Five steps to school staff wellbeing

Written by: Sophie Howells | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

After the year we have had, schools must be placing staff wellbeing at the top of the agenda – and it is not hard to do. Sophie Howells offers five easy approaches to get you started


As we head towards the mid-point of the final term of another extraordinary year, there are many reasons for teachers and school leaders to feel proud of all they have achieved during the coronavirus crisis.

But we know the mental health and wellbeing picture is stark for many. Our most recent YouGov/TeacherTrack polling, carried out as schools fully re-opened, found that eight out of 10 teachers (82 per cent) described themselves as stressed from work.

More than four in 10 (46 per cent) said that pressures on their mental health and wellbeing have caused them to consider leaving the profession this academic year (Education Support, 2021).


What can schools do?

We know from our own research that teachers and school staff feel deeply appreciated by pupils, students, parents and colleagues – those they work most closely with.

In our report, Covid-19 and the classroom (2020), 61 per cent told us that they felt appreciated during the first stage of the pandemic by parents and carers and it is this appreciation which has helped keep many going through all the challenges of the past year.

Yet we also know that teachers and school leaders do not feel anywhere near the same levels of appreciation by important groups like education departments and government – the decision-makers with whom they do not have direct contact.

Before this academic year began, when we asked teachers and other education professionals if they felt their work has been valued during the pandemic, only 15 per cent said they felt appreciated by the government.

Teachers, school leaders and other school staff have not felt their concerns reflected. Instead they have felt the direct stress and anxiety of constantly changing government advice. The past year has exacerbated an existing feeling for a great many school staff of simply not being listened to or heard.

Creating a culture of appreciation is essential for any school seeking to prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of its staff.

Putting mental health and wellbeing at the heart of schools demonstrates real appreciation. It will make a mentally healthy workforce who are less likely to exit teaching. It will also support those who might be struggling to perform at their best – especially during the pandemic.

And of course, while external pressures cannot be controlled, schools can take steps to demonstrate appreciation for teachers and staff. Here are five top tips.

Listen to staff: All people feel appreciated if they feel heard. There may not be immediate solutions to every problem, but feeling listened to and understood are essential first steps to improved wellbeing. How can your school make sure staff feel heard? It might be a staff survey or regular ways to check-in informally with how staff are feeling.

Make a plan: Once you have listened to staff, you can demonstrate that you are taking action where it is possible. This shows that concerns are being taken seriously and that time and effort is being put into addressing them.

Create an open culture: Staff need to feel able to talk safely and openly about any challenges and issues they may have. School staff need to feel able to ask questions or disagree. A safe and open culture where that is possible can have a big impact on morale and individual wellbeing.

Invest in line managers’ skills: Managers need to be supported to develop the skills needed to support others. They need to know how best to support their teams and have the necessary skills to feel confident when having conversations about mental health.

Support people when they’re not at their best: This is the ultimate sign of appreciation. Staff need to know that their employer will support them in tough times. A recognition that we are human and all have times when we are not at our best can be the difference between a talented teacher staying at a school or leaving.


Conclusion

Finally, do not forget that Education Support’s helpline can be a lifeline for those who are struggling. It is free, confidential and available 24/7 (see below).

  • Sophie Howells is from Education Support, a UK charity dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of the education workforce. Read her previous articles for SecEd via http://bit.ly/seced-howells


Further information & resources

  • Education Support: For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or www.educationsupport.org.uk
  • Education Support: Covid-19 and the classroom: Working in education during the coronavirus pandemic, July 2020:
    https://bit.ly/2HUrcQy
  • Education Support: Mental health decline in schools could push more teachers to leave, March 2021: https://bit.ly/3v9Y8Yn
  • The SecEd Podcast: Our podcast episode on staff wellbeing features advice from Education Support CEO Sinéad McBrearty among other experts (September 2020). You can listen for free via https://bit.ly/3m4Gwto


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