Continuing the theme of a happier, healthier 2019 I wanted to reflect on how senior leadership can help improve staff well-being in schools. Teacher well-being is one of the key reasons for recruitment and retention issues in teaching as well as teachers taking long term sickness leave. Senior leadership are only one part of the solution but play an extremely important role in improving staff well-being.
I reflected on my own experiences as well as those of my friends and family who work/have worked in education. Unfortunately , the latter is most common, with pressures such as workload being cited as their reasons for leaving. Those I know that have stayed, are in settings with good strategies to support staff well-being in place, which really shows it should be a priority in schools.
How can senior leadership improve staff well-being?
- Realistic expectations
Of course, as teachers we are challenged to be our best for the good of our pupils, however there is a difference between having high expectations and unrealistic expectations. One of the errors I often see in schools is expecting dramatic changes in short spaces of time. For example, expecting all books to be marked perfectly according to your new policy by the end of the week. Also to ensure this i achieved you’ll do a graded book scrutiny .This kind of high pressure limited time target is detrimental to staff well-being and won’t achieve the results you expect. If you want vast improvement you need a sufficient time window, if you have a small time window aim for more marginal gains. Additionally, what support do you have in place to help staff improve? Are you just expecting them to do it themselves? Are you using a one box fits all approach? These are questions you need to ask yourself in relation to your expectations especially when implementing a big change.
- Feedback opportunities
I don’t mean observations, book scrutinies etc. I mean staff having opportunities to feedback about their well-being e.g. staff surveys, worry boxes, partner problem sharing etc. This should not be seen as ‘excuses to moan’ as actually if you create opportunities for staff to share complaints then you cut back dramatically on the negative whispers and groans when staff think no one else is listening in. Also, more importantly it shows that you value staff well-being and in turn, value your staff as individuals with differing needs.
- Social events
Organise staff social events so staff have opportunities to bond with each other and let off some much-needed steam. They could be during the school day e.g. a bring and share lunch, after school e.g. an exercise class in the hall, or outside of school e.g. dinner out. Teaching staff are not always great at taking a break and socialising outside of the holidays, but this will give them opportunities to do just that. Additionally, you are showing your employees that you want them to have a good work life balance.
- Praise and gratitude opportunities
There are so many ways to do this. Here a just a few good ones I’ve seen i different schools:
- A staff thank you book (for any staff member to write in)
- Praise cards e.g. ‘You made me smile today because…’
- Giving out staff certificates in whole school assemblies
- Praise wall- post its for kind notes
- ‘You’ve been mugged’ – A mug filled with mystery goodies anonymously given to a staff member, the receiver then creates one for another staff member and so on
- Thank you cards given out each half term with a personal reason for the gratitude
- Tailored CPD and support
Instead of sending staff out on CPD based on your whole school development plan or in reference to new curriculum changes, carefully consider what CPD would be useful to a specific staff member. Instead of focusing solely on CPD that improves a staff member’s weaknesses look at their strengths too. Is there some training that enhances their skills or helps them use their strengths in a new beneficial way? Consult staff and ask them what opportunities they would find useful. They will get far more out of a CPD session they asked for, than one that seems irrelevant to their role or needs.
Not just for NQTs. Have a team of supportive staff as mentors/coaches for staff who ask for support. If you automatically assign staff for mentoring this could make them feel insecure, it works better for staff who are seeking support. Your mentoring team doesn’t just have to be senior management. For example a new teaching assistant needing support with their role, would benefit from being mentored by an experienced teaching assistant in the school.
- Involve staff in creating/updating policies
Do staff have a lot of complaints about your policies? Did they have any opportunities to contribute or give feedback during the policy process? A school I worked in invited staff members to take part in relevant policy meetings such as marking and feedback, teaching and learning and dress code. By having a range of different staff members involved, the policies were more well rounded and worked better in practice. Additionally, policies need a testing period where staff try them out and have the opportunity to feedback suggested tweaks. Obviously, there are some policies where this kind of input and involvement would not be appropriate such as safeguarding, but having a range of ideas really helps create policies that work for your school.
- Staff swaps
Give your staff opportunities to swap classrooms or schools for the day, they can learn a lot from this process and feel trusted to adapt to new opportunities and environments.
- Inclusive appraisals
Please bin old school appraisals based on data targets e.g. “Our writing attainment is poor, so you all need to improve this by 30% to meet national average, or you won’t get a pay rise.” Just a truly horrid way to do appraisals. The best appraisal system I had was a shared target setting process. I achieved all of my targets by the end of the year and I’m sure that this was because I was enabled to take the lead in my performance management. I set targets that I really wanted to achieve and felt excited about working on, instead of looming data percentages hanging over my head.
- Allow timetable gaps
Senior Leadership insisting that every single hour of the timetable for the entire term must be accounted for is completely overwhelming. This leads to frazzled teachers in the last week of term trying to cram in 50 hours of content in to 30 hours because it was timetabled that all these objectives would be achieved by the end of term. Instead trust in your staff, believe that they can leave gaps in the timetable, not to slack off, but to adapt their planning, revisit learning, challenge children further and teach based on important current events. One thing I would love to see headteachers do this year is really LET THEM TEACH.
- Well-being team
I read an article recently about a school with a staff well-being team. A great idea! Having a range of staff to help support and monitor staff well-being not only keeps it a priority but lessens the load for headteachers, so they can look after their own well-being too! I’ve linked the article below (further reading) as there are some other really useful tips in there and it explains the positive impact the team has had on the school.
- Email dead zone
Create a cut off time for emails, such as no emails after 7pm so staff aren’t always on the clock. How you work this depends on your school but giving staff a guaranteed window where they do not feel an additional out of school responsibility will work wonders for their well-being. Of course, you may need to make exceptions e.g. a staff member may want to email you to let you know they may be too unwell to work tomorrow or such like, but having a general cut off time is good for everyone.
- Ban the grading
Throw graded observations and book scrutinies out the window! Focus on the learning! What worked well, what could be improved? Words like good, outstanding and requires improvement are subjective to the observer and one lesson or book check does not reflect a teacher’s practice day in and out. Why not instead encourage peer observations and provide opportunities such as team teaching? Additionally, stop trying to trip teachers up in observations. You should be going in with high expectations of your staff rather than looking for problems.
Further reading: How a ‘wellbeing team’ worked wonders for our school, Dani Lang, 28/12/2018 https://www.tes.com/news/how-wellbeing-team-worked-wonders-our-school