Where to start when putting staff wellbeing first 

A happy staffroom can benefit the whole school. One teacher shares three steps for leaders to make staff wellbeing a priority

Christian Pountain

Happy teacher

When teachers grow, everything grows.

The research is there to prove that happy and fulfilled teachers make for better pupil outcomes.

But so many teachers have huge, but often untapped potential. And tapping into that potential starts by looking after your staff and nurturing a genuine concern for their wellbeing.

Staff wellbeing is not an end in itself, but it is the only way that we can confidently serve our core purpose of promoting our pupils’ wellbeing at every level. After all, I'm no good whatsoever to my pupils or colleagues if I am an emotional wreck and workaholic.

This principle is easy to say and to agree wholeheartedly with, but carefully cultivating a school culture where staff are genuinely valued for who they are, not what they do, is no easy task.

So how do you do it?

Staff Pulse 1

1. Adopt a culture of wellbeing

It is the culture that sets the tone. No amount of structural bolt-ons will ever suffice. The colleague of the month noticeboard in the staffroom can become patronising very quickly and work to undermine you if it isn’t underpinned by the right culture.

Wellbeing questionnaires are great, but can be resented by staff if they feel they never make any difference to daily routines. Even the calendared end-of-term rounders match won’t cut it if staff are too frazzled, and their only wellbeing-related desire is to go home for an early night.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of these things and a thousand structures like these exist. But we mustn’t allow the tail to wag the dog. Look after the culture and the structures will take care of themselves.

2. Work on relationships

Show an authentic interest in your staff, especially your immediate team, whom you are responsible for line-managing.

Empower your staff. Believe in them. When big decisions are looming that affect the whole staff, consult with them, and then listen to what they say. Really listen.

Staff wellbeing is an 80/20 sport. It is 80 per cent psychological and 20 per cent effort. We cannot ‘effort’ ourselves out of a mindset we don’t even know we have. We must take ourselves off autopilot and take manual control of how we run our schools for our staff.

3. Include every member of your team

No teacher gets up in the morning thinking to themselves: “I want to do a really bad job today and be as lazy as possible.” If we can start from the premise that even your ‘weakest’ staff member wants to get it right, this is the catalyst to change the culture.

If you’re reading this, and you’ve got this far, you are well on the way to getting this right, because you clearly have the desire. But desire is not enough by itself. Intention always trumps desire.

Until desire becomes intentionality and finds day-to-day expression, it cannot be a lived experience for those you are in charge of. It will still be your desire to improve your staff’s wellbeing 12 months from now.

The good news is that the future is as yet unlived. There is nothing set in stone. We get to change the outcomes. But the older we get the more we need reminding that there is everything still to play for.

Let this be the reminder: do not default to previous patterns, but intentionally cultivate a culture where all your staff are valued for who they are.

Staff Pulse 2

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Christian Pountain

Christian Pountain is head of RE and director of spirituality at a secondary school in Lancashire

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