Supporting teacher practice and wellbeing

Written by: Liz Jones | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Drury Primary School in North Wales has developed a staff programme called the SWIG Club, which promotes wellbeing and encourages teachers to share good practice. Liz Jones explains

Every Thursday at noon the teachers at Drury Primary School meet for five minutes in a mobile classroom in the school playground.

There are seven of us in total and we call these meetings the SWIG Club. SWIG stands for successes, weeds, inspirational quote and gesture and over the past year the SWIG Club has helped to boost staff morale, encouraged us to acknowledge our successes as a school and made us all feel nurtured and valued.

Drury Primary School is a small primary in a village setting near Buckley in North Wales. We have 164 pupils on roll, including a nursery, and the location is tranquil and beautiful, with a huge field, a forest area, a pond area and lots of trees.

I got my first teaching job here 21 years ago and I have never moved – mainly because whenever I felt it was time for a new challenge or opportunity it came up here. In the intervening years I have been able to teach across both key stages and then lead on English, maths and ICT. I was appointed as deputy headteacher seven years ago and currently teach our year 4/5 class four days a week.

The Welsh inspectorate Estyn visited in 2012 and I remember the inspectors saying that the school did so many good things. But they also remarked that we did not celebrate these good things enough. Some schools blow their own trumpets a lot and I realised that although we were quietly getting on with the job in hand we were not shouting about the wonderful work going on.

Nobody patted each other on the back at the time or complimented each other and I realised that this was what we needed to do. It was important to break those barriers down and highlight the great things we were doing.

I have read a lot about being a reflective practitioner over the years so I arranged for the staff to watch each other teach. We looked at what everyone was doing and got together afterwards to discuss our practice.

It was very motivational and gave us ideas that we wanted to try out in our own classrooms. Later on we went into classes across the key stages and began to be more critical and suggest ways to support each other’s teaching.

We asked each other: “How can you make the teaching better?” “Have you thought about doing this?”

Everyone took the constructive criticism with open arms and smiley faces. One day I was making a cup of coffee in the staffroom and I heard people saying: “I came past your classroom the other day and what you were doing sounded amazing” and “I’ve seen that display in your classroom and it’s brilliant. Do you mind if I borrow the idea for mine?”

As the months passed our very tightly bonded staff became much more supportive and celebratory. One colleague had a very positive reward system – the Dojo online behaviour management system – in their classroom that nobody had known about and the rest of us took it on too.

It has now become the whole-school reward system, where pupils get Dojos if they have done something praiseworthy, such as reading a book at home or being a good citizen. On Fridays each class adds up their Dojos and we award a class cup for the winners, one for the foundation phase and one for key stage 2.

These days we peer observe very regularly. The favourite observations are when we teach a different year group for a session, usually focusing on the school improvement priorities for the year ahead. We meet afterwards and discuss what we have all gained from it and what we want to take back to our own classes for our professional development. On a pastoral level it has helped to give everybody a perspective of the whole school and what everybody is working towards.

As a teacher you can get a bit pigeonholed, especially if you teach the same year group year on year, but now we are more aware of the whole journey of a child through the school. We understand that during the September to December term it is hard work settling in the nursery, Reception and year 1 children and yet towards the end of the year the pressure is on the year 5 and 6 teachers.

I was involved in peer observations at the start but once I had done my NPQH (National Professional Qualification for Headship) I realised that it was important to lead the initiative rather than be part of it. Now I lead the reflection sessions, which has made it a professional experience as well as a very valuable one.

I got the idea for the SWIG Club over the summer holidays in 2018. I had been looking at staff wellbeing and trying to work out what we could do to help and support our staff. Some headteachers suggest ideas like giving teachers the day off for their birthday or arranging a spa afternoon – but that all costs money.

Instead I thought of the SWIG Club, a five-minute pick me up each week where the teachers meet, talk things over and share their problems as well as their successes.

When we started the SWIG Club I decided we would try it for a couple of weeks. I said to the staff: “If you don’t think it’s of any benefit, that’s fine. I want you to be honest.”

But it took off almost immediately. Someone different leads SWIG every week. We all stand up Japanese-meeting style and the lead person starts by talking about a success from that week, either a success from their own class or from the whole school.

The weed element is a chance to talk about a grievance or problem that has bugged or bothered them and the inspirational quote is something that is relevant to the school at that particular time. A recent one was from the film Rocky: “Life’s not about how hard of a hit you can give, it’s about how many you can take and still keep moving forward.”

The gesture reinforces the idea of looking out for each other. One teacher got a tiny glass jar for each of us, filled them with Skittles and attached a label saying: “These are your chill pills. Take one or two as needed at times of stress.” It was inexpensive and fun and now everyone has their jar on their desk.

Another teacher had a coffee machine he never used at home so his gesture was to put it in the staffroom for everyone to use. A third teacher recognised that someone had had a tough time and offered to do their break duty the following week.

The SWIG Club has been such a positive experience for us all. Everyone enjoys it and gets a lot out of it. It makes all the difference if you have had a tough week and then you get to Thursday and you can relax and have a bit of a giggle. If someone’s weed is really challenging then everyone is mindful of it and extra-supportive.

A new teacher joined us last year and she found SWIG a very nurturing experience because it was a chance for us all to ask: “How is it going? Are you getting on all right?” If something very significant comes up then I can follow it up as part of my role as deputy head. As Richard Branson says: “If you look after your staff well, they will look after your customers.”

As we start the new academic year we are carrying on with SWIG but we have decided to change the meetings to once a month. The staff love SWIG and were unanimous about wanting to continue with it but we are adapting it to make it less time-consuming and to give us more time in-between meetings to think about what we are going to do each time.

Initiatives like the SWIG Club have had an incredibly positive impact on the school. The children have benefited from the teachers sharing best practice, resources and ideas and there is no doubt that staff wellbeing and morale are higher than ever. SWIG has helped us to work through things together and to develop a close bond.

We are all going into our classes with a far more positive and upbeat outlook than we had before.

  • Liz Jones is deputy headteacher of Drury Primary School in North Wales.

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