeing in schools is a web of intertwining factors, and the wellbeing of leaders, staff and students are all inextricably linked. Safe and supported students, need safe and supported teachers, who need safe and supported leaders, who need safe and supported schools!
We know that the wellbeing of staff doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of a school, after all life contains many different facets that contribute to our sense of wellbeing (work, family, friends, hobbies/passions, health, etc). However, when we spend as many hours as we do in our place of work, our working environments can have a significant impact on how we feel about ourselves.
If we simplify wellbeing to the idea of both being and doing well, this blog hopes to provide some suggestions for how school leaders and governors can promote and enhance wellbeing in their schools.
1. Are wellbeing efforts for show or for real?
We can all sense when something feels genuine, or when it might be for show. There can be a tendency (amidst a growing pressure) to make sure we are paying attention to wellbeing in the workplace, but does it feel authentic?
A shout-out board is a nice idea to boost morale, but what about the people that have been left out? What if their hard work is less visible? What if there are staff members that are struggling so much to simply get through the day-to-day, that they may not be able to physically go ‘above and beyond’?
This isn’t to say that shout out boards can’t be a very good tool to help reward and praise staff, but the trick is to stay curious. Who is noticed? Who isn’t? What impact could this have?
A genuine thank you or an individualised note of appreciation goes a long way. Sometimes in our rush to implement new ideas or approaches we can forget to do the little things. Be mindful not to inadvertently replace the more meaningful interactions that actually mattered the most.
2. Subtract don’t add
If wellbeing feels like a chore, it won’t do anyone’s wellbeing any good. Rather than making all wellbeing-related events mandatory, provide choice and flexibility. With COVID raging on, there are often a million and one things going on in the background. With this in mind, consider if events such as staff socials, that put pressure on staff to find childcare, or give up time with family and partners, actually have the opposite impact to what is intended?
Consider offering a range of options – be it a chance to workout or play sport together, or maybe an opportunity to learn something new together. If wellbeing events are always on a Friday, does that prevent some people from being able to come? Being mindful of the timing of an event, and offering different options where possible, signals that everyone is important, and that you understand that staff have different time commitments outside of work.
Instead of adding events (and pressure) to staff, consider what you could take away from their busy work schedules that might have a greater impact on their wellbeing. Recognise when meetings could be emails, or when work days could be more flexible. Offering flexibility and giving teachers that little bit of time back for themselves to spend on what they wish demonstrates both your trust in them, and appreciation for them. As education in the age of COVID has proven, teachers can do their work from anywhere! Could that parent meeting be done online? Can your weekly briefing sometimes be put into an email if there isn’t too much to cover? Valuing your teachers’ time shows that you care, and ultimately gives them the chance to do the million and one other things that they have on their plate!
3. Normalise good boundaries
There is no point in saying that you care about staff wellbeing when you are sending emails at 8pm at night, or on a weekend. It is highly unlikely that your school will fall apart if something isn’t attended to right away. Ensure that unless it’s a real emergency, communications wait until work hours and leaders (just like teachers in the classroom) normalise these boundaries in the examples that they set. In some cases, the pandemic has also blurred lines of communication between students, parents and staff. There is no reason why you cannot also reset these boundaries. Manage the expectations around online availability and email response time, and support staff in adhering to these. They are not ‘on call’ and should not be expected to respond to every single message, email or communication instantly.
Blurring the boundary between work and home has already become increasingly problematic because of COVID, so it is time to re-establish norms that signal that life beyond work has the utmost value.
4. PD and mentoring
Work can serve as an important part of how we see ourselves. Do we believe ourselves to be competent in our role? If not, how can we increase our competence (and confidence) in our work? When schools invest in PD for teachers, they are also investing in them as people. Teachers after all are in the business of learning, and are highly-likely keen lifelong learners themselves! Schools that allow greater access to PD show teachers they care. Especially if the teacher can choose the PD that is right for themselves – ultimately we know what we need better than anyone else does!
Signposting mentoring programmes or even running them in-house is also an invaluable way to develop knowledge, skills and confidence amongst staff – people often learn best from other people!
5. Teacher voice
When tensions run high, we never present our best selves, nor do we get the best out of each other. Reflect on your school. If teachers raise concerns about their wellbeing or working conditions, is that seen as a nuisance? Something to explain away? Or, are they listened to and supported? I would encourage leaders and governors dealing with concerns to take a pause, withhold any impulsive reactions, and be curious as to why the concerns may have been raised. Consider also if there are any patterns of concerns being raised. Sometimes when we’re in the middle of things (and in the middle of running a busy school), it’s not always easy to see the wood through the trees. It is essential for schools to create cultures where teachers can raise concerns, and that when they do, the response is to meet them with a desire to better understand. What makes them feel this way? How long have they been concerned about it? What do they think might help alleviate that concern?
Schools are (always) busy, (sometimes) chaotic environments – particularly right now. They are also full of unique, complex, and hard-working people. Giving choice and voice, honouring time, and cultivating environments that listen are key when it comes to improving the wellbeing of teachers.
You don’t have to put on a big show. Just do the small things, and do them often.
If you missed the recent Fireside chat between Learning Ladders CEO Matt and Dr Sadie Hollins, watch the recording here.
To see how you can incorporate student wellbeing data into your practice using PASS diagnostic assessments on the Data Dashboard, set up a call with Stella here.