Well-being is an outcome. We need actions, not words.

Recently I tweeted this about well-being and it seemed to resonate. I was making the point that promoting well-being insofar as it relates to a school’s responsibilities and its employees’ professional lives, should be regarded as an outcome of doing tangible specific things that support them in their work. It’s not about adding extra feel-good activities or smoothing things over with pleasantries and tokens; it’s much more fundamental. These gestures might be nice things in themselves- but really schools should focus on the core activities of each person’s working life so that their underlying well-being is considered, protected, enhanced. Here was the list that came to mind in the order I thought of them in a rather ad hoc fashion:

A couple of people then asked me to expand on it so that perhaps it could be useful to them in their discussions with colleagues and leaders in the schools. Here are my thoughts:

Distributed leadership. A lot of stresses and strains emerge from feeling powerless within a decision-making process that then has an impact on your life! Distributed leadership takes decision making to the point where it is closest to the action – rather than from on high. This links to the much-prized idea of teacher autonomy but avoids the problems of dumping people into situations where they flounder or feel overwhelmed. It means giving people the right degree of autonomy within a wider well-led organisation, not leaving people to sink or swim or to simply do what they’re told without having a say.

Excellent behaviour system. Challenging behaviour is an obvious source of stress and anxiety. It’s so important that teachers feel safe and free from harassmen and are routinely supported by people and protocols they can rely on to deal with day-to-day consequences systems. It’s also important for people to feel that their decisions are respected and honoured, even if others might make different choices.

Excellent CPD. It’s frustrating to be asked to do something you’re inadequately trained to do; it’s also a problem if your professional development has to be done on the fly in borrowed time or is persistently of low quality. Conversely, great CPD is a strong driver of teacher confidence and a sense of being invested in. It should help teachers to solve the teaching and learning issues they experience themselves – rather than always feeling like it’s about someone else’s agenda.

Manageable teaching load. An obvious significant factor – workload. There’s guidance about teaching loads and directed time but confidence in agreed limits can be eroded by asking people to do ever more things in the time they already feel is stretched. Marking, assessment collection and report-writing workload can push people over the edge. Remission for additional responsibilities needs to be considered – people can’t just magic up extra time to do additional tasks.

Exciting curriculum. This has a motivational effect which is extremely important. It’s one of the things teachers love the most about teaching – shaping and developing the curriculum. It’s also about designing a curriculum that builds over time and contributes to a school’s wider sense of purpose, without being so over-stuffed that teachers end up stressing continually about not having the time to deliver it all. Less is more.

Tons of team time. Maximum time for curriculum thinking and collaborative planning, team CPD and review processes is a big winner. If you say ‘CPD’ and everyone things – ‘oh no, another big session in the hall that has nothing to do with us….’ it could be that the balance is wrong. In the ideal scenario, people actually relish their team meetings because they are interesting, supportive and useful. Keep the rest as lean as possible.

Intelligent appraisal. This means stripping back the judgement culture, the onerous documentation and any residual deluded nonsense about high stakes lesson observations with grades or giant written reports. It means not having data targets based on specific classes. It should be about ongoing development and feel fair, free from fear and proportionate in terms of workload.

The opposite of a ‘stay late’ culture.. The message should be: Do your work and then go home – or work at home as much as you feel you want and need to when that’s possible. It should not be that it somehow looks bad if you’re not still in the office doing some marking or making calls home at 6pm. Don’t raise eyebrows at people who sometimes leave bang on time – to do personal things that are none of your business.

Family first attitude. The message should be that family matters. Let’s support each other so you can see your child in their big assembly or concert and deal with family health issues as needed. Be there for your family – this is only your job, not your whole life and there are lines we need to draw sometimes. Don’t treat everyone as if they’ll ‘take the p**s’. They won’t. Trust them. Be as generous as you can possibly be.

= Well-being. Actions, not words.

Enough with the well-being cheese and the good intentions and the fringe benefits. Tackle the fundamentals, making them a bit better all the time. It all adds up.

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