The 5Ps of staff wellbeing

Written by: Frederika Roberts | Published:
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Ahead of her session at our forthcoming Pupil Mental Health online conference, Frederika Roberts explores the five Ps of staff wellbeing and why staff wellbeing is at the heart of whole-school wellbeing


The wellbeing of all staff – not just teaching staff – matters. A school is a community and it cannot truly support anyone’s wellbeing unless it supports everyone’s wellbeing and leaves no-one behind. Everyone has a role to play, from the senior leadership team to governors to individual staff.

Below, I set out five areas of focus to support your own wellbeing and that of your staff and colleagues. The first of the five Ps makes the other four possible and the second is the underpinning scientific theory for the remaining three.


1, Policies

Policies inform leadership priorities and everyday practices, but they need support and practical implementation. When, last year, I surveyed school staff, leaders and governors for my chapter in The Big Book of Whole School Wellbeing (Evans et al, 2022), an alarming 73 per cent of respondents told me that they either worked or had previously worked at a school that in their view paid lip-service to wellbeing.

In the same survey, they highlighted some of the policies that did make a difference to their wellbeing: policies on marking, behaviour and time off during term-time (to allow for events such as marriages, bereavements or to attend their children’s school plays and so on) all helped staff feel supported by their leadership team.

Relevant staff training was also cited as important. For example, the LEO Academy Trust has been working with me and my social enterprise (Educate to Flourish) to support their staff in undertaking action research projects in wellbeing-related areas of interest to them. Having worked with two LEO staff cohorts and a previous cohort from the Challenger Multi-Academy Trust so far, it is clear that staff relish these opportunities to challenge themselves and contribute to knowledge in the field of education wellbeing.


2, PERMA

PERMA is the theory of wellbeing that arose out of Dr Martin Seligman’s work on positive psychology, a determined effort by prominent psychologists in the 1990s to scientifically research individual and societal flourishing, instead of solely focusing on the treatment of mental illness (see Madeson, 2021).

According to Seligman, there are five key components to human flourishing, namely:

  • Positive Emotions
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment.

Teaching staff about PERMA can therefore provide them with valuable tools to support their wellbeing. I will expand on Positive Emotions and Relationships separately below, so here are brief explanations and examples of Engagement, Meaning and Accomplishment.


Engagement

When you engage in challenging, yet achievable, activities that fully grab your attention and utilise your strengths and abilities, you may find yourself in a state of “flow”. Activities that put you into a state of flow are typically ones you pursue for their own sake, not merely to achieve another goal.

Csikszentmihalyi (1990) found that people with a particular craft or trade, musicians, artists and so on often described this phenomenon as being completely absorbed by their task for hours on end, losing track of time, forgetting to eat, drink or attend to sleep.

All described this state as a pleasurable one. They found themselves in this state when the activity they undertook was in that sweet spot between challenge and competence; too much challenge and they became anxious and/or frustrated, too little and they became bored and disengaged.

It may not always be possible to achieve a state of flow in work-related activities, let alone in a busy school environment where interruptions are rife (though school leaders have told me they experience this when working on challenging tasks such as timetabling, from home, and I often find myself in flow when writing articles or books).

We can, however, find opportunities to experience flow outside of work. Teachers have told me they experience flow when working on puzzles, others experience this when painting or crafting. My husband experiences flow when he works on his model locomotives.

Being aware of PERMA and its Engagement element, therefore, school leaders can provide staff with opportunities to experience flow (for example, allowing staff to use PPA time at home, away from school distractions). As an individual looking after your own wellbeing, you can carve-out personal time to experience flow.


Meaning

I have yet to meet a teacher who embarked on this career for the money or the glory. The same can be said for most people working in education, whatever their role. Meaning is intrinsic to the job, but even so, in the stresses, strains and challenges of everyday life and the realities of the job, we sometimes forget why we are doing this in the first place.

Reconnecting with our “why” is an important tool to support our wellbeing (in my conference keynote on September 30, I will take you through an activity that will help you with this).

You can, of course, also derive meaning from your activities outside of work, such as by helping charities (schools can support this through payroll giving, for example), assisting people in need, or through spirituality or religion.


Accomplishment

If you feel satisfied when you achieve success or reach a level of competence in an activity, for its own sake rather than because of any further success or recognition this may lead to, this may support your wellbeing and contribute to your overall flourishing. Consider, therefore, how you can challenge yourself in and outside of work through projects, hobbies or sports, for example.


