Wellbeing a much abused word?

November 18, 2019 8:42 am
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I have been really inspired by the work of What Works Centre for Wellbeing and have become to realise what a misrepresented word it really is. Wellbeing can be a catchall for so many ideas and products that are not really, in essence, anything to do with the word itself. It very much reminds me of the misappropriation of Health and Safety in the early noughties to block every possible initiative or idea, when the H and S executive were really trying to empower people to manage risk!
Therefore, the work of the What Works Centre is crucial in applying the concept of wellbeing as a holistic, cultural shift and not one-off projects and inset days which pose as wellbeing but are really not. If we are to achieve a real sense of wellbeing at work, we need a sense of purpose, worth and happiness derived from job satisfaction. What then are the drivers of wellbeing for teachers?
This must be the key factor. Teachers have stressful and increasingly busy and fraught working lives. We are all aware of the reasons why there is such a high turnover of staff and the issues that drive so many newly qualified teachers out of the profession. However, it is paramount that schools provide training on resilience, that staff are able to have a positive relationship with line managers and that suitable HR policies are in place that allow a school to function as a workplace but equally protect the mental and physical safety of the staff. Teachers should have access to formal and informal guidance and support and also to confidential external agencies who can intervene if necessary. All of these can reduce stress and the cumulative factors which trigger staff to seek alternative employment.
For some, this is still, unfortunately, a physical matter but for most, it will be to do with mental health. Continual assessment and inspections are just not helpful in making staff feel secure and therefore to function to the best of their ability. The constant drive to achieve outstanding lessons when a functional one would do just as well is building pressure that is both unnecessary and unhelpful. Security should be a contract with your school that you can trust, the full backing of your management team and a cohesive and supportive staff that are engaged and purposeful. There should be no place in schools for any form of harassment or bullying which a lot of the systems of the present have built into them. Staff who feel safe and secure will be more productive, co-operative and happy.
The obvious point here is that the school environment should be safe, clean and fit for purpose. However, environmental issues go deeper than that. They are just the buildings and the infrastructure but what goes on inside that environment. Too many schools have cultures which they could or would never apply to their students but are happy to do so with staff. Fairness, transparency and a shared and respectful professional culture and code of conduct agreed by all and not just “bolted on” from above is essential. Within that physical factors such as work stations, catering facilities, working patterns all drive the environmental aspect of wellbeing. Once staff believe in the values of the environment they work within and the straplines and website boasts are real then true engagement begins.
A great school just has an atmosphere. It is intangible and very hard to quantify but is exuded by both students and staff. This is forged not by chance or a couple of charismatic individuals but is cultural and nurtured. These schools have a respectful and professional culture for staff. Teachers have a sense of purpose and a personal investment in the values of the school. There is a belief in fairness and tolerance, communication channels are clear and understood. Staff feel supported and are able to grow personally and professionally. Change is managed and explained not just dictated.
Purpose comes as a result of the above. Staff are motivated, have clear goals and a line of sight where they are going. From this comes a sense of accomplishment and team spirit and togetherness. Staff who feel able to influence decisions in a positive way and are able to bring to bear their ideas and life skills will be your best ambassadors and probably retention rates will soar. If you are able to couple this with transparent career progression and management of workload then staff have a huge “buy-in”. Teachers who are promoted to their competence and have the requisite training and response will have an unbelievable sense of purpose and drive.
The above may seem a panacea or a utopia which are unobtainable in the real world. However, to quote Robert Browning “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” A great school is not always an Ofsted outstanding one. Indeed, some of these would fail on the criteria outlined above for staff! Wellbeing should be embedded in a school culture for its staff if it is to be a healthy and happy place to work. This is good for staff and good for the school. Engagement and productivity rise, absenteeism (in all its forms) drops, retention rates improve, and recruitment becomes easier. What is there not to like in wellbeing?