In this article
Working in a school is very rewarding, but school leaders still need to look after their staff wellbeing. Staff wellbeing in schools has a great effect on the students and everyone within the school community. It’s not enough to rely on a team being passionate about working in education; staff still need support.
There are the equivalent of 453,813 full time teachers in the UK, and a further 265,167 teaching assistants, plus all of the other support staff that go into making a school function. Think about how many people work in your school; that’s a lot of people’s wellbeing to consider. The attitude and demeanour of school staff will quickly reflect on the students; you don’t want a build-up of negativity.
Working in a school is never going to be easy. There are many issues that need to be dealt with such as safeguarding, bullying, and pastoral care for students, plus planning, training, and performance reviews on a professional level. With these stressors ever-present, you may not be surprised to know that one in twenty teachers report long-term mental health issues.
Understanding there is an issue to address is the first step. What comes next for school leaders is putting in place actions and procedures to promote staff wellbeing in schools. Let’s take a look at:
- The importance of wellbeing in a school environment.
- How you can recognise early signs of mental health problems.
- Ways leaders can support staff wellbeing in school.
- What you can do to look after your own mental wellbeing.
- Working with your colleagues and peers to promote wellbeing.
This will allow you to help create a positive and resilient working environment.
Why is the well-being of staff important?
As an educator, one of your many tasks is to teach children to be resilient. This skill is also really important in adults and can help you to process mental health issues better.
When we’re resilient, we’re able to manage our feelings and control our responses to difficult and challenging situations. Being able to ride out the tough times makes us less likely to suffer with mental health issues.
Your wellbeing is your feeling of comfort, happiness, and health. The link between your wellbeing and your mental and physical health is well known. When you’re happy and not experiencing stress you can’t cope with, you will be healthier overall.
Lots of different factors play into your wellbeing. Think about all the different things that can make you happy! Some examples of things that affect your wellbeing are:
- Your physical health.
- Your economic security.
- Your social circumstances.
- Opportunities for personal development.
- Your emotional state.
- Management of psychological issues.
- General satisfaction in life.
- Being engaged in your work.
In terms of your life at school, if you’re able to cope well with these external factors, you’re going to be more effective at your job. You’ll be more patient with pupils and colleagues and be able to appreciate the positive outcomes that you’ve affected and even be able to promote wellbeing in your school yourself.
When issues arise, such as working with a neglected child or workplace harassment towards you or a friend, you’re going to be much better able to deal with it. Having positive wellbeing will reflect on your performance at work and should also bring benefits to the children in your classroom, too.
Early warning signs someone is experiencing mental health issues
It’s all well and good knowing what positive wellbeing looks like, however, it’s not a static state. You, or anyone at all, can start to struggle to deal with everything in your life.
Life isn’t always easy and no amount of being positive, doing breathing exercises, or emotional awareness can prevent you from having challenging times. We’re not robots and no one expects you to always be ok.
Mental health problems can develop slowly over time or crop up rather quickly. Neither situation is worse or easier to deal with than the other. However, the signs that your mental health is deteriorating are likely the same.
It’s important that you look out for these signs in those around you, too. Although only senior leadership is responsible for the health and wellbeing of staff at school, you can still watch out for your friends and colleagues. Knowing how to spot the signs of creeping mental health issues could have huge benefits to those around you.
The signs that you should be looking out for include:
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits – Your colleague might mention difficulties sleeping or you might notice them skipping lunch, drinking more caffeinated drinks, or snacking more.
- Altered moods – This might be a long-term shift in mood or dramatic mood swings throughout the day.
- Being withdrawn – Someone who was once active and engaged in the school community becomes drawn into themselves.
- Decreased functioning – A colleague might find once regular tasks to be really tough, such as marking homework, taking part in meetings, or arriving to work on time.
- Mental fog – It can become harder to concentrate on a task or remember a to-do list.
- Feeling apathetic – Not wanting to get involved with extra-curricular activities, trips, or even not joining in staffroom chats where normally they would.
- Physical issues – Listen out for someone complaining of headaches or other physical problems like digestive issues or joint pains.
- Absenteeism – Not turning up for work or being signed off for long periods could be a symptom of mental health issues, if it is not already the cause of the absence.
When someone notices these in you, it’s important that you listen to their concerns and seek advice and support. This can either be through your school leaders or away from work.
Conversely, you can try to approach someone you have concerns about if you feel there is a strong relationship. Otherwise, you can speak to the person responsible for wellbeing promotion in your school and raise your concerns there.
How can schools support staff well-being?
As we’ve noted, just like any workplace, your school is responsible for the wellbeing of its staff. There isn’t a standard list of actions to take; every school is different. Challenges can range from a lack of motivation after a low rating from OFSTED to burnout from high expectations in an outstanding school.
