The 9 Guiding Principles of “Well-Led” Schools

Prioritising staff wellbeing (and implementing the right initiatives) in schools is the most effective way to ensure we create a workplace that staff want to show up to daily, even when times are tough! 

Schools are facing endless staff shortages and teacher absenteeism alongside a pressure cooker of departmental expectations, interrupted learning, and a mounting workload with little time or energy to keep up. As a result, staff morale is taking a hit, teacher engagement is waning and introduced initiatives and strategic plans fall on deaf ears. Positive school culture seems like a distant dream as more and more teachers consider leaving the profession for a job less draining and taxing of energy and time. 

Leaders are spending their days attending to and putting out spot fires. Between teachers and staff unable to keep up with the demands, their wellbeing impacting relationships in the classroom, frustrated students who feel misunderstood by their teachers, and a long list of to-dos that keeps on growing, they feel like they never gain any traction with initiatives aimed at improving school performance. 

What these times call for is a change in our leadership approach and a focus on making sure our people feel well and supported at work. By adopting a set of principles that reflects what it means to “lead with wellbeing in mind,” schools can begin to transform the culture from within and better influence positive outcomes in student learning and school achievement. 

This article will cover:

  • Why we should be focusing on staff wellbeing
  • 3 mistakes schools are making when it comes to addressing staff wellbeing
  • The 9 guiding principles of ‘Well-Led’ Schools

Why Focus on Staff Wellbeing?

Staff wellbeing has a profound impact that affects student learning outcomes, school performance, and relationships between the whole school community. If our people aren’t faring well, then it’s unlikely they’ll bring the energy and patience needed to educate our students and collaborate effectively with colleagues and leaders. 

A supportive wellbeing-focused school culture has a protective effect against stress and burnout and can help mitigate the risks associated with chronic stress, such as impacted mental and physical health. When you put staff wellbeing front and centre, you’re more likely to get staff on board with new initiatives, job satisfaction increases, morale is boosted, and school communities begin to thrive again. 

Furthermore, a whole-school focus on wellbeing can provide staff and leaders with a shared vision for improved school culture. This vision promotes a sense of belonging, encourages collaboration amongst staff, sets gentle expectations and standards and provides opportunities for staff to address their wellbeing – leading the way for a more positive school culture.

If staff stress and wellbeing remain unaddressed at your school, it’s likely you will see a rise in staff shortages and absenteeism rates over the coming years – something every school should be actively trying to avoid if school performance is a priority! 

3 Mistakes Schools Are Making When It Comes to Addressing Staff Wellbeing

Mistake # 1: School leaders don’t always realise that staff wellbeing impacts their students’ and school’s success. 

As staff wellbeing efforts gain momentum in schools internationally, the challenge lies in a lack of awareness of the impact that teacher stress can have on student learning and an appreciation for the positive effects that happy and well staff have on students and school outcomes. 

Leaders often overlook the positive impact that a focus on staff wellbeing can have in their school. Higher teacher wellbeing enables greater student connections as well as enhances student learning and achievement outcomes (95).

Furthermore, teachers who received support from their colleagues and school leaders reported enhanced professional wellbeing and self-efficacy, less work-related stress and pressure and greater capacity to prioritise their students. (96). 

Finally, Teacher and staff stress, burnout and mental health influence student mental health. Teacher burnout is associated with increased student cortisol levels, suggesting that teacher stress can influence student physical stress responses (1, 2, 3). Emotional wellbeing inspires positive mental health by reducing depression, stress, and anxiety and increasing coping skills and resilience, self-esteem, performance, and productivity at work and in the community (1, 4). 

Mistake # 2: Leaders introduce INEFFECTIVE staff wellbeing initiatives to tackle staff wellbeing and burnout

Another mistake well-intentioned leaders often make when addressing teacher stress and burnout in their schools is introducing surface-level approaches that don’t resolve what’s really going on. 

Of course, staff roll their eyes at yet another morning tea or wellbeing workshop – it’s because these approaches don’t get to the root of the problem and only provide a temporary fix.

Through the implementation of scatter-gun approaches to boosting morale, team building, support options, and encouragement of access to the EAP and teacher self-care, many school leaders never get to the root cause of teacher stress. 

In order to get staff on board with new wellbeing initiatives, we have to make sure they address what’s causing the stress in the first place and that they’re aligned with what staff actually need.  

Additionally, they must factor in how we make decisions that impact our staff. We can only uncover their needs and struggles by giving staff a voice and a seat at the decision-making table. 

It really takes a joint effort by leaders and staff to invite transformative change into a school or workplace. Without everyone on board, leaders’ well-intended efforts to improve staff wellbeing go to waste.

Mistake # 3: Leaders haven’t adapted their leadership style to be responsive to their people during a time of crisis

A lot has changed since March 2020 so should our leadership approach. 

School staff and students were challenged by remote learning directives while at the same time experiencing life stressors they’d never before had to face. Returning to in-person learning has been a challenge in itself as we continue to experience the consequences and ramifications of a global pandemic. 

