Various pieces of research published over the past few years support the suggestion that happy and contented staff produce happy and contented pupils. It's a situation which leads to optimum outcomes, from exam results to mental health. So why are we not better at looking after staff in schools?
It is easy to pay lip service to such initiatives and less easy to tangibly improve staff welfare at a time of cuts and shortages. Here are some suggestions to ensure it is taken seriously.
1. Identify staff concerns Only by improving staff voice can you find out what genuinely concerns staff on a day-to-day basis. An open forum or questionnaire offers the opportunity for staff to voice their concerns in a safe or anonymous way. A constructive and solution-focused approach should be encouraged. Such information gathering initiatives would also be useful as a way of monitoring and viewing changes in perceptions of staff welfare.
2. Get all staff involved Ensure that different staff groups are involved where possible. It isn’t just teachers who run a school. Ensuring all staff have a voice and a forum to raise their concerns is key.
3. Ensure leadership support A forward-thinking management team will undoubtedly see the value of improving staff welfare. But with many other pressures and challenges facing them, it can easily fall down the list of priorities. Ensuring key members of management are informed of staff concerns and aware of the impact of initiatives is important in terms of feedback and progress. Developing a system where this can happen is key.
4. Preach about the benefits Research such as Briner and Dewberry (2007) and psychologists such as Martin Seligman have produced convincing arguments about the importance of staff welfare and positive psychology. The more everyone is aware of the benefits, the more buy-in is likely to be achieved.
5. Stay positive It is very easy to get bogged down in negativity when asking for feedback and there is always the potential for one or two individuals to have a moan. By accentuating what works well at your school and developing those elements, you can keep focus on the positives rather than solely focusing on the negatives.
6. Make staff wellbeing integrated Looking after ourselves and our colleagues should be something that comes naturally. Raising the agenda and intertwining throughout everything that happens in a school will help to make it part of the fabric of the institution for the benefit of everyone staff and pupils alike.
For more tangible ways to implement staff welfare programmes, visit the Education Support Partnership website and resources. Mike Lamb is director of Staff Welfare at Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex