Play together to stay together

11th July 2008 at 01:00
With time and the right management, the happy hour could become a happy day, or even week. Sue Walker looks at how to put a smile on your staff's face
With time and the right management, the happy hour could become a happy day, or even week. Sue Walker looks at how to put a smile on your staff's face

Every leadership and management course I go on emphasises the importance of happy, relaxed staff; the premise being that we cannot hope to enable pupils to have a positive attitude if staff are unhappy themselves. I'm a passionate believer in supporting staff and making them feel valued, but with limited budgets, how can we make this happen?

Several years ago I asked the school nurse to come and hold a well woman clinic. Each member of staff had a 30-minute consultation where weight, height, lung capacity and blood pressure were measured, plus their cholesterol tested. They could also ask any personal questions about general health.

A teaching assistant discovered she had high blood pressure. She was directed to her GP and was consequently told that she was in urgent need of medication. It may have saved her life. For the rest of the staff, a half-hour consultation made them feel appreciated and cared for.

Our two male members of staff also attended a well man clinic that consisted of advice on smoking, drinking and testicular cancer.

I have repeated the exercise at my present school with an equally good response. The service is free, but school nurses are under growing pressure to provide a multitude of services for their schools. In the long term, perhaps, the only solution is to pay for the services of a school nurse for the day. For the price of a supply teacher, our staff could be happier, healthier and less likely to be off school.

We have also recently introduced the Massage in Schools programme (where fully-clothed pupils learn to massage each other). A qualified practitioner visits the school for one day a week and works with the children and staff. During breaks she gives 15-minute neck and shoulder massages to staff while music is played. They find it invigorating and relaxing.

Every Friday lunchtime we have a happy hour where mini chocolate bars are handed round and eagerly devoured. It may not be so healthy, but it gets all the staff together, gives a lift to Friday afternoons and creates a "weekend starts here" atmosphere. I've suggested Fruit on Friday, but so far the need for chocolate is greater.

A group of staff use the lunchtimes to exercise together. One of our fittest members of staff runs a well-attended skipping workshop. It sends a clear message to the pupils: exercise is good and fun, and adults appreciate it.

We have extended our car park so that teachers aren't stressed about where to park each morning (plus a soon-to-arrive cycle store with money from our travel plan). We have also refurbished the 1950s staff toilets. The new bright yellow and blue restrooms are uplifting: there is hand cream, beautiful smelling soap and a wonderful full-length mirror.

I believe that the school that plays together stays together, so termly social events, such as tenpin bowling, are important. We also have "getting to know you" events with the governors - a strawberry tea is planned for later this term, which helps create good relationships between staff and builds on the feel-good factor.

The best measure of wellbeing in a school is laughter. School life and work issues can be serious, but we make time for the unintentionally funny absence note or the misspelt stories. These small things need to be shared and enjoyed.

Sue Walker is the headteacher of Shears Green Community Infant School in Gravesend, Kent


- Make a collective decision that staff wellbeing is crucial to the success of the school.

- Involve health workers as much as possible in supporting staff.

- Signpost staff to support agencies through informative posters.

- Timetable social events for all staff throughout the year.

- Make sure staff have someone to talk to about professional and personal issues within school.

- Start a staff exercise club; it could just be walking round the grounds once a week.

- Have magazines in the staffroom and run a novel swap. Where possible make the staffroom a "no work" area.

- Have the occasional "leave school by 4.30pm at the latest" day.

- Swap some of the chocolate biscuits for fruit.

- Offer decaffeinated tea and coffee, plus cold, filtered water in the staffroom.

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