During times like these, a softer and more considerate leadership approach where leaders are equipped with the necessary leadership style and personal attributes can benefit our goals for improved staff wellbeing and school culture. 

When our people feel seen, understood, and supported by their leaders, they’re more likely to collaborate with each other, communicate their needs constructively, and contribute to a positive school culture. 

These mistakes are exactly why I identified the 9 researched-backed principles of “Well-Led” Schools.

The 9 Guiding Principles of “Well-Led” Schools

Before diving into the principles, it’s important to understand what “Well-Led” Schools are. 

Schools that lead with wellbeing in mind are focused and guided by a set of principles informed by research but also the experiences of teachers and staff in our schools. 

“Well-led” schools understand and embody the concept of “People first, then pedagogy.” These schools approach their whole school goals with an understanding that if their people aren’t taken care of first, it’s unlikely they’ll see the outcomes they desire. 

The Principles of “Well-Led” Schools

Well-Led” schools…

1. Know that healthy, well and engaged staff positively influence student learning: They appreciate the extensive research outlining the correlation between staff wellbeing and mental health and student engagement, mental health, learning, and life outcomes. (1-29, 49, 64)

2. Carefully consider how to weave staff wellbeing into the fabric of the school: They appreciate that staff wellbeing is about more than planning and implementing a few initiatives here and there. It’s about taking active steps to promote and foster a positive school culture that is proactive, not reactive to a positive working environment using an inquiry and action research approach that is responsive to the climate and context.  (8, 29, 30, 47-49, 89-94)

3. Seek the input and consultation of all staff: “Well-Led” Schools gather and review multiple sources of wellbeing data and speak (and listen) to their people. School leaders spend time getting to know about their staff’s health and wellbeing, identifying workplace stressors, and asking what initiatives staff consider to be useful before they commence actions. (2, 15,16, 30, 47, 49, 64)

4. Recognise that awareness is the first key to change: Leaders and staff are open to hearing feedback and value communication and transparency, which builds a culture of trust, honesty, and inclusivity. Everyone is open to providing and receiving feedback and considering how to act on it in a way that is conducive to change and leads to overall transformation. (55-59, 64)

5. Are led by highly-skilled and emotionally intelligent leaders: Knowledgeable leaders are informed by the most up-to-date research in effective leadership capabilities and personal attributes and are skilled in ways to support staff wellbeing and mental health and build positive school culture. The team appreciates their influence and is aligned by a shared vision and approach. (31 – 38, 48, 49, 50-56, 64, 67-94)

6. Understand that staff wellbeing is a joint responsibility: Leaders and staff recognise and play their part in building and contributing to a positive and healthy working environment and work together collectively to support themselves and one another. Everyone understands the validity of supporting the various dimensions of their wellbeing to influence their working environment  (8, 29, 39-42, 55-59, 64) 

7. Have shared vision and a ‘Wellbeing Action Plan’: The school is guided by a co-constructed and shared vision that is inclusive of wellbeing. All staff consult to create and embed a ‘Staff Wellbeing Action Plan’, complete with wellbeing-focused initiatives, processes and support options that are responsive to the school’s needs, goals and priorities. Furthermore, they actually act on their plans and vision – keeping it front and centre. (60-63, 89-94)

8. Promote collaboration and nurture strong relationships: Strong and well-formed workplace relationships underpin a working environment where staff feel connected and collective in their approach to school improvement (8,29, 42-44, 49, 64-88). Collective teacher efficacy, coaching and mentoring and a shared vision aligns all staff to work towards co-constructed goals and strategic plans. 

9. Engage their staff: Leaders apply evidence-based strategies and leadership styles to ensure staff are equipped to enact the school’s vision, work with their personal and professional strengths, feel motivated in their roles, provided with relevant and professional learning and career progression opportunities. (49, 64, 56, 65-88)


Well-Led” Schools Partnership Program 

Our ‘Well-Led’ Schools Partnership is a 12-month program that empowers school leaders and their staff to create a ‘Wellbeing Action Plan’ designed to beat staff burnout and create a thriving school culture.

Working alongside a School Health and Wellbeing Consultant provides your school with the framework, step-by-step guidance, and support required to address your staff’s wellbeing needs.

Our approach considers the in-depth work required to address leader, teacher, and staff stress and burnout and promote wellbeing over the long term. 

Complete with professional development and coaching opportunities for senior leaders, middle leaders, and staff, schools are fully equipped with everything they need to improve staff wellbeing and make lasting changes to school culture and school performance. 

We step schools through their improvement process using a range of evidence-based practices from the most up-to-date research and methodologies across Positive Psychology, educational leadership research, and the advice of leading Australian wellbeing organisations. 

We only open doors to the “Well-Led” School Partnership program once per term so that the limited number of schools that can join are given the most individualised support possible. 

If you’re ready to become a school that leads with wellbeing in mind, then be sure to get on the waitlist below for our next program opening!


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