Leadership: how to build a culture of kindness 

When kindness is central to a school ethos, all staff thrive, says this teacher, as she shares five things every leader should do

Jess Gosling

Leadership: how to build a culture of kindness 

When kindness and wellbeing are central to a school’s ethos, staff and teachers thrive. The school becomes a positive place to work, retention rates go up and a true sense of community is fostered. 

In a workplace where staff feel valued and appreciated, this feeling can be experienced by all those who come to the school. In my early days as a supply teacher in the UK, I could walk around a school and tell pretty quickly the ones in which staff were happy. There would be laughter in the staffroom, a friendly reception from the headteacher and an appreciation for my work. In a school where wellbeing was not of importance, staff tended to avoid the staffroom and were clearly stressed, which made the environment feel unwelcoming.  

So, how can you go about fostering a culture of kindness and a feeling of wellbeing at your school?

1. Get to know your staff

Staff are at their best when they feel comfortable and welcome, so make sure you take the time to learn about their lives. Ask about their family, their weekend, what they’re interested in. Even just a simple “how are you?” can help teachers to feel valued.

Senior leaders can sometimes feel uncomfortable about joining in with staff social events but they are a great opportunity to talk to everyone, from the learning assistants through to the curriculum leaders. If, as a leader, you organise social events yourself, make sure they’re inclusive. Teachers with families, for example, may struggle to join evening events, so try to think outside the box a bit. Instead, look to organise a picnic or a trip to a playground, where parents can leave the children to play and are able to socialise with you and one another. 

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2. Recognise teachers for their contributions

Genuine comments, specific to the teacher, go a long way to showing your appreciation. Writing a quick note or email can boost morale and ensure teachers feel appreciated.

In one school I worked in, there was an extremely time-consuming method of writing reports. However, the headteacher always sent a handwritten note to remark upon the quality, which I valued.

Verbal praise can really help, too. It doesn't have to be in public – take them to one side and congratulate them on a project, excellent planning or great communication with parents. When treated this way, teachers feel respected and inevitably repeat their actions.

3. Wellbeing initiatives need to come from staff in a co-constructed way

Whenever you want to introduce a new initiative, make sure you take the time to think about what the impact will be, and whether or not it is a genuine attempt to support wellbeing or simply an idea that will phase out quickly. Ask yourself: does this initiative help to make a teachers’ life easier? Every teacher has a different understanding of what wellbeing is for them, so ensuring wellbeing initiatives are not mandated – making them tailored and optional is crucial.

If you’re unsure how you could improve your teachers’ wellbeing, set up focus groups. In one school I worked in, we were given the time to discuss in teams what we’d like to change in our school to support our wellbeing. Ideas were then added to a shared document and then actioned. Examples included not sending emails after 6pm and on weekends.

4. Surprise staff with acts of kindness

Colleagues will always support one another with kindness, whether it’s buying a bar of chocolate, providing recognition of each other’s work or simply praising a great idea when planning. Imagine then, if a senior leader took the time to support staff in the same way. 

In one school, a headmaster offered to take care of my little girl while my husband and I completed our medical check. He told the whole staff about what a wonderful little girl she was in our first whole-school meeting. I will never forget the kindness he showed us when we were feeling unstable, in a new country and at a new school.

5. Offer your help

You never know what staff might be struggling with, so always approach them with kindness. If you are aware of any difficulties, make sure you offer to support them.

If you know they have an unwell child, are undergoing surgery or are experiencing issues with a child in their class, be present for them. Ask them what they need. If they insist they are fine, do what you can anyway. Give them an extra hour of planning time, offer your experience or make allowances that they need. Where possible, encourage staff to take mental health or personal days to give teachers the agency to assess how they are feeling.

Jess Gosling is an international teacher and author of Becoming a Successful International Teacher, available through Amazon. She can be contacted via her website or Twitter @JessGosling2

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