Wellbeing has been a big topic in education for a while now, and the teaching profession seems to be split into two camps over it. Some believe that, due to external pressures, it has become almost impossible for teachers to look after their own wellbeing, while others swear by practices such as mindfulness or yoga to support their mental and physical health.
But whatever camp you fall into, you can’t ignore the issue – not when so many colleagues are struggling not to succumb to the overwhelming pressures of the profession. We all need to be making efforts to create a culture of supporting wellbeing at work, particularly school leaders. And to do that, we first need to understand what "wellbeing" actually is.
For the purpose of this blog, I am going to use the definition of wellbeing proposed by Dodge et al (2012): ‘‘Stable wellbeing is when individuals have the psychological, social and physical resources they need to meet a particular psychological, social and/or physical challenge. When individuals have more challenges than resources, the see-saw dips, along with their wellbeing, and vice-versa.’’
This definition recognises the fact that individuals will be challenged on different levels, but that we all have the power to deal with these challenges if we have well-developed skills and resources.
Based on this definition, the simplest thing that school leaders can do is to help staff to develop those resources. Here are my strategies to make this work in practice:
1. Offer tools to maximise psychological resource
In order to achieve a certain degree of fulfilment, we need to be able to manage our thoughts, feelings and emotions and to regulate our mental and psychological states. This requires a set of tools that could include developing practices of mindfulness, increased awareness, relaxation, contemplation or cognitive restructuring. Although it is up to the individual to put such tools to use, schools can provide opportunities for personal development to enable staff to learn about these techniques together in a safe environment.
2. Provide structures to increase social interaction
Social resources take the form of positive interaction with others. A meaningful social exchange can occur through verbal or non-verbal communication. It is worth remembering that a simple smile or a genuine ‘‘how are you?’’ can help us to nurture healthy relationships with our colleagues. Establishing a coaching culture is one way that leaders can empower staff to have sincere, reflective and transformational interactions, not just transactional exchanges.
3. Make opportunities to improve physical health
Giving staff the chance to take part in activities that involve exercise – such as running or gym clubs – is one way to encourage them to take care of their physical health. Having a water fountain will make it easier for staff to stay hydrated during the day. And to help colleagues eat well, you can make sure that there is a healthy lunch option and that food is provided before evening events.
Ultimately, there are many different ways to show staff that leaders care about their psychological, social and physical resources. Just making a few small adjustments can create meaningful change and lead to higher levels of wellbeing for all.
Maria O’Neill is an advanced skills teacher, e-safety co-ordinator and head of PSHE. She is also a wellbeing coach, PhD student researching wellbeing and personal development, and founder of @HealthyToolkit and @UKPastoralChat