Well-being isn’t a bolt-on, it’s not enforced yoga -classes or trips to the spa however nice they may be. Staff well-being is a commitment by a school to support its staff in being the best they can be. There are lots of things that should be implicit in that commitment.
1) The commitment to reducing workload so that the work people do is purely focussed on impacting on the children’s learning.
Having just had conversations around teachers handing in weekly planning my first question was WHY? For me weekly planning is for the individual. Personally I would know where I aimed to get to in the next week, but planning day-by day for a whole week was nonsense. By Wednesday the lesson was almost always not the lesson on the planning document…for years however I had religiously filled in the pro-forma with my three levels of differentiation and my VAK boxes. Why because that was what the head wanted. The plans would be dropped on her desk on a Friday, but hardly ever taught from. Pointless work to tick a box rather than something which genuinely helps move children forward. As a head I’ve not looked at staff’s weekly planning ever, I’ve equally never walked into an unplanned lesson. If I want to know what’s happening in the class I’ll go along and talk to the teachers, I go to their planning meetings, staff often come to talk to me about how to teach something (I would say that they often have the answers they just need to talk it through and bounce it around a bit, I am no expert I would say that since becoming a head that I’m definitely not the best teacher in my school, I’m probably not even in the top 10…there are only 11 teachers in our school). For this I was told I was “professionally discourteous” and that I was letting the children down as my monitoring systems were lacking in rigour. Whatever I say my teachers just get on with getting it right and not worrying about stupid forms.
For me this is a question of trust. I trust my staff to be professional and do the job; they invariably live up to that.
2) The commitment to having effective behaviour systems that support staff
Behaviour is a hot topic at the moment. Fact is if behaviour isn’t right in schools you may as well throw the well-being handbook in the bin. If behaviour isn’t right in a school I’d guarantee that there will be a number of staff off with stress in that school. It’s a Catch 22 situation…poor behaviour…leads to staff illness…leads to less experienced teaching…leads to poor behaviour.
I’m not going to get into an argument about behaviour here. I’m just going to say that getting behaviour right is a priority if you don’t then all the other work is a waste of time. Anybody who’s visited our school knows it’s a calm, focused, studious place with children really who really want to learn. (Five years ago that wasn’t the case) The transformation was about clear systems followed consistently and rigorously supported by the SLT. (Before you ask…no we haven’t permanently excluded anybody, but if the situation had arisen we would have. It is and should always be the last resort if nothing else works)
3) A commitment to creating a culture that is about staff development and growth.
I have regularly talked about the need to help teachers to be great. Creating a reflective, supportive culture which challenges our teachers to try to be excellent every day. It is more than that however. We need to clearly understand their aims and what they really want. It’s really important that the growth is bespoke to the individual. In schools there is often a treadmill towards leadership, the fact is that it’s not the right path everyone. I am the teacher and they are my class. I need to know them and support them to be the teacher they want to be. If schools want to get better they must look to make the individual parts better
- Get to know your staff – (aspirations, ambitions, strengths, challenges and be the person who allows them to be great.)
- Look for common links between personal aspiration and school goals. How can enhancing one benefit the other? (Improving you improves us)
- All of the learning must be embedded in a trusting environment, in which relationships form a safety net of support and challenge. Make the growth authentic. (Let them have a real impact)
- Be aware that in the beginning, however, people are taking risks, and no matter how valuable things may be, in practice barriers may go up when new things are suggested. (be the net under the tight-rope walker)
4) A commitment to listening and trusting
In 2007 I took a sideways move from a school where I was trusted and given the space to impact on the work of the school, a school where I was listened to and my voice was important to a school where none of those things were true. I had a shocking couple of years. I was according to my wife unbearable to live with. The head teacher of this new school, had no trust in anybody and micro-managed everything. This for me was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Without a voice or any autonomy I found the I could no longer do the job. When you’re sat in the middle of something that is ripping you apart in the most destructive way, when you can’t see the wood for the trees, when you lie awake at night because the of it, it can be really hard to see the positives. This school was all that for me. I struggled daily to even go into the place. It was unrelenting. It made me need to get out of schools for a while.
Looking back however I learnt so much about leadership there. Mainly that I don’t ever want to be that kind of leader. I was micro-managed to the n-th degree. And there was no trust. Think being a head is in a bit of revenge on this person who had no faith in me. For people to grow and develop you have to let them lead, whether that is in their own classroom or more widely across the school. Equally you have to let them make mistakes. Staff needs a voice. If you don’t listen then you’ll have people going through the motions but not committing to the work.
Ultimately if you’re doing these things then you’re creating a culture where staff are valued and trusted.
Surely that is what we all really want.