This week’s Talking Heads comes from Headteacher Cathy Westgate, Hudson Road Primary School writing about how she implemented a Staff Wellbeing Team (SWT) with the help of SWT researcher and education consultant, Dr Jane Anderson.
Staff Wellbeing Teams (SWTs) have an immediate impact by increasing staff wellbeing and supporting schools to become happier, healthier places – so what’s not to like? According to schools that implement a SWT, there is everything to gain. Why then aren’t more schools getting on board? Especially as SWT’s support Ofsted’s criteria for staff safeguarding and duty of care and encourage the engagement of the entire staff.
Sometimes it’s fear of getting it wrong and making the wellbeing situation in school worse rather than better. This is understandable. Wellbeing in any setting needs to be carefully nuanced to enable it to work to everyone’s benefit. Improperly implemented wellbeing initiatives can lead to all sorts of unwanted consequences, from projecting the wrong messages to inciting different (i.e. worse) behaviour. None of this is intended of course but it can be the result of rushed thinking and rash intervention in order to ‘make wellbeing happen’ in schools where wellbeing has become yet another ‘got to have’, just one more thing to worry about.
Occasionally it’s simply apathy that prevents schools from taking the SWT step, or concern that it’s going to generate more work for someone other than the actual SWT itself, although research is showing that the opposite happens. In fact the SWT often subsumes many undealt-with wellbeing issues in school (often the reluctant and half-hearted remit of others) and addresses them with gusto. And they do this voluntarily. Furthermore, they will identify other areas where they can be practically effective and deal with these too.
Obviously, they do this in conjunction with the School Leadership Team but the leeway they have to get on and sort things out on their own, as a representative team, is part of the attraction to the people who sign up for the SWT. On their part this demonstrates both role ownership and distributed leadership, both Ofsted emphasis’, but perhaps more importantly simply shows a good sense approach to the sharing of staff wellbeing management around school.
We decided a Staff Wellbeing Team could be right for us at Hudson Road Primary School after noticing a lot of wellbeing issues were falling between two stools. Odd things like organising a much-needed extra water boiler for our small staffroom and large staff. Lack of hot water for hot drinks caused regular angst at breaktimes and while everyone meant to do something about it, nothing ever got done. As soon as the SWT was up and running, a boiler was bought, plumbed and delivering copious hot water before we’d had time to discuss it. People still can’t stop smiling. A quick win perhaps, but a significant and deeply appreciated one. Quick wins, AKA ‘fluffies’, are often more effective than they would appear. But there’s more to our SWT than procurement and light touch wellbeing gestures. Together they are distilling our staff-created school values for dissemination and prominent display around the entire school and are working on a School Staff Wellbeing Policy.
As Dr Jane Anderson, researcher into school Staff Wellbeing Teams and school values, and the expert we turned to for help in creating our own SWT points out,
‘Everyone who employs people wants them to be as well as they can be. Happy, healthy staff are an asset. They want to come to work, apply themselves while they’re there, enjoy being part of the staff team and, importantly, stay with you – they don’t want to go somewhere else where they might not be as valued.’
That’s what we want in our school, we told her; increased discretionary energy, reduced sickness absenteeism, high staff retention rates and happy people. We weren’t in a bad state before, but the SWT has made a discernible improvement. But implementing any kind of staff wellbeing demands a sure hand and we were keen to ensure that we got such an important intervention right from the start. We worked with Jane to create our SWT using her straightforward How to Create and Sustain a Staff Wellbeing Team framework. While this is quickly implemented, it does need the backing and on-going commitment of the School Leadership Team, something Jane is adamant about. The SWT needs to be seen to be recognised and respected for the force for good that it is in school.
Although the organisation of the SWT appears quite structured, the Team has unusual flex, responding promptly to both staff and leadership identified wellbeing issues. The SWT feeds back regularly to all stakeholders too, so everyone knows what’s going on. Of course, some wellbeing matters are more problematic than others, but the Team is active in offering support where it can. Wellbeing areas of high expense are recognised and categorised as possible future investment; a staffroom makeover for instance might fall into this category, but the SWT has a small budget of their own which they manage frugally and very innovatively.
Interestingly, the SWT can be a boon to the headteacher. Much of my work has to do with ensuring the continuing wellbeing of school staff. The SWT helps with this in ways of which they are probably not aware. I see a SWT representative once a month and we share and discuss school staff wellbeing issues and proposals. This brief meeting is beneficial on both sides. Jane corroborates this, her findings showing that this is the case in most schools where SWT’s have been created. She also points out that the headteacher is a member of staff as well as the school leader and their wellbeing should be acknowledged alongside that of the staff as a whole.
To date the SWT has made a tangible difference in our school. Jane visits intermediately to support our staff wellbeing work in other ways, but the SWT stands on its own feet now, bespoke to our school’s needs, representative of our hopes and still as keen as mustard to make a difference to staff wellbeing.
Dr Jane Anderson specialises in school staff wellbeing has worked in education, training and development for over 30 years. Cathy Westgate has been a primary headteacher for over 20 years.
Schools North East’s Healthy MindED conference is on 3rd May and is focused on mental health and wellbeing in schools. Book your place now.
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