The first thing that any school needs to do is to understand where their wellbeing challenges are. Something as simple as an anonymous staff survey and an open and honest staff meeting, or set of meetings, will help leaders know what needs to be worked on.
We’ve gathered together some examples of areas a school might need to work on to improve staff wellbeing and you’ll find some examples of actions to take to support staff wellbeing in your school.
School culture and environment
Leaders in a school have a huge impact on the environment and the culture that pervades. Your school may be discipline driven with strict mobile phone and uniform codes or have a gentle approach. Neither is wrong, but it will take a different type of person to thrive in either.
Does the team at your school feel happy? Nervous? Free to be creative? Find what they want and try to bring it in. Repainting tired spaces, introducing a gardening club, and even rejigging the whole organisation structure could make everyone feel more positive and engaged.
Help and support
No teacher is an island. We all need help to be able to thrive and it’s vital not to feel lonely and isolated in the classroom or after hours.
Having a mentoring programme for new staff, appointing a wellbeing officer to be a point of contact, and providing access to professional helplines will all make a team feel supported. Increasing access to leaders through more feedback sessions and having an open-door policy can also make it seem easier for people to seek help and support.
Wellbeing policies for staff
As well as having a person for staff to turn to for wellbeing issues, your school should have a wellbeing policy. A good policy will cover staff as well as pupil wellbeing and should contain items like:
- A statement about what wellbeing means and how the school will promote it.
- Actions that will be taken to promote wellbeing in the school.
- Named members of staff responsible for staff wellbeing at school.
- Support that’s available for staff as well as pupils.
- Signposting for where to seek additional help.
A good policy will also have details more specific to working with children and their parents.
Having this information clear and codified will help everyone in the school understand the culture of wellbeing and how important it is to the school.
Over half of teachers in the UK say that they’re overworked and this isn’t good for wellbeing. Too much work can increase stress levels which will have a serious negative affect on your wellbeing as a teacher and can also reflect in the children that you teach.
Where possible more support staff could be brought in to take on some teacher tasks. Some schools also have a no-marking policy and do all pupil feedback verbally, cutting down on time marking books. Look at things that cause bottlenecks in schools – you might need to have cleaners in the morning and afternoon or invest in more computers.
When workload can be relieved, it should hopefully give each teacher in the school a better sense of wellbeing and more personal time. A school can still promote further wellbeing by working on the “life” element of this.
Organising staff outings such as dinners or after-school informal gatherings will give people time to connect and build relationships. Having leaders be aware of personal milestones such as birthdays or a new baby in the family also encourages people to feel cared for at work.
As we talked about a moment ago, an open-door policy lets staff know leaders are available to talk. Being able to air grievances or seek professional or personal support is essential for people.
Having semi-formal chats with groups of staff and being open to suggestions in a variety of ways, such as anonymous suggestion boxes or a casual chat, will make the team feel comfortable.
How can I support my own well-being?
To be able to offer help and support to the people you care about at school you first need to look after yourself. Remember that if you’re tasked with promoting staff wellbeing in your school, not to forget about yourself!
Even if you don’t have the power and influence to affect a lot of change at an organisational level to improve wellbeing, there are still personal actions that you can take:
- Mindfulness activities can be quick exercises or more long-term changes that you can experiment with.
- Take time out from working with short breaks between tasks like lesson planning or marking. Find some fresh air, walk, and breathe.
- Talk to other staff about how you’re feeling. A problem shared won’t go away but it will get easier when you verbalise your struggles and it’s the first step in seeking help if you need it.
How can I support the well-being of staff around me at school?
After you’ve figured out looking after your own wellbeing, you can start to support those around you. The act of being helpful to others can boost your wellbeing as well as being very beneficial to those that you help.
A lot of what you can do to help revolves around communication. In a school, you’re all in the same boat – same workload, same leadership, same amazing yet headache-inducing students. Being able to let off steam relieves some stress. You can also work to identify common issues and think of creative solutions.
To start this process, you can:
- Organise small meetings at whatever level of formality works for you, where you discuss the issues you’re facing and work to find answers to problems.
- Have virtual support groups so you can communicate outside of the school setting. This will make people feel connected and better able to seek support.
- Pool resources and work together. If you’ve managed to get all your mock tests marked and feel able to, you can help a colleague with their work so everyone finishes quicker.
Promoting staff wellbeing in school is not only positive for everyone on the team, but is also a legal obligation. No doubt, teaching is a trying profession and there will be lots of times where the work will get on top of you.
You need to know the signs of mental health issues. This is going to help you, and allow you to help others. Knowing where to go with your concerns will make finding the right support much easier.
With positive and active wellbeing policies a school can help fend off mental health issues. A happy, productive, and friendly working environment can help teachers feel more resilient – more able to cope with the tough stuff that comes their way. A massive pile of exam papers isn’t so scary when you know you can ask your colleagues for help.