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How to approach wellbeing strategically
Understand what a strategic focus on wellbeing looks like and how to use it to create a culture of wellbeing in your school.
Why a strategic view of wellbeing matters
The Governance Handbook says that boards should have "due regard for the wellbeing and mental health of the school leadership team and teaching staff more broadly" (page 98).
But the concept of 'wellbeing' is tough to pin down, made trickier by the need to:
- Approach wellbeing strategically, not operationally
- Be sure steps taken are substantial, not superficial
Your role is to understand what good mental health and wellbeing really means for your school, to embed that into your vision and ethos, and then support (and challenge) your senior leadership team (SLT) to put measures in place to make it happen.
Strive to make your school a healthy, happy place to work, and the end result will be a better functioning school.
Decide what good mental health and wellbeing look like in your school
If you want the focus on mental health and wellbeing to be long-lasting and meaningful, you'll need to embrace it as part of your school's vision.
So, you might need to refresh your vision statement. Do this in collaboration with your SLT - together, picture your school as a happy and healthy place to work and write down what you see.
Refer to these resources to help you shape this:
- A guide to health, work and wellbeing from Acas
- Growing the health and wellbeing agenda at work and other wellbeing resources produced by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
- Working well: promoting mental wellbeing at work from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)
Set SMART objectives
Once you have a clear vision of what your healthy, happy school looks like, you can set objectives to help you achieve this.
SMART objectives are:
Developing SMART objectives for mental health and wellbeing might seem daunting, as things like happiness and job satisfaction can be hard to quantify - you can't measure whether someone's 25% happier as a result of a new marking policy.
But, if you focus on the impact you expect to see as a result of improving wellbeing and morale, you'll find things you can measure. For example, you might expect improved mental health and wellbeing to result in:
- Better staff retention
- Fewer staff on long-term sick leave
- Less spent on supply teachers to cover sick days
- Fewer grievances and disciplinary actions
- Fewer pupil behaviour problems
Again working with your SLT, decide on 1 or 2 key objectives that make sense for your school and hit the SMART criteria above. Add these to your school improvement plan to make sure they get the attention they deserve.
Use our checklist to help you set SMART objectives:
Find out how staff are doing right now
By doing an audit of your current situation, you’ll get a sense of what’s working well, and what needs to be put in place.
Remember that carrying out a wellbeing questionnaire and collating the data are operational tasks for the SLT. That said, you should work with the SLT to shape the questions, to make sure you end up with the information you need. For help with this see:
- The Education Support Partnership’s guide to looking after teacher wellbeing
- The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (register for free here)
The survey might cover areas such as whether staff:
- Feel stressed at work
- Feel adequately supported at work
- Are happy with their work-life balance
- Have trouble sleeping
- Have a reasonable amount of energy
- Feel equipped to manage their workload
If your SLT doesn't think a questionnaire is appropriate right now due to workload concerns, ask them to report back to the board about what common concerns they hear from staff about issues related to workload and wellbeing.
Make sure your school has a wellbeing action plan
This will help to ensure wellbeing remains a key focus, and that your school leaders put concrete steps in place to achieve the objective(s) you've set.
Creating the plan is an operational task. Your SLT (or a working group established for this purpose) should:
- See what is and isn’t working based on the survey results or common themes arising from informal chats with staff
- Prioritise ideas for driving improvement (for example by importance, achievability and attractiveness) and decide how to put plans in place
- Set reasonable targets for achieving each step
For example, depending on the results of the survey above, actions might include things like:
- Establish a school or staff wellbeing policy
- Designate a member of staff, who is suitably trained, who staff can seek advice and assistance from as required
- Plan ahead to ensure staff are not asked to do things in a rush and need to work extra hours
- Ensure the timetable has sufficient break times to allow staff time for a proper break and refreshments
- Monitor staff sickness absence, and have support meetings if any patterns emerge
- Limit after-school meetings
- Set reasonable expectations for email responses, e.g. not immediately and not at the weekend
If your SLT needs help with developing a wellbeing action plan, point them to our step-by-step guide on our sister site, The Key for School Leaders.
Help your headteacher be the change you want to see
Staff will take their cue from the headteacher, so ideally your headteacher will practice self-care and promote wellbeing themselves.
Realistically though, some won't feel like they can - though they'll sincerely want their staff to do so.
Even if your headteacher can't always embrace specific wellbeing measures for themselves, encourage them to model them for others. For example:
- If set working hours are put in place, your headteacher should only be in school during those hours (even if sometimes they'll still feel the need to work from home)
- If an email ban is in place during certain hours, your headteacher should refrain from sending emails during that time (if they need to take care of emails outside of the set hours, they should schedule them to be sent during working hours)
Of course, this doesn't mean you should stop urging your headteacher to take better care of themselves too!
As wellbeing measures come into effect and staff productivity hopefully improves, continue to encourage your headteacher to take advantage of wellbeing measures for themselves. See our article for more on how you can monitor and support headteacher wellbeing.
Our thanks to the following for their help with this article:
- Patrick Ottley-O’Connor, the executive principal of North Liverpool Academy and the Northern Schools Trust
- Our associate experts Trevor Bailey, Lorraine Petersen, Tony Cook and Carolyn Unsted:
- Trevor has extensive experience in school leadership and management. He was a secondary school headteacher for 14 years
- Lorraine is an education consultant. Previously the chief executive officer of nasen (which promotes the education of young people with special educational needs) and a primary school headteacher, she's also a governor at a special school in the West Midlands
- Tony is an independent learning and development consultant with experience of teacher recruitment, developing training programmes and providing HR services to schools
- Carolyn is an adviser to the regional schools commissioner for south-east England and south London. She's been the headteacher at 2 secondary schools, led rapid educational improvement projects in 2 local authorities and has over 30 years of experience working in education
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