10 Steps to Take This Term To Improve Staff Wellbeing at Your School
On the back of the past few years impacted by the pandemic, interruptions to student learning, a national shortage of teachers and unmanageable workloads, staff wellbeing has never been more impacted and more of a priority.
School leaders, teachers, and staff are navigating the already present challenges that come with a profession laden with intense burnout, bureaucratic challenges, and ever-changing goalposts. With this change in the educational landscape – we can’t continue our strategic paths with our eyes solely focused on instructional goals anymore.
It’s time to consider leading your school with wellbeing in mind.
This is our “Well-Led” Schools approach to tending to staff wellbeing in a way that doesn’t come across as a “tick and flick” initiative, an add-on, or disingenuous. Much of the themes in the most up-to-date research suggest that school success is more likely to happen through a different approach to school leadership—an approach where people, relationships, communication, strategic professional learning plans, and wellbeing are front and centre.
So, where to start?
Read on to learn about my 6-step approach to improving staff wellbeing and the actions I recommend schools begin with when the goal is to level up school culture and boost staff wellbeing this year. Using these transformational steps, you can stop the surface-level strategies to staff wellbeing and begin to make a bigger difference in your school.
This article will cover:
- Why the RIGHT approach to staff wellbeing is likely to result in improved outcomes
- My 6-step approach to improving staff wellbeing
- Ten steps to take this term to improve staff wellbeing and school outcomes
Why the RIGHT approach to staff wellbeing is likely to result in improved outcomes
This is the year to prioritise staff health and wellbeing to ensure your teachers and staff are ready and willing to come to work, able to collaborate effectively and professionally with their colleagues and go on to improve the learning outcomes of the students. If leaders approach the upcoming year with too heavy a focus on strategic or instructional goals without considering their staff’s wellbeing – their grand plans will likely self-implode with very little progress made. Including a “focus” on wellbeing by adopting a tokenistic or surface-level approach will likely not have the effect that one would hope it would.
We survey multiple schools and staff every year using our anonymous staff wellbeing surveys, and unfortunately, many teachers will report their principals and school leaders are barely skimming the surface when it comes to building a strategy to support wellbeing. Staff wellbeing is not a “tack-on” approach, where a team of motivated teachers plan social events and morning teas. It isn’t planning ad hoc self-care presentations or encouraging your staff to leave early some days, all in the name of “wellbeing.”
Supporting your staff requires a carefully thought out strategy at a leadership level, where your staff has a say in the reflection and consultation process.
A good wellbeing strategy focuses on culture-building, prevention AND intervention strategies that are regularly reviewed and updated.
When working with schools and leaders across Australia, I have found the best approach to be one that weaves aspects of Positive Psychology, the most up-to-date educational leadership research, and the recommendations made by leading Australian wellbeing organisations carefully curated and actioned via a guided inquiry. The problem is that with so many sources of information, the approaches tend to get too “bitsy,” and it can be hard to see results with no straightforward step-by-step process outlined.
Which is precisely why I crafted my 6-step approach to becoming a Well Led School. By following this 6 step approach (or jumping in where it seems appropriate), your school is far more likely to see long-term and tangible results.
My 6-step approach for improving staff wellbeing
Workplace culture improves when we prioritise staff wellbeing, all in the efforts to positively impact staff engagement, school culture, relationships, collaboration and staff satisfaction. We know from the research that these areas have been shown to positively correlate to improved student and school performance, not just on wellbeing alone.
Staff wellbeing is achieved when members of your team are provided with opportunities and resources to cope with stressors, improve their productivity, and contribute to the school community in a meaningful way. Using Positive Psychology and the PERMA(H) Model, schools can apply a framework to put their people first and finally see the changes they have been looking for in their setting.
My 6-step approach involves taking the following steps:
- Scan your school: Survey your staff and review multiple data sets to pinpoint the wellbeing needs of your team.
- Establish a Culture of Wellbeing: Beginning with a co-created vision for staff wellbeing
- Agree on the Joint Responsibilities of Staff Wellbeing
- Up-skill and Train Leaders and Staff in effective ways to improve wellbeing
- Tailor a ‘Wellbeing Action Plan’ For Your School
- Follow Through on Your Wellbeing Action Plan and check in on your progress
We run a termly free and live training on the 6-step approach – Register or Waitlist for the next training here.
But for those of you who are ready to kick off the year or term on the right foot! Read on to learn more about the 10 recommended steps we suggest schools take this year.
