The 9 Guiding Principles of ‘Well-Led’ Schools

Prioritising staff wellbeing through implementing the right initiatives aimed at both personal and workplace wellbeing is the most effective way to ensure we create a positive workplace capable of growth and performance,

Many 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 change strategies and strategic plans are falling 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. 

These times call for 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
  • One of the biggest mistakes schools make 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 and school performance. If our people aren’t faring well, then it’s unlikely they’ll be satisfied and engaged with their work and have the capacity to bring the energy and patience needed to educate our students and collaborate effectively with colleagues and leaders. This begins to impact staff morale, school culture, relationships and collaboration – all key influencing factors on school performance. 

A supportive, wellbeing-focused school culture that promotes and encourages both personal and workplace wellbeing has a protective effect against stress and burnout, reduces staff absences and promotes retention. When you put staff wellbeing front and centre, staff are better positioned to respond positively to change initiatives and new strategic directions and are better able to contribute to collective teacher efficacy.

The Mistake Many Schools Make

Staff wellbeing in schools has gained much traction in the last few years, and for good reason! Many well-intentioned schools adopt an approach or message that promotes and encourages wellbeing. Initially, their efforts are met with enthusiasm and hope. However, trends show that staff optimism soon wavers, leaders and wellbeing committees become disheartened by a lack of buy-in, and staff can begin to complain about wellbeing becoming a “tick and flick” at their school.

Scratching their heads, leaders and wellbeing advocates wonder, “what went wrong?” Soon, well-meaning staff members give up, wellbeing teams lose momentum, and leaders throw up their hands, sometimes frustrated with the lack of appreciation.

This is a common problem that can give staff wellbeing a bad wrap.

A key mistake a number of schools make is… they introduce INEFFECTIVE staff wellbeing initiatives to tackle staff wellbeing and burnout.

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. By implementing scatter-gun approaches to boosting morale, team building, support options, and encouraging 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.  This extends beyond a mere focus on “wellbeing, health and mental health” and must also explore factors linked to staff satisfaction, morale, relationships, workload management, engagement and leadership.

Well-Led Schools

This led me to develop a Staff Wellbeing Framework that takes staff wellbeing from a surface-level approach, with lots of “add-on” initiatives that sound nice in theory but don’t yield the transformative results that schools desire and need, to a more in-depth approach that addresses underlying root causes.

This is why I encourage schools to become ‘Well-Led’ Schools  – a play on words signifying schools who “lead with wellbeing in mind.”

‘Well-Led’ schools don’t just dish out a few ad hoc wellbeing initiatives hoping they fix the problem or create a culture worth raving about. They ensure that all staff are supported at work to thrive through the evolution of how they lead their school and get staff involved in a collective capacity. It is these schools who know and understand the power that our collective wellbeing can have on not just our workplace culture but on the lives of the students we teach.

Ultimately, ‘Well-Led’ schools understand and embody the concept of “People first, then pedagogy.” These schools approach their whole school goals with the understanding that if their people aren’t taken care of first, they’re unlikely to see the strategic or performance outcomes they desire. 

The 9 Guiding Principles of ‘Well-Led’ Schools

When working with schools to tailor and embed a Staff Wellbeing Framework, I guide them to adopt the following 9 guiding principles. These principles are informed by research and the honest perspectives and experiences of the staff we work with here at Adrienne Hornby Consulting.

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. 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 learning about their staff’s health and wellbeing, identifying workplace stressors, and asking what initiatives staff consider valuable before they commence actions. (2, 15,16, 30, 47, 49, 64)

Further, these schools continue to consult with and seek feedback from their people on school directions and initiatives and act on the feedback they receive or communicate back when they can’t.

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

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

5. Actively engage their staff: Leaders apply evidence-based strategies and leadership styles to ensure staff are equipped to enact the school’s vision, set goals, 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)

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 alongside the application of helpful coping strategies for stress to influence their working environment  (8, 29, 39-42, 55-59, 64) 

7. 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. Collective teacher efficacy, coaching and mentoring, and a shared vision align all staff to work towards co-constructed goals and strategic plans. Further, the relationships between educators, students and the community are prioritised and seen as the foundations of highly functioning classrooms. (8,29, 42-44, 49, 64-88)

8. Have a 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 consults 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 with every decision. (60-63, 89-94)

9. 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)


‘Well-Led’ Schools Partnership Program 

Our ‘Well-Led’ Schools Partnership is a 12-month professional development program that empowers school leaders and their staff to embed a proven Staff Wellbeing Framework and strategy designed to beat staff burnout and create a thriving school culture.

With expert guidance, your school can finally address staff wellbeing effectively and go on to kick strategic goals and level up school performance. We utilise evidence-based strategies drawn from the latest research in Positive Psychology, educational leadership and insights from leading Australian wellbeing organisations to get schools the results they need to create a work environment their staff raves about. 

In the program, we work together to unearth the real challenges your school faces, collaborate with your team to co-create a shared vision that places wellbeing at the forefront of your school’s culture, elevate your leaders’ and staff’s potential with targeted professional development, and build a tailored Wellbeing framework and action plan based on your school’s specific needs.

Learn more here!


View reference list here

From the blog

Browse my blog for the latest tips on optimising your health, wellness, lifestyle and everything in between!
11 minute read

Principal Vision: A Foundational Step in Creating a School Culture That Prioritises Wellbeing

Without a clear vision of where we are going, our staff end up confused. One of the key steps for creating a positive school culture…

9 minute read

Adopting An Inquiry Approach to Staff Wellbeing and School Culture in Our Schools

Blanket approaches to staff wellbeing don’t work. Outsourcing staff wellbeing workshops, offering the odd morning tea, and encouraging teacher self-care are all helpful strategies to…

9 minute read

The Secret Recipe for Motivating Your Staff to Implement Change in The Workplace

Are you looking to make some significant changes in your school? Whether implementing a new strategy or focusing on a new initiative or program, you…