Cultivating Wellbeing in the Workplace
How to Encourage Staff Wellness and Support Good Mental Health across your School Setting
Wouldn’t it be great if we could cultivate an environment of wellbeing in schools? Wouldn’t it be great if pupils were relaxed, well supported and productive? Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was an open culture of discussing mental health, of pupils supporting each other and empathising with one another’s struggles?
Of course, it would be fantastic!
But how on earth are teachers supposed to foster this environment for pupils if this culture does not exist in schools to support staff too?
The good news? Small changes in school culture can make a big difference.
It seems obvious, but in order to cultivate an atmosphere of well-being in schools, we need to start with supporting our wonderful staff!
Teachers work longer hours than ever before.
Teachers in England work an average 19 percent longer than those in other countries. They do an extra 2.7 hours per week compared to teachers in the USA, 11 hours more than colleagues in Korea and a full 19.8 hours per week more work than educators in Italy (Education Policy institute October 2016)
The heavy workload means teachers are missing out on training and development. England’s teachers spend just four days per year on courses, observational visits and on-the-job training compared with an international average of 10.5 days. The combination of long hours and poor professional development could explain why England’s teachers are younger and more inexperienced than those in other countries, with almost one in four teachers in England being under the age of 30.
What can we do to Support Staff Wellbeing?
Eliminate counting culture
In the UK we have a culture of counting. We rigidly count the steps we’ve walked, the hours we’ve clocked, the meetings we have had, the emails you’ve sent. But, this way of quantifying life adds to daily stress, and it isn’t viable in the long term.
Remove unnecessary counting of tasks and comparing businesses!
Comparing how busy you are with other people does not mean you are being effective. In fact this counting culture is likely to add to your stress levels and make you feel worse.
Work efficiently, not longer hours
I think you can agree, it is important to have employees that are efficient and fulfilled; not burned out!
Schools want happy employees, not slaves and if teachers staying late to make a good impression, it’s actually likely that that kind of behaviour will have the opposite effect on the one they intended.
Find inspiration without comparison.
It can be difficult when you are working alongside colleagues that appear to be breezing through life. But what about shifting your philosophy and taking inspiration from these people rather than comparing yourself? You will find these people you compare yourself to may have a wealth of skills you can learn too. You may also find they have something to learn from you. Put insecurities aside and ask questions. People that seem superhuman become much more human when you have a chat.
Key messages to Support Staff Wellbeing:
- Comparisons are always unfair. We typically compare the worst we know of ourselves to the best we presume about others.
- You are too unique to compare fairly. Your gifts, talents, successes, contributions and value are entirely unique to you and your purpose in this world. They can never be properly compared to anyone else.
- Comparison puts focus on the wrong person. You can control one life—yours. But when we constantly compare ourselves to others, we waste precious energy focusing on other people’s lives rather than our own.
- Comparisons often result in resentment. Resentment towards others and towards ourselves.
- Comparisons deprive us of joy. They add no value, meaning, or fulfilment to our lives. They only distract from it.
Stop comparing yourself to others. Instead, celebrate your differences. Be inspired and learn from the colleagues you admire.
It’s not all about pupil performance
Ministers developing education policies need to remember that it is not only the academic subjects that are important but also a more nuanced education: understanding how we relate to and empathise with others, learning how to regulate our emotions and to appreciate our individuality and creativity.
It can be disheartening for teachers to think that however passionate they are, however much they care about the pupils and how creative they are, at the end of the day it is all measured by one performance indicator. Pupil progress.
There is no evidence that currently exists that can link teacher performance with the attainment and progress of students. However, this seems to be the predominant measure of being a good teacher.
It seems to be that these excessive accountability measures are the driving force behind this long-hours culture which of course, has an impact on work-life balance and teacher well-being.
Turn self-criticism into self-compassion
As teachers strive to meet performance indicators, a culture of self-criticism becomes established. Self-criticism found to be a key contributor to anxiety and depression, so it is no wonder that we are now facing a mental health crisis.
I have tracked down some self-compassion exercises you can try on your own or as a small group in school. Dr Kristen Neff has devised these activities to support mindfulness and wellbeing.
Top Tips to Promote Wellbeing Across your School
Encourage productivity over working long hours
Encourage teachers to work better, not work longer. In order to teach effectively, staff need to be well-rested and need to prioritise their time at work over everything else. This means allowing staff time off to ensure their families are happy and healthy. Although this can impact in the day-to-day running of the school it is important you don’t create an atmosphere of resentment where staff feel scared to ask for time to support their families.
If this resentful culture exists you will find your staff turnover will be higher as staff are unhappy and do not feel supported and listened to… you will also find staff sick days increases due to stress and anxiety.
Have a clear shared understanding of how to demonstrate pupil progress
Ensure so there is no ambiguity about how standards will be measured by having clear outcome measures for pupil progress. Make sure staff are trained and feel comfortable.
Think about introducing pupil wellbeing measures. This is becoming an important priority for government ministers and it’s only a matter of time before OFSTED follows. So why not get a jump start on prioritising pupil happiness?
Implement support structures for ALL Teachers.
Set-up regular supervision groups within your school. Make sure teachers know that this is a place to ask questions about specific pupils, but also to talk about how they are coping. Share ideas for improving productivity and workflow and to talk about mindfulness and ways to improve happiness.
Make sure you celebrate achievements as well as evaluating challenges. It is important good staff are supported and celebrated for the important work they do. A recognition of hard-work and diligence is sometimes enough to change people’s frame of mind.
Further Wellbeing Support for Teachers
The UK’s only charity providing mental health and wellbeing support services to all education staff and organisations.
Excellent article from Specialist Speech and Language Therapist Jess Carpenter. Jess has a special interest in SEMH and works to evaluate and treat pupils with SLCN in SEMH provisions around the UK
I hope this has given you some ideas about how to encourage staff well-being within your school.
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