3, Positive Emotions

These are what we tend to think of when we contemplate happiness or wellbeing, but for some people, positive emotions can be difficult to access. For this reason, it is great that the P in PERMA is merely one of five elements. That said, if you are able to create opportunities for you and your colleagues/staff to experience positive emotions such as joy, gratitude and hope, there is extensive research – see particularly Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden-and-Build Theory (2001; 2004) – linking these to increased resources that support improved wellbeing and resilience (such as better problem-solving and creativity, improved relationships with others, being better at spotting opportunities).

How you create more positive emotions for yourself is very personal – I particularly enjoy cooking, turning great music up loud and dancing around my living room, and walking in nature – but there are ways school leaders can create opportunities for positive emotions through the way they lead staff meetings, how they support staff to enjoy life outside of school and the climate they foster in their school. Again, I will explore ideas around positive emotions in my conference keynote on September 30.


4, Positive Relationships

These are closely linked to positive emotions, as many people experience positive emotions when interacting with or thinking of people they care about/enjoy spending time with. It is nonetheless worth mentioning these separately as they are a distinct element of PERMA and one of the key building blocks for wellbeing. Research shows a close link between people with high-quality relationships and their happiness, cardiovascular health, brain health in later life, and longevity (see Robert Waldringer’s 2015 TEDx talk).

Positive relationships can be supported in school through mentoring and coaching, peer support initiatives, compassionate and supportive behaviour policies, and by creating a collaborative, supportive climate and ethos.


5, Personal Strengths

Your personal strengths, referred to in positive psychology as character strengths, are another way to support positive relationships, but that is not the only way they support wellbeing. Peterson and Seligman’s work (2004) resulted in a classification of 24 character strengths that you can explore through the VIA website (see further information).

Broadly speaking, when we work with our most significant character strengths, we can increase happiness and reduce depression. Some character strengths, such as hope, gratitude and love, are most closely correlated with wellbeing, but working with any of them, individually or as a team, through recognising and encouraging your own use of strengths and recognising strengths in others, can lead to increased positive emotions, better relationships and increased overall wellbeing.

It is beyond the scope of this article to cover all the ways you can work with them, but to get you started, consider playful ways of using strengths, such as staff competitions on the most creative ways to use a “strength of the month”, character strength recognition awards, and recognising strength role models.


Concluding thoughts

You will have noticed that the 5Ps of staff wellbeing are closely interlinked. You are probably integrating elements of some or all of them in your personal and professional life already, but I hope that this article has shone a light on more ways you can support your own and your staff and colleagues’ wellbeing through everyday practices.

I hope you can join me for my interactive conference keynote on September 30, where I will explore the above concepts further and provide opportunities for you to practise some of these elements for yourself.

  • Frederika Roberts is a former teacher who specialises in whole school wellbeing. She speaks, trains and lectures in positive education, character education and positive psychology. She is the founder of Educate to Flourish CIC (http://educatetoflourish.org.uk/) and author of Recipe for Happiness and For Flourishing's Sake, co-author of Character Toolkit for Teachers and the Character Toolkit Strength Cards and co-editor of The Big Book of Whole School Wellbeing. She tweets @Frederika_R


Pupil Mental Health Conference

Frederika Roberts will be presenting a keynote session for the sixth national Pupil Mental Health Conference hosted online by SecEd and Headteacher Update on September 29 and 30. Her session takes place at 2pm on September 30 and is entitled Whole-school wellbeing: Protecting and promoting staff wellbeing. For full details, visit www.schoolsmentalhealth.co.uk/programme


Further information and resources

  • Csikszentmihalyi: Flow: The psychology of optimal experience, HarperCollins, 1990.
  • Evans et al (eds): The Big Book of Whole School Wellbeing, SAGE Publications, November 2021.
  • Fredrickson: The role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology: The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions, The American psychologist, 56(3), 2001.
  • Fredrickson: Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions, The Royal Society, 359(1449), 2004.
  • Madeson: Seligman’s PERMA+ model explained: A theory of wellbeing, PositivePsychology.com, 2021: https://positivepsychology.com/perma-model/
  • Roberts: Positive education: A whole school approach. In Cseh & Smith (eds) 4th Applied Positive Psychology Symposium, Bucks New University, 2018: https://bit.ly/3CGnFxa
  • Seligman: Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and wellbeing, Simon and Schuster, 2012.
  • Peterson & Seligman: Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification, Oxford University Press and American Psychological Association, 2004.
  • University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences: PERMA Theory of Wellbeing and PERMA Workshops (no date): https://bit.ly/3jNJkL5
  • Waldringer: What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness, TEDx Talk, November 2015: https://bit.ly/3s7RcLg
  • VIA Institute on Character: www.viacharacter.org


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