Recently, I have been reflecting on this key quote from Headteacher, Chris Dyson’s blog “This is What Teachers Need: Love and Smiles”.
“The biggest resource and the biggest impact on success in any school are the teachers and the TA’s, and so their well-being is paramount.”
I think Chris’ idea that school improvement is a deeply human pursuit really hits the nail on the head. To transform our schools, we must take care of those who show up every day for our children.
Reflecting on Chris’ own leadership practice, it is evident that he brings out the best in his staff by enabling them to feel valued, supported and that they belong.
These are essential needs that we all have in our lives and they are intimately connected with our well-being, our motivation and how well we perform at work. If we want to get the best out of our teachers, like Chris – I believe we have to find ways for these three essential needs to be met.
So, in what other ways can school leaders help teachers to feel these three things?
1. Help them to feel valued
Research has shown that when our efforts and achievements are recognised and seen to be valued, we not only feel better about ourselves but our brain functions are also optimised. Therefore, a staff member who feels valued and is operating at their best, is far more likely to go the extra mile.
By rewarding individual effort, for going above and beyond in activities both in and outside the classroom and by sharing examples of best practice within your team, you can create a culture that inspires all to achieve their very best.
Whilst rewarding individual effort is important, building a sense of collegiality and community can also be achieved by scheduling time for celebratory events at the end of every year or term.
These events can acknowledge whole school progress and highlight everyone’s contribution towards what has been achieved.
The provision of a varied range of development opportunities can also help to make staff feel valued. The more creative they are and the more aligned they are to an individual’s desire for growth for the benefit of themselves as well as the school, the better!
By offering development opportunities and investing in an individual’s progress, leaders show their staff that they are committed to them fulfilling their potential and maintaining their own vocational vitality.
2. Help them to feel like they belong
We are all social and relational creatures. When we feel like we belong, we feel a deep sense of connection to others; we feel we have a role to play and can see how our presence influences the teams of which we are a part.
As a result, we gain more pleasure from our roles and hence are more likely to invest more of ourselves, energy, time and effort.
When individuals feel like they belong there is a sense of community, staff work more effectively as a team and galvanise their efforts towards the fulfilment of common goals.
Building a shared sense of belonging within a team takes time and effort. No two people are the same. Every individual brings with them their own history and their particular reasons for choosing to work at your school.
It is your role as a school leader to create scenarios where they feel comfortable to share motivations and to share their ‘Why’s’ for being a part of your school community.
These scenarios can be in the form of:
– INSET days
– Extended staff meetings
– Phase/team meetings
The most important factor is that the meetings are framed well. It isn’t always easy sharing with others who we are and our deepest motivations for occupying the roles that we are in.
Individuals need to feel safe and to know that facilitation of the meeting will enable all present to feel valued, listened to and understood.
The measure of the effectiveness of such approaches will be in the professional bonds that are created between staff. The strength of which will become evident when:
– Challenges arise and staff willingly step in to support one another
– There are increasingly open levels of communication
– Optimism and laughter become the antidote to fear and worry
– Staff develop their own rituals and traditions for reinforcing their sense of community and team identity
By investing in activities that create a strong sense of belonging, you not only show staff that they are valuable members of your team, you also set the standard for the way in which they should interact with each other and the young people in their care.
3. Help them to feel safe and supported
The nature of education means that change is a constant of any teacher or school leader’s life. Heightened levels of ambiguity and feelings of overwhelm and worry often accompany the change process.
Schools need to be attuned to this fact, when seeking to help staff feel safe and supported. If not, there will be a tendency for staff to operate in “survival mode”, leading them to become disconnected from their roles and the passion that drives them.
One of the best way to help teachers feel safe and supported is by increasing their capacity to share openly and honestly their feelings and concerns, and locate solutions for whatever challenges they might be facing.
This can be done in a variety of ways:
– Increasing Emotional Intelligence [EI]: When staff are supported to develop their EI they understand how to work positively with their own emotions. No longer are they (and often others around them) derailed when they are upset.
Instead they are able to demonstrate a level of emotional maturity that allows them speak candidly about what they may be feeling, whilst still maintaining a positive work environment.
– Encourage reflection and mindfulness practices: We tend to ‘lose it’ when we are not present to what is going on both in and around us. Teachers should be encouraged to adopt the many mindfulness practices that are now being engaged in classrooms up and down the country.
The ability to be both comfortable and alone with ourselves, helps to maximise our internal locus of control. As a result, we feel less buffered by external circumstances and are able to maintain an inner sense of safety and calm, when our external worlds appear to be in turmoil.
– Developing a peer mentoring/coaching culture within the school: When staff are supported to develop the skill sets of deep questioning and listening, they are better able to provide mutual support for one another.
These skill sets enable them to create conversational places of safety where team members can be supported to explore their practice and uncover solutions for maximising their performance.
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 – as quite simply, when school relationships are positive – the outcomes are often more likely to be 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 the 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 Coaching Culture in your School so that you can support members of your team