Juggling a teaching career and a life can be difficult, to say the least. As a teacher, your "to do" list never seems to shrink.
It is crucial for schools and staff to care for themselves and create a culture of wellbeing. Unfortunately, some schools don’t have any wellbeing policies at all – or the budget to implement major changes.
This was the case at my school, too. Staff morale was at an all-time low and people were frustrated by what they considered to be a lack of forethought or compassion from school management.
So, a small group of teachers decided to set up a grassroots wellbeing committee to start the conversation and encourage better working practices. We clubbed together and managed to raise a meagre budget to make some small changes which – although they didn’t entirely get rid of the problem – were a step in the right direction and sent a clear message to leadership that things needed to improve.
Here are five things our committee did that were free or low-cost.
In the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life sometimes gratitude gets lost. We wanted to encourage people to say thanks and came up with the idea of a "shout-out" board. This started with a blank display board in the staff room, some post-it-notes and pens.
Staff were encouraged to write a quick message of thanks to other staff members.
We then made the board available to students as well. From here, it grew and now we have postcards for staff and students to write positive messages on and a prominent display in the school corridor.
Living abroad, it can be expensive to get English books, so we decided to set up a book exchange in the staffroom, to encourage staff to take some time out and read for pleasure. Books could be swapped, borrowed, taken or left behind for others. It grew quite rapidly and was soon overflowing the cupboard we’d originally housed it in. It even expanded as people left CDs, DVDs, maps and more. With some shelf space and a few books this is an easy thing to set up.
Free tea and coffee
One of the first things we did after setting up our wellbeing committee was to send out a staff survey. Something that came up quite a lot on that survey was the lack of tea and coffee available for staff. So, we decided to use some of our budget to make sure there was always tea, coffee, sugar and milk in the staff room. It was a small gesture that showed staff we were thinking of them and taking on board their survey feedback.
We took this feedback to SLT and now the school provides us with this small luxury.
Make wellbeing visible
Our staffroom display boards were in need of a little TLC, so we turned one of them into a wellbeing board. We displayed the New Economics Foundation’s five ways to wellbeing and ideas related to them.
We also promote staff clubs and events; a Twitter corner champions people in the education sector to follow; and a tips section allows people to suggest ideas that work for them in relation to reducing stress.
On our VLE (virtual learning environment) we provide easy lunch ideas, fitness suggestions, book recommendations, colouring pages, films of the month and more.
In an ideal world, staff who are sick would stay at home, but in reality this isn’t always the case.
Sometimes after a five-lesson day and with parents evening around the corner, you just need something to soothe the throat or ease the headache.
To help, we created a "wellbeing box" for the staff room, stocked with a variety of inexpensive items, such as moisturiser, deodorant, breath mints, sore throat sweets, ibuprofen, hand cream, soothing tea, vitamin tablets, face masks, stress balls and puzzle books. Staff were encouraged to use the box when needed and many have since begun to contribute – giving something back by adding their own remedies.
Charlotte Ward is head of humanities and a founding member of the wellbeing committee at an international school in Europe