It’s cold, it’s dark and the days are jam-packed: it must be the final few weeks of term before Christmas.
This can be a stressful time: reports are due, assessments need to be marked and there are Christmas shows to organise. Meanwhile, coughs and colds spread like wildfire. Wellbeing can often take a back seat, as we try to keep on top of everything. But it is important to take care of ourselves to ensure that when the holidays do arrive, we are able to enjoy them.
So here are five ideas to boost staff wellbeing in the last few weeks of term that we have tried at my school. Some of these will take some organising or support from senior leadership, but I promise that they are worth the effort.
1. Wellbeing box
A healthy teacher is a happier teacher. The cold weather and stress can leave people feeling run down and more susceptible to colds. So stock your staffroom with all the accoutrements that people need at this time of year: tissues, cold and flu relief, sore-throat sweets, hand sanitiser, moisturiser and vitamins.
Our wellbeing committee managed to get a small budget from our leadership team to buy these items and to keep them stocked in a "wellbeing box" that we have placed in the staffroom.
2. Advent calendar
Create a "wellbeing advent calendar" that gives a new suggestion each day for something staff could do to support their wellbeing. For example, “treat yourself to dinner out”; “make someone laugh”; or “go home and just relax tonight”.
Stick the calendar up in the staffroom or share it remotely on your shared area.
If you don’t have time to come up with your own daily wellbeing suggestions, there are plenty to choose from online. Try the version by Martyn Reah (@Teacher5aDay) or Action for Happiness (@actionhappiness).
3. Secret Santa
Spread some cheer by organising a staff secret Santa. We decided to make ours opt-out rather than opt-in this year, which seems to have encouraged more people to get involved.
Put slips of paper with the names of all participants into a Christmas stocking. Staff then have to draw out a name and prepare a gift for a colleague. We set a £10 maximum spending limit, but you could make this lower.
We also set up a little tree in the staffroom for people to place their gifts around, which makes for a very festive atmosphere.
4. Christmas cards from leaders
When we conducted a staff wellbeing survey, many people said that they didn't think their contributions were being recognised enough.
So we asked senior leaders to write personalised cards to staff members to thank them for their hard work in the first term. These can be left in pigeonholes as a nice surprise or delivered to staff in their classrooms by senior leaders or student council members.
It’s important to get the senior leadership team (SLT) fully on board here, as teachers can tell if the messages are not genuine. And it’s also a good idea to get staff to return the gesture and send a card back.
5. Secret Christmas party
Last year, a staff meeting had been scheduled for the last Wednesday of term, so our committee persuaded the SLT to ditch the agenda and have a Christmas party instead – but we didn’t tell anyone about the change.
It was a scheduled meeting so everyone had to turn up; a fake agenda was sent out and we told staff that secret Santa presents would be given out after the meeting.
Staff were delighted when they turned up to the "meeting" to find the room decorated, and food and drink laid out for everyone to enjoy. We had co-opted some of our more musical colleagues to play some Christmas tunes and the headteacher gave a toast.
We’re planning to do something similar again this year, but I guess it will be harder to keep it a secret this time.
Charlotte Ward is head of humanities and a founding member of the wellbeing committee at an international school in Europe