10 steps to take this term to improve staff wellbeing at your school
1. Conduct a whole school scan of staff wellbeing
Step one in our “Well Led” approach is one that can’t be overlooked. It is essential to consider the needs and interests of your school and staff before implementing new actions, alterations, and activities to support staff wellbeing. Involving staff at all levels enables a school to obtain data, sentiments, and observations that the leaders may overlook.
A successful school scan involves disciplined data discussions between leaders, teaching staff, and support staff. This step is vital as teachers are yearning to be heard and consulted with, especially in the current climate. And they should be since they hold many of the answers to the staff wellbeing puzzle.
Do this by:
- Discussing the state of staff wellbeing as a leadership team
- Conducting an anonymous staff survey and reviewing the results with the leadership team and as a whole staff
- Using a school scanning tool to collect team and staff feedback
- Reviewing multiple sources of data and recording them in your school scanning tool
- Joining our Well-Led Schools Partnership Program for guided support in the scanning process
2. Begin reflecting on your capacity as a leadership team
The culture and success of any organisation are heavily influenced by those in leadership positions. Therefore, leaders should be skilled or trained in managing (and therefore role-modeling) their own wellbeing, practices that help understand and support the wellbeing needs of their staff, and demonstrate strong emotional intelligence. Now is the perfect time to reflect on your leadership capacity and skills and discuss where your professional development should be aimed throughout the rest of the year.
Ways to do this:
- Use this leadership reflection tool to reflect on the capacity, skills, and approaches of the leadership team
- Discuss your reflections as a leadership team and identify professional learning goals, focuses, and potential opportunities for the year
- Begin to explore leadership readings and trainings
3. Review your Professional Learning Community (PLC) model
Aside from ticking your operational boxes to improve teaching and learning, focus on student learning and growth and embed strategic approaches. PLCs are also an excellent way to link and tick off school-level priorities (like staff wellbeing) and department initiatives. Many schools will claim they are ‘PLC’ schools; however, they have merely named their staff or team meetings as ‘PLCs’ and not fully immersed their school in the entire process of becoming a PLC-aligned school. Many schools have lost what it truly means to be a PLC school, so their model may need review.
To see where your school is up to:
- Read and review this article as a whole staff
- Reflect on the maturity of your school PLC model as a whole staff
- Ask for staff input and feedback on the school’s model
4. Create a staff check-in system
If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s the importance of checking in with our staff. Rapport and strong relationships are built off regular authentic interactions. When leaders check in with their people, they know what is going well, where staff need support, or encounter opportunities to reflect on ways to improve processes.
This does not mean a school’s principal needs to speak with all their people within a week, but each staff member should have the chance to talk with a member of their leadership team at some point. This conversation would simply involve asking how they are, where they need support, who can help them, and asking for suggestions or reflections on school processes.
Do this by:
- Discussing which staff fall under which leader (year level, subject area, etc.)
- Drawing up a plan of which leader will check in with each staff member each week
- Explaining to staff/teams the purpose of staff check-ins and how they will look
- Actually reaching out to staff to organise a regular check-in time each week (not cancelling any standing meetings)
- Adding an agenda item to school leadership meetings to report on any key themes emerging from check-ins
5. Reflect on teacher identity and set goals with EVERY staff member
One of the emerging themes in the research on teacher wellbeing explains how many teachers have lost a sense of their teacher identity over the past few years. Many will need support to refocus on who they are back at school and why they got into teaching in the first place.
Do this by:
- Planning 1:1 discussions with leaders to reflect on teacher self-image (views of self as a teacher), motivations (reason for teaching), commitment (dedication to the profession), self-efficacy (strengths, skills, and capabilities), task perception (understanding of their roles) and overall job satisfaction
- Having group discussions about the above during team or staff meetings
- Provide self-reflective opportunities – download my teacher identity questionnaire here
- Set 1:1 goals (based on their reflections) with all teachers and staff to work towards in the upcoming year
6. Decide on a professional learning focus that is relevant and narrow
Our staff need relevant professional development opportunities that address the main areas of concern for teachers and students. Many school leaders will be eager to take a heavy curriculum focus; however, staff and student wellbeing, positive behaviours, social-emotional learning, and trauma-informed practice are likely to be the most practical for many schools. While the curriculum is important, we must only traverse this territory if the school is functioning well with acceptable classroom and student management in place across the school.
