How can School Leaders improve Staff Well-being? – Expert Interview


This expert interview is with IC Associate, executive coach and author of bestselling book “101 Playground Games and 101 Wet Playtime Games and Activities”, Thérèse Hoyle.


Q1. What does Well-being look like?

Wellbeing for me means my body, mind and soul being in harmony. Now this  is often quite challenging as we live in such a fast-paced world, with so much change going on and disharmony around us and we can easily get caught up in this.
It can also sometimes be hard to identify when we’ve got this harmony exactly right. Fortunately, our bodies are such great indicators of well-being and will often let us know when we aren’t in harmony with some quite obvious warning signs.
I know that over the years, because I’ve always expected a lot from myself, I’ve had several periods where I’ve crashed and become sick. For me, this is a warning sign that always tells me that I’m doing too much and that I need to adapt my lifestyle. It shows me that I need to look after myself better and focus on creating habits and a lifestyle that means I can be the very best I can be in the world.
Now I think it’s normal to go off-course like this now and again, as long as we always reel ourselves back in.  I often explain to my clients that that life is like an airplane journey. From the time you take off, you will be off course 99% of the time. All airplanes are off course 99% of the time. The purpose and role of the pilot and the avionics is to continually bring the plane back on course so that it arrives on schedule at its destination.
So, I encourage my clients to have a strong wellbeing goal and then when they find themselves off course they need to be the pilot of their own craft. To reach their destination of health, happiness, prosperity and a good life, they must do as a pilot does making continual course corrections until they reach their destination. As after all, let’s face it, life happens, and you are the most important resource you have so looking after yourself is imperative.
That’s why, I try to be very mindful of creating time for myself and self-love and self-care. I was lucky enough to train as a coach over 20 years ago and one of the training programmes I trained in was something called Personal Foundation, this taught me a lot about self-care – and that it’s a necessity not a luxury!
Over the years,  I have created delicious daily habits that nurture and sustain me, including walking the dog, a gentle breath meditation and I have a weekly care plan, that includes time with the people I love and doing the things that I love – yoga, weight training, eating healthily and gardening when the weather is good. I also love cooking, fashion and home furnishings, so I’m frequently looking at magazines!

Q2. How can School Leaders look after their staff’s wellbeing?

I think we can learn a lot from New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacina Ardern, who says ‘It takes courage and strength to be an empathic leader.’ We teach kindness and compassion to our children and sometimes when it comes to our teachers and school staff there is an absence of that.
I have been saying for over 20 years that we need to take care of our School Leaders, teachers and support staff, because if we don’t, they will suffer and continue to leave in their droves. If we want to stop that happening, we need to help look after school well-being and our leaders can play a big role in helping make that happen by doing several things…
– Add staff wellbeing into their school development plans, when we have a plan it’s more likely to happen.
– Have great listening systems for you staff and safe people for them to talk and open up with if things are difficult.
– Have a budget and resources allocated for staff emotional wellbeing and mental health. That might include a pamper pack, something I recently saw in the staff toilets of a primary school; staff room with cosy seating and free hot drinks, time off when staff needs it to attend their child’s assembly or Christmas play or look after a sick family member. It’s important that our leaders are also mindful of staff needs and are actively aware when staff are looking tired and run down.
– Work with a coach or trainer on staff emotional wellbeing and mental health. In the wellbeing training I run in schools it’s frequently about educating and offering support, school staff developing their own toolkit, giving staff permission to look after themselves and about encouraging the development of a healthy wellbeing culture where staff look after themselves and each other.

Q3. What is Emotional Literacy and why is it important for School Leaders to have?

Emotional Literacy is our ability to recognise, understand, handle and appropriately express our emotions. Weare defines emotional literacy as:

“the ability to understand ourselves and other people, and in particular to be aware of, understand and use information about emotional states of ourselves and others with skill and competence.”

This includes the ability to understand, express and manage our own emotions and respond to the emotions of others in ways that are helpful to ourselves and others. It is also said that emotional literacy is the practice of interacting with others in a way that builds understanding of our own emotions, then using this understanding to shape our actions.
Emotions are an integral part of human nature. Through emotions, we respond to life in many different ways — with anger, happiness, fear, love and loneliness. Emotions influence our thoughts and actions; they inspire our needs; they affect our bodies and impact on our relationships.
Many of the problems in modern society are due, at least in part, to people being unable to understand and appropriately express emotion. Emotional literacy is a preventive tool, which properly understood, can help solve many social ills — violence, illness, drug abuse, dysfunctional relationships, and global societal conflicts.
On the other hand, people who deal with emotions in a positive way find tremendous benefit. Emotional literacy can contribute to health, to positive relationships, to success, and to quality of life. Understanding emotional literacy is key for School Leaders in helping young people develop self-esteem, self-control and become socially and educationally successful. It is also key to developing a healthy, happy and successful leaders and staff teams.

Q4. Can Play be used in School to Support Staff Development and Well-being?

I believe that play and exploring is so important to organisational development. The famous quote goes that ‘families that play together stay together,’ and I believe that’s the same for schools.  Sadly, some leaders believe that play is only for the children.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Every adult still has a desire to play whether consciously or subconsciously. I would suggest that leaders create a playful environment because:
– People bond better when playing, (co-) creating, imagining and exploring in a safe environment.  On my courses staff regularly play games and it is a great way of learning more about another person in an informal environment. as Plato said You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” 
Play helps us develop healthy relationships and connection to others. Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. Play doesn’t have to be a specific activity; it can also be a state of mind. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new work relationships.
– Play keeps you feeling young and energetic. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  Playing can boost your energy and vitality and even improve your resistance to disease, helping you feel your best.
– Play develops creativity as Albert Einstein said: ‘Games are the most elevated form of investigation’ and allows for risk taking, experimenting, exploring and learning in a safe context.”
– Play offers a safe opportunity to learn. It allows people to experiment outside the real world , meaning there is not much at risk other than powerful learning. This powerful learning is the result of having the permission to make mistakes and enjoy success, to use effective and ineffective communication during the activity and to observe and experience different behaviours having an impact.

“Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”

(Kolb, 1984, p. 38).

– Play can also be a great stress reliever and creates feelings of wellbeing.  It’s fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.  The social interaction of playing can also help ward off stress and depression.

“It has been demonstrated that carefully orchestrated play in organisations contributes to “building adult learning communities” and enhances “adult learners’ collective experiences and understandings”

(Harris & Daley 2008, p52)


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