I have recently been appointed as “head of staff formation and wellbeing” at Ardingly College, a two to 18 co-ed school in West Sussex. This is a senior management team post and I think quite a progressive move. Ostensibly this is a pastoral role for staff and the job has three core elements:
Wellbeing – both for staff and the pupils.
How we manage career pathways and “self-realisation”.
The Ardingly Community – what it means to be a part of that.
When it comes to wellbeing, I have attended two mindfulness courses and am qualified to teach the .b mindfulness curriculum across the student body. I believe this type of practice will play a significant role in education in the future and I will be looking to embed this into the staff psyche too.
The pastoral care for our pupils is outstanding and within the curriculum we already incorporate the Greek concept of “eudaimonia”, which is centred on wellbeing and human flourishing.
This education should, in our view, be extended to the staff as we seek to prepare them, too, for anything and everything – professionally and personally.
There are also many ways we can support staff in terms of career progression, but in my work I am looking to explore more fully the concept of “self-realisation” – so that it is not just about training “for the job”.
I want staff to pursue other interests that will allow them to find a balance in their lives as well as giving them greater productivity in their work.
In preparing to take on this challenge, I had an opportunity to meet with the head of HR at Deloitte. They have more than 17,000 employees and prioritise staff wellbeing and career progression. Their approach is that they are working in a “high performance” environment and therefore want to support staff to help them maintain this performance. From this, we adopted our own idea of “best performance”.We often ask of the boys and girls here that they be the best possible versions of themselves, and each member of staff, I know, wants to deliver the best possible lessons, coaching sessions, or pastoral care that they can. A greater sense of wellbeing will certainly help us to do that, as will a more guided career path and a strong sense of personal growth. The best thing for students is a happy staff.
While at Deloitte, I also discussed the fact that in today’s employment landscape, if they are not getting the opportunities to move up the career ladder many people tend to move on. Deloitte hires 3,000 people a year yet only makes 45 to 50 of them partners. Equally, we know that for most deputy head jobs there are well over 100 applicants and progression isn’t always going to be possible. While we do need to support the vertical progression of our staff, I want us to be developing them horizontally too.
There are some wonderfully talented people at Ardingly, but I wonder whether we are making the most of those talents. This doesn’t mean loading more onto someone, but perhaps by utilising talent more effectively it will add to everyone’s sense of worth or fulfilment.
The idea of “self-realisation” follows on from this – the development or fulfilment of one’s own potential or abilities as a person, and not necessarily in terms of what can be squeezed out professionally.
To that end, one of our focuses is on the “whole person” and this links closely to wellbeing, as if we can bring as much of our whole self to work then that should lead to greater contentment. A simple example of this is that I started having drum lessons in school a few years ago – it made me happy.
The starting point of much of this work has been the development of a website that all staff, academic and non-academic, can use as a resource centre (see further information for the link).
The three sections of the website reflect the three elements I listed earlier (wellbeing, self-realisation and career pathways, and the Ardingly Community) and are resourced with practical information and wider reading.
I have harvested some great articles and advice on wellbeing (managing stress and work/life balance, as well as mindfulness) and also career pathways (application processes and stepping up to the next level).
The third element of my work, the Ardingly Community, is brought to life via the website, with a section based around the idea of encouraging our staff to develop together – fostering professional collaboration and discussion, supporting them personally, and giving them easy access to local information, details of community events, and all kinds of literature and information that will help them professionally too.
I want to also give some ownership of the site, hence a forum section, and I have asked for input to the Literature and Learning sections from relevant people in the school.
This aim is that the site will help staff to understand where I am coming from. I see it growing and becoming a very useful resource, perhaps even beyond Ardingly.
However, my role really begins with the practical programmes that we put in place. Rather than simply saying to someone, “if you are stressed, read these articles”, we need to find tangible ways to help manage our wellbeing, our career pathways, and our personal development.
This is going to require thought, time and a budget and this is what I will be looking to put in place. We have also been discussing the possibility of finding more structured time for reflection and stillness within the school day.
I hope the website will be a greatly used resource and that if staff at Ardingly are in need of support in any of the areas it covers they will feel able to come and talk to me. This role has not been created to give people more work to do – the things I am putting in place are designed to help our staff along. TS Eliot wrote “be still and still moving” and this entirely embodies what I am looking to achieve.
Further information CAPTION: Support: The website created by Tom Caston offers resources to boost staff wellbeing and personal development
Tom Caston is head of staff formation and wellbeing at Ardingly College in West Sussex.