Ways to do this:
- Review the emerging themes from the teacher identity discussions to plan relevant professional learning opportunities for the upcoming terms
- Plan for professional learning opportunities to meet the functional needs of the school (social-emotional learning, positive behaviours, and trauma-informed practices are the most prominent in the current research)
- Keep your focus narrow; staff do not have the cognitive capacity to take on too much
If student management is your focus this year, check out these great resources:
- Podcast: How A Systemised Focus On Student Behaviour Management Can Improve The Wellbeing Of School Staff With Rob Lans | Episode 2
- Podcast: The Top Mistakes Schools Are Making When Addressing Student Behaviour Challenges With Rob Lans | Season 2: Episode 1
- Podcast: Impactful Solutions For Common Mistakes To Student Management In Schools With Rob Lans | Season 2: Episode 2
- Consider joining our ‘Well Led Classrooms’ Student Management Pilot Program
7. Set team goals and set actions
Team goal setting is an excellent way to focus the professional development actions of a teaching team. By setting an overarching team goal (relevant to the school’s strategic goals) and identifying the appropriate action steps required by all team members, teaching teams have clear direction and steps to work towards and reflect on each term. This helps build collective teacher efficacy, an essential part of the staff wellbeing and school culture equation.
Ways to do this:
- Identify school strategic goals (i.e., Improve literacy outcomes)
- Use an appropriate model or approach and review the current skill levels of the team and areas for improvement (i.e., Guided reading approach)
- Set a relevant goal as a team directly linked to the chosen model or approach (e.g., plan and implement sequential mini-lessons)
- Assign actions to meet the goal (e.g., Explore teaching resources, watch video trainings, peer mentoring, etc.) and consider ways to provide time to action these (so they don’t become an add-on outside of teaching hours)
- Review the goal at the end of the term and set new goals and/or actions for the next term
8. Plan relationship-building events
Social support and relationships in the workplace appear to have a protective effect against mental health difficulties and a decline in our staff’s health and wellbeing. In-school and out-of-school events cater to everyone’s needs. Not all staff are available to attend events outside of school hours, so it is suggested to create the opportunity for staff to connect inside core business hours, where possible. This could mean scheduling social activities in lieu of a staff meeting one afternoon or at the beginning of the year.
Do this by:
- Planning one in-school relationship-building event (like team building or personal growth opportunities)
- Planning one out-of-school relationship-building event (aim for something that builds memories and connection from shared experience in something new or novel)
- Planning fun team-building activities
9. Plan one staff physical health activity
Looking after our physical health directly impacts our mental health and reduces our risk of burnout. Supporting the staff in your school to prioritise their physical health is vital as it helps to build community focus and support around improving our health and longevity. Many schools are beginning to adopt activities that promote good physical health, from exercise challenges to reducing the promotion and consumption of high-sugar foods at school.
Do this by:
- Viewing the ‘Physical Health’ section in this list of staff health and wellbeing ideas and scheduling one event or process this term
10. Book in a staff wellbeing professional learning workshop
Our staff’s personal wellbeing is essential as stressed or worn out staff are far less likely to engage with their work and build the relationships with their colleagues and students required to see better school outcomes.
What is equally as important (if not more) is their sense of workplace wellbeing. The kind of workshop you plan will depend entirely on the state of wellbeing in your workplace. If workplace wellbeing needs some TLC, bringing in a mental health professional to support your people will likely fall flat.
Our tune has changed here at Adrienne Hornby Consulting. Our “Well Led” approach offers professional development opportunities for staff primarily focused on workplace wellbeing first. Once staff feel like this is being addressed, they are more likely to respond positively to personal wellbeing workshops.
Do this by:
- Booking a time with me to discuss your school’s wellbeing needs and goals
By following these steps, your school can be well on its way to implementing a wellbeing strategy that is successful and sustainable in the long run.
We understand the challenges school leaders and teachers face in this ever-evolving landscape of education. If you’re noticing increasing staff stress, rising burnout and plummeting resilience, culminating in a fading school culture, you’re not alone.
Attend a free and live training on the six research-backed steps you can take to support staff wellbeing and address teacher burnout in your school in 2024.
Discover the exact steps you need to take to earn staff buy-in and get your teams working collaboratively and productively towards improved school culture and performance using a tailored ‘Staff Wellbeing Action Plan’
The training will be held on Thursday, February 22, 2024 at 3:30 PM and 6:30 PM (AEDT – Syd/Melb)
Register below for the session that works best with your schedule!
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