Ten ideas to boost your school staff’s wellbeing

Written by: Julie Norman | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Wellbeing is high on our agendas right now. With the summer fast approaching, we asked Julie Norman
to give us 10 areas we might prioritise from September in order to ensure good staff wellbeing

We are in the middle of the summer term, no doubt dealing with cohorts out isolating and the many other challenges that delivering education during a pandemic entails.

However, we must spare a moment to look forward to September and ensure we have a plan in place to look after ourselves, our staff and our children – this is the highest priority.

Why? Well, when people are healthy, happy, valued and cared for they achieve so much more. Staff are our biggest expenditure and our most precious asset.

Of course, this work can and should already be underway and it should be a priority, pandemic or no pandemic. However, as the summer break approaches, I want to offer 10 ideas or areas for focus that we should ensure we prioritise in September and beyond. These are 10 low-effort, low-cost things which should be high-impact.

1, Unnecessary workload for staff

The most important priority is to address unnecessary workload for the staff – simply because we want them to be focusing their attention on our children and doing what they do best – facilitating learning!

Take time to look at their workload with them (not for them). Ask the staff to discuss with you what takes time and seems to them to sometimes be nonsensical. What would be a great help if it were halted or minimised.

When I did this, my staff identified marking, planning and working walls! We discussed the impact each of those had on the quality of learning and we included the children in those conversations. What did we find out?

  • Marking: The children said they did not read the marking and would prefer a conversation or colours/highlights or even just symbols. They were then given the task to help rewrite the marking policy – it became the feedback policy with highlights and symbols only (but with verbal feedback being preferable).
  • Planning: This was stifling the outstanding teachers and put a ceiling on what they could achieve, so we stopped planning for all who did not want to do it (NQTs not included!). The staff moved to planning the weeks and months with the children using loops for learning. This engaged the children far more and improved curriculum coverage along with attitudes to learning.
  • Working walls? The children felt the loops on the wall were far more valuable alongside some permanent reference material, such as phonics, key vocab for maths and spelling rules etc.

2, Chats by the fireside

I used to have a headteacher who liked to have a “chat by the fireside” and I took that with me into my first headship. What is this? It is when you take the time to just sit and catch-up with staff. I am not talking about an appraisal or directly asking them how their wellbeing is, but taking the time to take an interest in them, their plans, future, vision for themselves.

Are you as their leader doing all you can to support them in their future plans? Are you aware of their hobbies and interests? Relationships with staff are key. To know their names and job role is not enough, we need to get under the skin of what makes them happy, what their interests are, and what triggers stress in them.

We do this with the children to maximise their wellbeing, safety and potential. Why not with staff too? What is going on in their lives right now that may be a barrier to them reaching their potential? Can you help?

3, Coaching

When we know what staff would like to do with their careers, we can use coaching to support them to reach their potential. Coach staff in dealing with those barriers so that they can give 100 per cent to their work and life.

And don’t just address their job barriers, but all barriers. Offer coaching to staff on personal finance, relationships at home, personal characteristics as well as aspirations in their career. They are all interlinked and must all be addressed together if we want to have impact. Coaching allows staff to achieve so much more than any appraisal, but also feeds into building relationships.

4, PPA and timetables

Look at the PPA time. Is it in bits and pieces? Can a teacher really address a research project, subject management or even classroom management in slots of one hour or less? No! Sit down with your senior leadership team and start from the beginning. Looking to September, create a timetable that works for staff. Could each teacher have one day off a fortnight and work from home? Or one afternoon a week off that does not feed into staff meetings? Ask your staff how they work best.

5, Character development

Build in character development to your whole-school approach. Teachers join the profession as they believe they are building the future, not preparing a child for a test. When they are teaching character attributes and giving children opportunities to practise those skills and adopt them, your staff will feel purposeful, valued and have job satisfaction beyond all recognition – and your children gain the attributes they will need for life.

6, Look at your policies

Are there any policies that you can amend to help ensure people in your school feel valued, respected and heard? For example, the behaviour policy for children can be written by them – ours was.

The children were firm but fair – and then policed it. They were very keen that behaviour became an area to learn, just like our subjects are, with compassion, opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them, and to celebrate growth. The pupils felt that being given an opportunity to “put it right” was more valuable than punishment. This turned behaviour around in my school.

I also adopted a staff anti-bullying policy, which focused on those sneaky little remarks from one member to another in staff meetings, speaking over others as though their opinion does not matter, dismissing ideas from teachers who are inexperienced, and everyone having a valued voice.

7, Staff Wellbeing Ambassador

When you have built rich relationships with staff, think of that one person who has the skills and attributes to lead staff wellbeing in your school. Invite them to be the Staff Wellbeing Ambassador, checking in on staff daily, making sure the staffroom is inviting, listening to what the staff feel frustrated by, and relaying that information back to senior leaders.

Hold staff meetings around wellbeing and offer stress-busting strategies. Organise some socials and simply make sure there is always milk in the fridge and coffee in the jar! A birthday card, get well card or thank you card sent at the right time can have a huge impact.

Someone would thrive doing this role and the staff will feel valued. Ensure, too, that there is a Wellbeing Governor to support this member of staff.

8, Staff counselling

Invest in a counselling service for your staff. Something they can use free of charge without having to come to leadership for permission. Send out a reminder every term to staff to let them know that it is available and including all the contact details. Put posters up in the staffroom and business cards in their wallets.

9, Trust your staff!

They came into this job because they love children, they love to see them learn and grow. If you have staff who complain a lot, do little work, show little effort or belittle others who put the work in, then address this. They have lost their love of the job and it is down to the leader to find out why. What has school done to achieve this? What can you do to reignite their love of teaching?

If the staff are happy in their work, getting things done and are on top of their game, then stop micro-managing them and trust them. They are intelligent professionals who can work to a deadline, a goal, a whole-school aspiration – they just need you to believe in them, give them the resources they need, perhaps some coaching, or the time and encouragement. Let them get on with it!

10, Ask your staff

What do your staff want? What would make their lives in your workplace more pleasurable, more purposeful and make them feel valued? How often do you ask them? From staff meetings in which you are open to challenge or to anonymous questionnaires, give everyone a voice, a valued opinion on how to change or adapt the environment so that everyone feels happy, well and productive.

And while you are at it, ask the children too. They can be very insightful and extremely compassionate about caring for the staff and each other.

A final word

It is possible to create a school where there is no absence, happy staff, excellent behaviour, love and compassion – so why wouldn’t you want to? 

  • Julie Norman is the executive primary lead at the Quantock Education Trust in Somerset and MD of School Omega Solutions. Read her previous articles for Headteacher Update via http://bit.ly/htu-norman

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