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How to keep up morale when you ‘require improvement’

In her latest wellbeing workshop, Jo Steer looks at how leaders can help keep chins up when an Ofsted visit goes badly

A hand on the shoulder

Dear Jo,

We’re in ”requires improvement” and waiting on Ofsted, so the pressure is on. My staff have been amazing but it’s clear that they’re near exhaustion. How can I motivate my staff to keep up momentum without burning out?

Having spent a good few years in a school that had been ”requiring improvement” for decades, I might be biased when I say this really sucks for you and your staff.

No matter how great your staff are, people can only maintain this pace under duress for so long. If you want them to keep momentum and sanity, they’re going to need your strategy and support. 

So, what can you do? How can you make things easier without sacrificing your school goals and vision?    

Tes Staff Pulse

Workload reviews

Number one is to ensure that you review staff workload. How much time/effort/energy are staff putting into different tasks? If you don’t already know this, find out as a matter of urgency, either by asking a trustworthy member of staff or by reflecting on this together in staff meetings.

Where there’s wasted time, or staff effort that doesn’t warrant the amount of impact it has on the students, streamline policies and procedures to affect change.

As a school in this position, there’s likely to be a need to make a number of changes, often at a faster pace than you might have opted for in a more comfortable situation. Be sure to really slow down when it counts – when you’re looking over new initiatives and strategies and before you’ve introduced it to your team.

If you’re willing to put in the leg work and honestly consider the real effort versus impact of what you’re asking, you’ll save a lot of time and misery down the line.

Show your reasoning

Where tasks are deemed to be worthwhile of implementation, don’t forget to share the reasoning with staff – the big picture behind the task.

Most teachers got into education because they wanted to make a real difference. When they’re asked to do something, they need to know how and why this task will make a difference, and how it links to the school direction, values and student outcomes. If work becomes just ”another thing to do”, devoid of any real meaning or purpose, staff will quickly become cynical and demotivated. Tell them why it matters.   

Remember, too, that certain situations can be incredibly draining: lesson observations, book scrutinises, learning walks – anything involving a need to ”perform” in front of visitors.

As beneficial as these things can be, they need to be used sparingly, when they are necessary and really useful. Overdo them and staff will become exhausted, even if they perform well on the day.

Overall, we need to remember is that people’s energy isn’t infinite – every day they have only a certain amount to give; a certain number of ”points” to spend. In a school where the pressure is seemingly never off, it’s easy to just keep adding to the to-do list, especially with those little jobs that will supposedly “only take five minutes.”

The problem is that if you’re not giving staff time out of class to do these jobs, or taking other jobs away from them so they have more time, then this energy has to come from somewhere else…and it’s most likely going to come at the cost of whatever little free time they have.

In truth, most people will forgive you the extra work now and again. What they won’t forgive, however, is a daily expectation that they’ll give more energy to the school than they actually have.

Reduce stress, improve kindness

On that note, you might also like to consider whether the environment and organisation of your school feeds energy or drains it. Just how much energy is wasted on the practicalities, like queuing at the photocopier, because the other one is still broken?

What’s the real impact, stress-wise, on changing the intervention timetables for the second time in a month? How much frustration is caused by expecting staff to repeatedly move rooms? These things seem almost insignificant in the grand scheme of things but they really do matter; the daily frustrations add up. So while it’s perfectly acceptable to delegate them, don’t ignore them.

Next, let’s talk about kindness – something that is often overlooked in a school where ”busyness” is perhaps endemic. The little things matter, now more than ever.

Allow staff to have planning, preparation and assessment time at home; ensure that you don’t send emails after 8pm; give staff free doughnuts during parents’ evening; cancel the staff meeting planned for observation week; take the time to speak to staff individually and express gratitude for a job well done.

Unlike everything else we’ve spoken of, these things allow your staff to replenish their energy and morale. Moreover, where you create a climate of genuine care, support and goodwill, your staff will be much more able and willing to do what you ask of them.

Last, I haven’t really mentioned Ofsted. And maybe you shouldn’t either – at least not often. Staff know they’re due any day, but reminding them of this will only create worry. Instead, simply focus on where you’re going and how you’re going to get there, in the most energy-efficient way. 

Tes Staff Pulse

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