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Thoughts from the network: Supporting the wellbeing of all staff

Welcome to the latest in our regular series of articles where we share the thoughts of SSAT members on national developments happening in education at the moment.

We know that the experiences of the last year have had a profound effect on the mental health of our young people, and you can hear from SSAT Senior Education Lead, Sylvia King, as she reflects on this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week.

However, we also wanted to consider the toll that the pandemic has taken on those working in schools – the need to completely change how teaching takes place, the stress of ever-changing (and last minute) guidance, and the potential feelings of isolation that can come from home working. That’s without mentioning managing their own families and periods of illness and isolation.

We know that schools in the network have been working really hard to support their teams through this difficult time, and the following are all ideas shared by schools in the network. Thank you very much to everyone who has taken the time to share their practice; it is much appreciated. In this article, we share a selection of their views – you can also read additional responses from the network and download supporting resources.

If you are a headteacher or senior leader in an SSAT member school and would like to get actively involved and share your views on future policy developments, get in touch with Alex Galvin, Senior Education Lead, via your school’s Relationship Manager.

Supporting new members of staff

At the start of the autumn term, we kept to the usual induction programme but made sure subject leaders had structured and focused conversations with new staff to ensure they were supported and felt ‘looked after’.

We have continued with our staff induction programme virtually. During term one we used socially distanced meetings and offered the same level of support we usually do. During lockdown our support has moved to virtual meetings. NQTs and new staff still get all of the support they used to, just virtually. So that is a regular meeting with a subject mentor, a regular meeting with the professional mentor and then access to induction sessions each half term.

We have linked new members of staff with another member of the team – not related to line management. We hope that has given them another person to talk to if they come up against problems and someone else checking in on them – just in a friendly capacity.

Supporting the morale of the team

In terms of our hardest time, one of our site supervisor staff died from Covid earlier in the term. I am so grateful we have a bereavement policy and protocol and a school counsellor and chaplaincy team. They were the hardest miles I have walked as a headteacher, but we helped each other through it and came out the other side, I think the biggest word for me is “family”, we try to be a work family for one another.

Lead Practitioner – Recognising the skills, experience and quality of school staff at every level

Since September we have set up a voluntary ‘wellbeing group’ who meet regularly and share ideas. This has led to one person a week being given the role of ‘cheerful person’ and sending amusing emails to staff. We have also set up two online group sessions with a local instructor to encourage staff to engage with learning ways to enhance their own MH and wellbeing; the second of these was organised this half term and to run during the school day so as to encourage staff to attend (parents all knew in advance that lessons would not be live for one hour that day).

Staff virtual socials including a dinner event where we all cooked the same dinner at the same time and a wine tasting evening.

Keeping people connected

We have written a coaching policy to set out our aims and provide a framework. Our coaching is fully supported by our SLT, some of whom are coaches themselves, and others who regularly access coaching to support their own practice. It is an integral part of our school ethos, and we have a team of 15 teaching and non-teaching members of staff who are trained coaches that anyone in our school community can self-refer to for some one-to-one sessions. We also train both internal and external colleagues from other schools to become coaches.

I have insisted staff come in each week this time for a check-in with their forms, but also so that we can catch up with one another and check staff are ok. It has been a challenge for some of our younger, single staff who live alone. We really keep an eye on them and try to keep in touch. I am going to start sending out little thank you cards in the next few days as a personal touch as well.

For wellbeing we have always been a closely knit staff community. Returning from COVID meant that we had to convert our staff room into a classroom. We made mini staff rooms around school. All with free tea and coffee and biscuits (something we have always done). We worked quickly to re-establish a central staff workroom by making an extra classroom provision.

Managing workload

I think the most important thing here is that leaders have to be genuine when they say they care about their team. Ensuring that decisions match the rhetoric eg take a member of staff off lessons for a few days and set cover if they are struggling, make sure you praise staff when you write to parents, let them set cover in the afternoons before virtual parents’ evenings so they have off screen time; build in breaks to the school day between lessons so everyone can get up, stretch, have a drink and get away from the screen.

In lockdown#3, remote learning following school timetable but with clear expectations around live lessons (eg maximum amount of ‘on-screen’ time) and the encouragement and support to avoid ‘digitally didactic’ approach.

Principled approach to remote learning strategy – not all lessons are live.

Encouraging work/life balance

We work flexibly wherever possible to honour requests for part-time working, family days/events and work together as a team to support colleagues if they are unwell, both physically or mentally.

Each year we have four ‘Wellbeing Weeks’ without any evening meetings and the most successful recent initiative was our ironing days (where staff ironing was completed by a local ironing service).

Live mindfulness sessions every Wednesday at 7.30 on Teams.

Checking how everyone is

Building in time at start of the autumn term for staff re-engagement with each other and the school as well as ‘training’.

Earlier in the academic year (November) we ran a staff workload and wellbeing survey – this gave us a baseline and will give us a regular (annual?) review point.

Promoting positive mental health across the school

Mental health policy – we created this policy to support the wellbeing work that is ongoing, and to provide a frame of reference for everyone in our school community. From the initial policy statement setting out our goals, through to detailed appendices offering information on local and national support networks, this remains a live and relevant document that both governors and parents/carers in particular, have fed back as to its usefulness.

Research groups – ten research coordinators have been appointed who are leading research teams within the school to focus on researching and developing strategies for addressing different aspects of mental health and wellbeing in relation to the whole community (students, teachers, support staff, parents/carers)

Read the full paper which includes further comments and supporting resources.

Your opportunity to get involved

If you are a headteacher or senior leader in an SSAT member school and would like to get actively involved and share your views on future policy developments, get in touch with Alex Galvin, Senior Education Lead, via your school’s Relationship Manager.

Lead Practitioner – Recognising the skills, experience and quality of school staff at every level

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