Wellbeing? A few reflections

Maria Santos-Richmond

For the last 3 years staff wellbeing has been a priority on our School Development Plan.

Year on year it has retained its position, not because we have made little progress in this area, but to recognise that, especially with the changing climate, this is not something we can just tick a box to say, done’.  I am not saying we have all the answers, but we have adopted a few ideas, established a few working practices, and maintained a clear focus that has helped us try to take care of everyone who works in our school.  I thought I would share with you a few of the easy wins that make staff feel valued and help us remind each other, that we all need time to reflect and refresh.

The Wellbeing Group

2 1/2 years ago we established a wellbeing group that meets half termly.  This is an open forum, anyone can attend, and the agenda and minutes are posted in the staffroom for all to read.  Currently meetings are being held remotely.  The aim of the group is to share ideas for staff wellbeing, raise issues and concerns, and to consider areas for improvement.  A number of initiatives have come from this group, including the establishment of the Wellbeing Email.

The Wellbeing Email

This is a dedicated email that all members of staff can email with questions, concerns, and ideas.  It has become a forum for sharing special offers, tips and general messages of support.  We have a regular Wellbeing Wednesday message that goes out to all staff, sometimes this has practical advice, like how to avoid eye strain why teaching remotely all day, to offers, like reminding staff about teacher discounts.  All in all, it is one small way we try and stay connected.

Cake Friday

This has been a feature in our school for getting on to a decade.  Sometimes a cuppa and a piece of cake is just what you need to shake off the week’s worries before heading home.  It can be a real bonus to those in smaller faculties and has proved popular with trainees. This is one of the things we look forward to reinstating after lockdown. During lockdown we have been drawing the names of a faculty out of a hat, and the winning faculty gets the Friday treats.  We would not want to lose all chances to spread a little happiness.

Thank you cards

At SJL we have ACE cards that we send to students who have done exceptionally well.  We also have a post box in the staffroom where we are encouraged to post thank you cards to each other.  Once a month a card is drawn from the box and the winning card receives a £10 voucher.

Access to counselling

On a more serious note we ensure that our in house student counsellor is also available for staff and appointments can be made with her in strictest confidence.

These are just a few of the things we do in my school and I know there are many blogs and articles out there about wellbeing with many more exciting tips for looking after yourself or others.  However, for me, ultimately staff wellbeing comes down to the 3 Cs: Communication, Compassion and Care.

In the current climate one of the factors contributing to people’s lack of wellbeing is loss of control over their own lives.  We are told where we can and can’t go, when and where we can work or socialise and have often been left to speculate about when it will all end.  Uncertainty is a major contributor to anxiety, and although we cannot conjure up answers where there are none, we must consider what we can do to reduce the impact of this uncertainty.  School leaders are at the mercy of the ever-changing landscape and have frequently had to react overnight to government changes in policy and procedures.  One of the easiest ways to reduce staff anxiety is to keep them informed.  If staff know as soon as possible what is happening, then they can work within the parameters to make things happen.  Thankfully in the world of email, it is easy to keep staff in the loop, to let them know that a solution is on its way, and to reassure staff that we are in this together.  But effective communication must be two way.  School leaders need feedback, what is working, what needs tweaking?  We have to ask ourselves whether we are making the job of our school leaders easier by communicating openly with them?

We have always advocated the staff wellbeing survey as a way of gathering feedback.  Since January we have engaged in much shorter and more frequent surveys, often in response to new initiatives.  These have been a real benefit to the Senior team, in trying to understand where staff are at, and a real opportunity for staff to have a voice that is taken seriously.

Of course, communication goes much further than keeping your team in the loop about developments, it is also about connecting with people.  How many people have you made direct contact with during this more recent lockdown?  How do you know who is feeling happy or safe in your team?  How do you know who is coping well with the on-line learning and/or working remotely?  If you are not a team leader, do you know if anyone has checked up on how your team leader is coping?  Also worth considering, who is looking after the smaller team?  The single person department or office worker who is on their own?  If no one else has taken that role, perhaps the person to make that contact could be you.

This is also where compassion comes in.  Do not be quick to judge, we never really know what is going on with someone and in this current climate, there will be many of our colleagues touched by tragedy.  Sometimes someone might need a little leeway, as they may be dealing with things we do not know about.

At the end of the day, however your school approaches staff wellbeing, the underlying message has to be about caring for everyone.  School workers, whether teachers or support staff, are all one team, one body, and when one part of the body isn’t functioning to full capacity, we all feel the pain.  So, it makes sense to look after each other, in whatever ways we can.  Wellbeing is a minefield and we won’t always get it right, yet we all have a responsibility to contribute, no matter how small that effort might be. In the words of Mother Teresa, it may only be a drop in the ocean, but that ocean would be less without that missing drop.

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