Four tips for improving staff wellbeing

Improving staff wellbeing doesn’t need to be complex. Here one expert gives four ways you can help boost morale.

Tes Editorial

Tes weekly highlights: Academy growth, school funding and teacher mental health

A guest blog from Tes News wellbeing columnist Jo Steer

Amid a continuing recruitment crisis, increasingly worrisome mental health statistics and now, a global pandemic, those charged with supporting staff wellbeing most certainly have their work cut out for them.

While we’re clueless as to how the events of 2020 will impact the wellbeing of school staff, the hopeful part of me wonders if it won’t at least force us to acknowledge the importance of mental health and perhaps even trigger a move away from tick-box culture, into collaborative, consistent, embedded approaches, with outcomes that truly make a difference.     

With that in mind, here are some tips to do just that.

Create opportunities for honest feedback

When discussing positive wellbeing outcomes for staff, the only place to begin is with listening to the staff themselves, through one-to-one drop-ins, scheduled meetings, feedback from line managers/department heads and anonymous wellbeing surveys.

Strive to provide inclusive settings and systems through which staff feel safe enough to share.

This will keep you aware of any problems that need looking at, ensuring that you’re working towards outcomes that really matter to your staff (rather than those you might assume do).   

Make it continuous

If you’re looking for real results, it’s also important to demonstrate a commitment to staff wellbeing that is more than a one-off event like a yoga afternoon, but is a continuous process.

Evidence of this approach should be visible in the school calendar, in the minutes of staff meetings, on the walls of the staff room, in the language used by staff.

If it’s common practice to ask questions like, "are the potential benefits worth the impact on staff wellbeing?", to "circle back" to problems and fixes and to review morale as a matter of routine, you’ll keep moving in the right direction and likely prevent many problems before they even arise.

Take a collaborative approach

In order to be truly effective and meaningful, strategies aimed at supporting wellbeing need to be part of a continuous, collaborative effort.

A great example of this comes from headteacher of Three Bridges Primary School in Southhall, Jeremy Hannay. In his blog, ‘No Ordinary Classroom,’ he describes efforts to reduce marking as a "thoughtful and measured process involving all teachers".

Staff looked into the purpose behind marking, considered different approaches, trialled them and fed back before deciding collectively on what worked best and updating their marking policy to reflect this.

As much as it makes sense to have someone take the lead on wellbeing, they shouldn’t be expected to go it alone. Even with the best of intentions, that kind of approach will never yield the same outcomes or sense of shared ownership that this kind of structured collaboration allows.

Build relationships

How staff respond to any initiatives and particularly those aimed at boosting their morale depends a great deal of the quality of their relationships with school leaders. If they feel that they’re not valued, respected or cared for, then even the most promising of wellbeing strategies may be poorly received.

Do what you can to show them that this isn’t the case. Take the time to get to know staff, beyond "school talk". Offer genuine praise where it’s deserved. Find ways to give back, through time out of class, free lunch on Inset days, "tea and talk" evenings. Demonstrate kindness, connection and empathy wherever you can.  

This in itself will boost staff wellbeing and it won’t hurt your chances of further success elsewhere to have a team of staff who are truly behind you. 

Jo Steer is a wellbeing consultant working with schools. She is also a former teacher and Tes News columnist.

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