Management Information System (MIS) for schools
Mental Health and Wellbeing
Category : Blog
What is staff wellbeing and why does it matter? Sometimes, we need to take a step back and focus on the small things that really matter. In schools, we’re really good at the big statements and big ideas. But this can often overshadow our own experiences, our lives and our work, made up of smaller
Sometimes, we need to take a step back and focus on the small things that really matter. In schools, we’re really good at the big statements and big ideas. But this can often overshadow our own experiences, our lives and our work, made up of smaller interactions and moments – which are what we need to focus on.
This isn’t to say that we need to make sweeping changes or do compulsory yoga on a Friday. Staff wellbeing is about the fabric and culture of the places we work in. We can draw on something as well-known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – there are fundamentals in place that we need to fulfil to function effectively. We need to make sure the infrastructure is in place to function as human beings first, and teachers or SBMs or office staff second.
It’s easy to throw the word wellbeing around. It crept into the Ofsted framework a few years ago and suddenly everyone was posing the question: ‘what are we doing about staff wellbeing?’ But even when retention is good, what you want to find out is whether people know what to do in a crisis, or if they’re struggling. It’s not just about keeping your head above the water or managing to swim against the tide, but that we actually have a right to be happy.
Wellbeing is a worthy investment of the self. Working extra hours is simply not sustainable, for example. The truth is that the education sector is in need of staff, and so sustainability and retention must be at the heart of strategy, and the core of our own personal outlooks. And that comes back to wellbeing.
Our profession attracts perfectionists. It attracts people who are susceptible to guilt. In my work on teaching and parenthood, I once heard from a young mother who’d left teaching after teaching for just a few months because she ‘got sick of letting everybody down all the time.’ We go into schools to make a difference and to make society a better place than when we found it, and we have drive, and a spark. That means that we want to give, because giving makes us feel good. So we keep giving and giving, until we suddenly realise we’ve worked an 80 hour week or that someone we love is trying to talk to us and we’re just not listening. We’re physically there, but we’re not mentally or emotionally present at all. Suddenly we start to negate that very energy, that very sense of moral purpose. That very spark that brought us into the profession in the first place starts to suffer, and it means our giving isn’t sustainable.
So what we need to remember is that we are not irreplaceable.
That does not mean what we do isn’t precious. When a student contacts you years later and you can see that you have contributed in some way to their lives, it goes to show how valuable of a role we play as individuals. What it does mean is that we cannot be martyrs to the profession, or our own wellbeing will suffer.
As part of my research, I asked education professionals to tell me the small things that ruin their day. You’ve probably experienced these before: broken photocopiers, anything to do with glue sticks, dirty mugs in the sink, meetings where children aren’t mentioned once. It comes down to inefficiency, sometimes collective and sometimes individual. I tried to take these and think how we can move forward and make minor or significant tweaks for ourselves individually and for our organisations to really think about wellbeing in a meaningful way.
So not the compulsory yoga, not the free post-it notes, not the chocolate on Friday, although that always has its value. It’s about being able to say thank you, or sorry, or good morning, or ask how people genuinely are. This creates a more open space where talk is encouraged and individuals understand what the other does. Ultimately, our attention is finite and a gift, so it’s about knowing where to allocate it, both in terms of time management and emotions.
I also asked educators what made them feel good. Answers ranged from seeing a child write their name for the first time, or someone bringing them a cup of tea on a bad day. Most people don’t need big, public thank yous in staff briefings. Schools should instead be focused on making sure everyone drinks enough water, or that the toilets are nice to use, or taking a walk for some alone time. Essentially, that the fundamentals and infrastructure are there, both physically and emotionally.
One thing that was particularly transformative for me was writing down, or recording in some way, three good things that have happened to me each day, be it on a post-it note or in a journal or an Excel spreadsheet. It’s great to look back at what you’ve achieved, but it also creates an artificial barrier in that spill-over between work and life, drawing a line underneath it. There are other ways to create this barrier – whatever works for you. It could be locking the school gates, saying goodbye to the caretaker, or pulling up in your driveway.
It ultimately comes down to this – we are all giving people and that’s why we’re working in schools. But if we give too much, we can’t give anymore. So we must sometimes work against this selfless impulse to give in order to make sure our generosity, drive, wellbeing and our love for our roles are sustainable.
Want to learn more? You can read Emma’s blog and see more of her work by clicking here.
Or, click here to read our other articles on staff wellbeing.
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