Covid-19: Supporting our staff as schools re-open fully

Written by: John Rutter | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

‘Our staff must not feel that they have been abandoned’ – headteacher John Rutter is putting clear communication at the heart of his strategy to support staff wellbeing post-lockdown...


One of the undeniable aspects of the Covid-19 crisis is that it has had a negative effect on the health and wellbeing of pupils, particularly those who are vulnerable and those living in areas of multiple deprivation.

Whether it has been the increased immersion in social media and the enforced retreat into their own thoughts which is affecting their mental health, the lack of exercise (despite the best efforts of Joe Wicks), or the knock-on negative consequences of seeing the deterioration of the health or economic circumstances of their families – all will need to be dealt with by teachers and pastoral support staff as we re-engage with school.

But what has been less considered are the effects of lockdown on our school staff.

We know that the health and wellbeing of our teachers and other staff is of fundamental importance to the health and wellbeing of the children. Teachers who are not on top of their game will not perform at their best in the classroom and may not be the role models we need to get our pupils through Covid-19.

Through no fault of their own, many will be suffering as much as the children with underlying health issues, fears for what we shall return to, and anxiety about how they can cope at the forefront of their minds.

We will all have had different experiences and be feeling different emotions as a result of lockdown. How we deal with this as school leaders, as teachers and as support staff needs some thought and it must not be the assumption that we shall all return and get on with things as we always did. We need to consider individual circumstances and what we can do to get everybody back on an even keel.


Vulnerable staff

Some of our staff with underlying health difficulties will be having a torrid time of it at the moment. They will be torn between their desire to return to school to teach their classes and the guidance they are receiving from medical professionals telling them they should stay away.

The most important thing we can do as school leaders is to ensure they have our support and are not pressured into doing things they shouldn’t. Those who wish to return to school will need extra care in terms of risk assessments around social distancing and alertness to the development of symptoms in themselves and others. Those who feel they cannot return need to be shown understanding.


Mental health

As with our pupils, some of our teachers with underlying mental health issues have seen their problems exacerbated by time spent in isolation. Unable to see close family and prevented from doing many of the things they would normally do to keep themselves active and in good form – anything from attending church to riding motorcycles – some of them have spent far too much time indoors and retreating internally.

The most important thing for these members of staff is to know that they have not been abandoned. Regular contact with line managers, colleagues and senior management will show them that they are cared for and will be well looked after on their return.


Issues of OCD

On a related mental health issue, it is more than likely that at least one member of staff will have OCD. Manifesting itself in a number of different ways, including excessive handwashing, they may have suffered greatly with the increased focus on germs and personal hygiene over the last few months.

In particular, as we approach a wider return to schools, staff suffering from this particular issue will be especially keen to look at risk assessments and protocols for getting back into the classroom. It may well be that it is very difficult to allay all their fears, but make sure they are listened to, have some input into how risk assessments are constructed, and receive adequate communication at all stages of the master plan.


Anxiety

Many recent surveys of pupils and parents have shown growing levels of anxiety about the proposed return to school. It is likely the same is true for a number of members of staff, although it may be they would not want to admit it.

Reassurance and monitoring should be high on your agenda, you should be taking every opportunity to ensure you keep in contact with staff. Some will require more reassurance than others and, as long as you know your staff well, this should be no problem.

Emails are good for those capable of just getting on with things, but long phone calls while obviously time-consuming can pay huge dividends. Unless the matter comes up, it may even be best not to mention work but to talk about how staff are getting on, how their families are doing, and what their fears are.

For those you have real concerns about, a face-to-face check-in or even a home visit if they are still isolating, and if appropriate, is the ultimate way of showing you are together in all of this.


Communication

Keeping in touch is vital, but it is extremely important how you go about it. Particular care and caution needs to be exercised around email. It has no nuance and, especially after several months without human connection, is easily misinterpreted.

Before you send out anything even slightly contentious, read it through several times then put it in your drafts folder, leave it for several hours (or preferably overnight), then read it again. You might also ask somebody else to read key messages before pressing send.

Anything you say can be taken badly by somebody in the wrong frame of mind and it is important not to come over as being dictatorial, weak or, perhaps worst of all, patronising.


In it together

To get back to any kind of normality in teaching, we will need the help of our local communities, parents, and most importantly our staff. If they are happy and have good mental health then that will go a long way to ensuring our pupils follow suit and are able to re-engage with their learning as quickly as possible.


Further information & resources


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