It is widely recognised that staff wellbeing is not only important for retention and motivation but also for maintaining pupil wellbeing and school standards. It seeps into every area of school life and its far-reaching impact means mental health support is now a standalone service every school should offer.
According to recent research, workload and work-life balance, accountability (such as reaching expected teaching grades), administrative tasks and pastoral concerns such as safeguarding are the most common causes for staff stress in education. Here below you will find a list of 15 ways to ease this tension by supporting and equipping staff to deal with difficult situations.
1. Use The Education Staff Wellbeing Charter
The Education Staff Wellbeing Charter is “a tool for schools and colleges to create, and publicly commit to, their own wellbeing strategies”. Any institution can download the charter from the government website.
As a free resource, it’s a great way to start thinking about wellbeing and introduce a formal policy to protect staff.
2. Reduce Class Contact Time
As recommended by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, following an EIS teaching union survey, schools should attempt to reduce class contact time to give teachers and other education staff more time to allocate to other administrative responsibilities.
This initiative promotes a better work-life balance, allowing teachers to avoid out-of-hours activities like marking while easing the overall workload. In Scotland, there’s currently a recommended 90-minute reduction. In England the issue has been on the radar of the Department for Education but budget constraints remain one of the biggest obstacles.
3. Revise and Reiterate School Ethos
Putting your school’s ethos into practice to make it feel more genuine has a positive impact on wellbeing by helping craft a more positive, open and intentional culture.
From reiterating your school motto in staff meetings to modelling good mental health across the senior leadership team, there are many things you can do to keep ethos top of mind. Remember, many education staff will choose an institution based on ethos and expect you to live up to it.
4. Provide Wellbeing Training
Short sessions on topics such as managing stress at work or time management can help teachers and other education staff find their own tools to protect wellbeing. Not only this, but these topics can also spark conversations about current struggles and raise awareness about sharing the responsibility of high-pressure tasks.
Training can be carried out externally with certifications from bodies such as Hays or can be run internally as a more informal affair. Either way, it’s essential to give these subjects some air time.
5. Use Appraisals for Checking In
Appraisals are an appropriate and confidential setting to speak privately about any wellbeing concerns. These periodic meetings can also directly improve wellbeing as you take the opportunity to give praise and steer professional development.
A well thought out appraisal can increase engagement. However, it should still retain an honest assessment approach based on strict, clear criteria.
6. Improve School Environment
Turning attention to the wider school environment can have many knock-on effects — one of them being better staff wellbeing. A happier environment with happier students makes for a happier faculty. It’s that simple.
To improve the school environment, you can implement some almost-instant fixes, including updating IT, renovating staff areas and addressing the most commonly discussed points in school surveys. Some other aspects of the school environment might take much longer to adjust. However, you and your staff will feel an immediate impact by sweating the small stuff.
7. Signpost Support
Wellbeing at work is complex. It can be impacted by the professional environment and personal issues that happen at home. It’s important to have a well-rounded approach to wellbeing that supports staff no matter where their problems stem from.
Signposting staff to the relevant support services gives them the tools to deal with issues independently, should they need to. Some support services include Education Support, Mentally Healthy Schools and Mindful Teachers.
8. Promote An Open-Door Policy
Communication can effectively combat feelings of isolation and dispel wellbeing issues before they arise. Foster an open-door policy and make this a crucial part of your culture, emphasising your willingness to listen.
For SLT, this could mean having drop-in sessions scheduled each week where your office door is physically open. More generally, this could mean always following up on discussions when they happen and taking appropriate action in line with staff feedback.
9. Join the Schools in Mind Network
Managing staff wellbeing is a huge undertaking, although it’s an expectation of every school. Consider joining a network like Schools in Mind that shares free resources, training and an evidence-based framework to make this process easier.
This is part of protecting your own wellbeing as part of the senior leadership team. It means you don’t have to encounter everyone else’s wellbeing on your own but can lean on peers and other, more experienced leaders.
10. Appoint a Staff Wellbeing Lead
As with any new school policy, there needs to be an element of accountability to ensure that what’s in writing gets put into practice. Appointing a staff wellbeing lead means an individual will drive the initiative and remind others of their wellbeing responsibilities.
By 2025, every school should have a mental health role in place that oversees both student and staff wellbeing. This person will shoulder additional duties such as managing the provision of wellbeing services and creating links with specialist services.
11. Write Mental Health Policy
The Staff Education Charter and wellbeing lead role make it clear that every school — primary or secondary — needs to commit to a written mental health policy. With mental health impacting around three children in every classroom and a proportionate staff, it’s vital that official policy is implemented.
Policy allows institutions to take a whole-school approach where everyone is invested in the cause. It also means everyone can access the correct information and safely support those in need.
12. Draft a Staff Wellbeing Survey
Gaining feedback is the most straightforward way to gauge what’s affecting wellbeing at work. Surveys can be school-wide, for both staff and students, or segmented to give a more targeted overview of which environmental aspects impact staff and students the most.
Creating a separate staff wellbeing survey means you can tap into staff-only subjects like management, workload, learning and development, pay and benefits, engagement and fair treatment.
13. Take Team Building Seriously
Team building isn’t an activity to organise if and when you have some leftover budget. Instead, team building should prioritise spending allocated to this at the start of every school year.
Teacher team building activities can help staff create closer bonds, increase collaboration and improve communication. Although they might be birthed outside of your organisation, the benefits of team building certainly translate back into the office and classroom.
14. Involve Governors and SLT
Although everyone is involved in wellbeing with a whole-school approach, the message initially needs to come from the top-down for staff to really feel as though their mental health matters.
Make wellbeing an item on your board meeting agenda to create investment among governors and senior leadership. You can even appoint a wellbeing link governor to spread awareness amongst senior leaders and devise a wellbeing strategy.
15. Take a Look at HSE’s Work-Related Stress Resource
Need to have a difficult conversation related to wellbeing? Step-by-step support is available such as in this HSE resource. Templates like these can help you feel confident in approaching staff wellbeing, even if it isn’t currently a common practice.
16. Keep the Conversation Going
At the very least, keep the conversation going. Even if your wellbeing strategy doesn’t yet feel final or you encounter some speed bumps along the way, when it comes to mental health, the main thing is to talk.