Lockdown: Five ideas for maintaining your team’s morale

Written by: Dr Pooky Knightsmith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Many of us are finding the third national lockdown much tougher than those that have gone before. Dr Pooky Knightsmith offers five simple ideas that will help us to maintain the morale and wellbeing of our colleagues and school teams


Things are hard. Morale is low for many and it can feel hard to know what to do. In this article, I explore five ideas to help you to chart these tricky waters. These ideas were first shared in a webinar I presented at the start of term and have helped some teams already; I hope they will help yours too.


Idea 1: Have a clear vision

“I used to have a five-year plan … now I’m working to a five-day plan if I’m lucky – but I’ve found great value in knowing and sharing my plan with my team.”

Uncertainty is hard for everyone: it is hard for you, for your team, for your pupils and for their families. You have probably found that people are increasingly looking to you for reassurance and guidance, which is hard when none of us know quite what will happen next.

Having a clear vision and mission even if it changes on a daily basis will give you courage and confidence in your role and will be deeply reassuring for your team. Yes, you will have to be flexible. Yes, it will keep changing, but knowing that you are in control and that there is a plan will offer staff the kind of consistency and predictability that a calm, ordered classroom with a clear routine offers an autistic child. This will free them up to do what they do best every day.

Things to consider or try:

  • Every morning decide your “mission” for the day and share this in a brief memo to your team.
  • If you had to summarise your current priorities in one word, what would it be? Does your whole team have the same priority? Progress is easier when we are all facing the same direction.
  • With your team, revisit your school’s values or mission and reframe them in the current context.


Idea 2: Reduce workload

“Instead of scrapping our departmental meetings, we halved the length and are using them to highlight hacks and ideas to make online planning and teaching quicker, easier and better. It’s largely been us oldies learning from the NQTs – as a result, we’ve really seen them shine and grow.”

Many leaders I am talking to are very worried about the workload for some of their staff (while other staff feel frustrated and underutilised). You can make a huge difference by finding ways to reduce workload for those who are at breaking point and encouraging them to protect some of the time gained and invest it into their own wellbeing (e.g. by sleeping, spending time with loved ones or engaging in a hobby).

Things to consider or try:

  • Have and share realistic expectations regarding lesson preparation and delivery – many classroom staff are doing far more than is expected of them because expectations haven’t been set or shared.
  • Encourage colleagues to work smart not hard on online lessons – team teaching, pooling resources within your cluster or trust or making good use of resources like the BBC Bitesize or Oak National Academy could free up teacher time.
  • Scrap unnecessary meetings to buy back time. Where you can cascade ideas and skills that are useful right now, this is a great use of time.
  • Look again at your marking and behaviour policies and adapt them for use right now – a small investment of leadership time here will reap dividends.


Idea 3: Happy kids, happy staff

“My team were losing sleep at night because our families were hungry, so we fed them.”

You are only ever as happy as your least happy child – I think this is true whether you’re a parent, teacher, teaching assistant or head. So a key way that we can boost morale of our staff right now is to think about how we can ensure that our children and their families’ needs are being met and that they are safe and happy.

Talk to staff about their worries and problem-solve together – this will work far better as a ground up initiative as the staff who are closest to the families and who best understand the local context often have imaginative, practical ideas that will make a difference (and often without costing a lot of money).

Things to consider or try:

  • Find out what is worrying staff and explore together ideas for what you can do about it.
  • If you have any staff who feel underutilised at the moment, could they play a role in boosting the morale of children and families? Sometimes a five-minute phone call to check-in and let them know you care can make a huge difference.
  • Highlight the happy. As a team, share the moments when you are getting it right – celebrate and learn from these moments and maybe think of how you can keep them in mind (it could be something as simple as a physical or virtual pin board – Padlet, as one example, could work well).


Idea 4: Keep it silly

“Maybe I can’t make the load lighter but if we share it and we have a smile on our face then maybe, just maybe, it makes the load a little easier to carry.”

A sense of humour will carry you a long way right now. Things are hard but if we can feel like we are in this together and find moments of connection and laughter, it all feels a little bit more manageable. So many colleagues I have spoken to have mentioned that making time to let your hair down and just be a bit daft helps to make it all feel a little more “okay”.

Things that have worked in other teams:

  • “We wear comedy hats to our online team meetings.”
  • “We start every meeting with a joke or silly video to break the ice.”
  • “We are an infant school, so we just share some of the hilarious stuff that the kids come out with.”
  • “Online quizzes and games have been really enjoyed by some of our staff.”
  • “Following one of your suggestions we share a ‘fail of the week’ – it’s often very, very funny and also a great learning opportunity.”
  • “We have a WhatsApp group called ‘smiley stuff’ – we share jokes, silly moments, memes, anything uplifting or funny really. We have another group for the serious stuff, but the silly one is a great one to look at any time that things feel a bit dark.”


Idea 5: Say thank you

“Our class rep asked people to donate happy memories instead of money for a gift for me and my teaching assistant at the end of the school year. Instead of flowers and chocolates we got a scrapbook of pictures and memories from the children. I cried like a baby. It’s honestly the most precious gift I’ve ever been given.”

A few words of thanks go a very long way – even better if those words are written so they can be kept and cherished. A gold star from me to those of you who crack-out the thank you cards and put pen to paper.

Things to consider or try:

  • Add “giving thanks” to your daily routine – it will lift you as well as the recipients.
  • Have staff nominate colleagues for “heads awards” or similar – think about what works well for your pupils and could be mirrored for staff
  • If your families are happy, could you encourage them to share words of thanks and encouragement with staff?


Conclusion

The best way through this will always be together – thank you for what you are doing. Please cherry-pick what might work for you here and make it your own and please forgive yourselves for the bits you don’t get quite right. Onwards…

  • Dr Pooky Knightsmith is a passionate ambassador for mental health, wellbeing and PSHE. Her work is backed up both by a PhD in child and adolescent mental health and her own lived experience of PTSD, anorexia, self-harm, anxiety and depression. Read her previous articles via http://bit.ly/2daU4zs


Free webinars

Dr Pooky Knightsmith and Creative Education run a number of free webinars focused on issues of wellbeing, mental health, pastoral care and safeguarding among others. For details of upcoming webinars, visit www.creativeeducation.co.uk/product-category/free-webinars/


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