This blog comes from international teacher and author of “Becoming a Successful International Teacher”, Jess Gosling (@JessGosling2).
When kindness and wellbeing are central to a school’s ethos, staff and teachers thrive. The school becomes a positive place to work, retention rates go up and a true sense of community is fostered.
In a workplace where staff feel valued and appreciated, this feeling can be experienced by all those who come to the school. In my early days as a supply teacher in the UK, I could walk around a school and tell pretty quickly the ones in which staff were happy.
There would be laughter in the staffroom, a friendly reception from the Headteacher and an appreciation for my work. In a school where wellbeing was not of importance, staff tended to avoid the staffroom and were clearly stressed, which made the environment feel unwelcoming.
So, how can you go about fostering a culture of kindness and a feeling of wellbeing at your school?
1. Get to know your staff
Staff are at their best when they feel comfortable and welcome, so make sure you take the time to learn about their lives. Ask about their family, their weekend, what they’re interested in. Even just a simple “how are you?” can help teachers to feel valued.
Senior leaders can sometimes feel uncomfortable about joining in with staff social events but they are a great opportunity to talk to everyone, from the learning assistants through to the curriculum leaders. If, as a leader, you organise social events yourself, make sure they’re inclusive. Teachers with families, for example, may struggle to join evening events, so try to think outside the box a bit. Instead, look to organise a picnic or a trip to a playground, where parents can leave the children to play and are able to socialise with you and one another.
2. Recognise teachers for their contributions
Genuine comments, specific to the teacher, go a long way to showing your appreciation. Writing a quick note or email can boost morale and ensure teachers feel appreciated.
In one school I worked in, there was an extremely time-consuming method of writing reports. However, the Headteacher always sent a handwritten note to remark upon the quality, which I valued.
Verbal praise can really help, too. It doesn’t have to be in public – take them to one side and congratulate them on a project, excellent planning or great communication with parents. When treated this way, teachers feel respected and inevitably repeat their actions.
3. Wellbeing initiatives need to come from staff in a co-constructed way
Whenever you want to introduce a new initiative, make sure you take the time to think about what the impact will be, and whether or not it is a genuine attempt to support wellbeing or simply an idea that will phase out quickly. Ask yourself: does this initiative help to make a teachers’ life easier? Every teacher has a different understanding of what wellbeing is for them, so ensuring wellbeing initiatives are not mandated – making them tailored and optional is crucial.
If you’re unsure how you could improve your teachers’ wellbeing, set up focus groups. In one school I worked in, we were given the time to discuss in teams what we’d like to change in our school to support our wellbeing. Ideas were then added to a shared document and then actioned. Examples included not sending emails after 6pm and on weekends.
4. Surprise staff with acts of kindness
Colleagues will always support one another with kindness, whether it’s buying a bar of chocolate, providing recognition of each other’s work or simply praising a great idea when planning. Imagine then, if a senior leader took the time to support staff in the same way.
In one school, a headmaster offered to take care of my little girl while my husband and I completed our medical check. He told the whole staff about what a wonderful little girl she was in our first whole-school meeting. I will never forget the kindness he showed us when we were feeling unstable, in a new country and at a new school.
5. Offer your help
You never know what staff might be struggling with, so always approach them with kindness. If you are aware of any difficulties, make sure you offer to support them.
If you know they have an unwell child, are undergoing surgery or are experiencing issues with a child in their class, be present for them. Ask them what they need. If they insist they are fine, do what you can anyway. Give them an extra hour of planning time, offer your experience or make allowances that they need. Where possible, encourage staff to take mental health or personal days to give teachers the agency to assess how they are feeling.
In my years of working with School Leaders, I’ve learned that one of the most important skills any School Leader can have is the ability to effectively manage and nurture personalities and relationships within their school. This is because quite simply, when school relationships are positive – the outcomes tend to be more positive too.
Conversely, when relationships are strained or neglected, school teams can struggle to effectively work together and staff can find themselves increasingly becoming disconnected from what the school and their leaders are trying to achieve. In turn, leaders can find themselves spending a large amount of their time dealing with people management issues, rather than focussing on the more strategic aspects of the role.
Yet in spite of this, many leaders have not received significant training or opportunities to develop skills that could help them to deal with difficult conversations, identify how best to manage and maximise staff performance.
That’s why one of the key ways that we support School Leaders fulfil their vision is by offering a 4 Day Coaching Programme designed to provide Senior School Leaders with the knowledge, skills and confidence to apply a range of coaching skills that can help improve the performance of those they lead and manage.
Our four-day coaching programme that will equip you with the skills for:
– Managing difficult conversations
– Understanding how to get the best out of individuals with challenging behaviours
– Understanding yourself better and knowing how to draw upon your strengths to get the best out of others
– Developing your relationship management skills by helping you understand how to identify and respond to different personality types
– Nurturing a supportive Coaching Culture in your School so that you can support members of your team