🥮 Start with Culture, End with Cake


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In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
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Does your school offer ‘dress-down Fridays’, free coffee and yoga for staff wellbeing?

I’ve spent the last week or so talking with headteachers, teachers and organisations about staff wellbeing.

Working well …

Only this week, SchoolsDash reported more teachers choosing ‘flexible working’ as the profession adapts to the latest recruitment crisis and a new way of living and working from home.

In other conversations, I have discussed culture and autonomy.

How do school leaders get workload and wellbeing right against increasing accountability?

If we start with reframing any ‘wellbeing’ philosophy, what we are trying to achieve is a better ‘work-wellbeing’ approach or ‘working well’ (or better) than we currently do.

Some love the idea of promoting wellbeing initiatives. Others get irked by the very word ‘wellbeing’ and are put off by ‘dress down Fridays’ and other initiatives that don’t really get to the heart of the issue we face as teachers.

In a recent webinar and upcoming podcast with the founder of Welbee, he discusses Culture over Cake and Yoga and how this has a direct impact on the wellbeing of staff. This is where leaders should focus their energy.

Developing teacher autonomy

In my work with teachers, I soon learned that NO school ever achieves consistency, despite our best efforts to seek it. I’ve learned that we really want is ‘coherence‘ – something more obtainable through regular consultation, feedback and communication.

School staff need to be clear about expectations. As a result, morale can be higher in institutions where the vision is communicated and revisited and everyone has a say in those aims…

In my work to unpick teacher autonomy, I am reminded of the recent work by Prof John Hattie (2020) regarding collective teacher efficacy. The hallmarks of that research concluded:

  1. Advanced teacher influence: Teachers are trusted to make important decisions
  2. Assessment as feedback: Developing common conceptions of progress
  3. Cohesion: Shared beliefs about effective instruction, approaches and assessment; Teachers are aware of what others are doing in the classrooms
  4. Goal consensus: Goals are established/agreed by everyone; collaborative CPD
  5. Responsive: Support staff help teachers carry out their duties; school leaders show concern for the staff and protect them. Interventions are in place to ensure high levels of success for all students, including tracking and monitoring.

Culture, then cake!

In summary, to create a work-wellbeing ethos, school and college leaders need to communicate the vision and values of the organisation, and ensure that everyone has a say in that vision. They also need to promote a culture of trust, where teachers are trusted to make decisions and are supported in their work.

Regarding workload, marking, data collection or other, assessment and feedback are used to inform teaching and learning, rather than as a punitive measure for tracking and appraisal target setting.

This is achieved by – not only by confident leaders who believe the answers are found by the collective, not the individual – encouraging cohesion among staff, so that everyone is aware of what others are doing.

Forums are regularly created so that everyone can learn from each other. I’ve always believed, that short and punchy CPD sessions allow busy classroom teachers to talk about teaching and learning. In this forum, exposure to the larger group allows good ideas to filter to the top.

In this context, common goals are established and everyone is working towards the same objectives, responsive to staff and students’ needs with robust, timely and adaptive interventions. How to break all this into concrete actions is the bigger challenge.

In all the work I do, there are some common denominators all school leaders can use:

  1. Staff want a sense of belonging
  2. They want to feel and know they are being looked after
  3. They want to feel that their thoughts, moods and opinions are being understood, plus
  4. That they are consulted on all aspects of school life.

There’s even a bit of academic research to back up what I’ve written.

If we can get culture right, the free coffee and cake can come later …

School culture needs to be right before the free coffee and cakes are implemented …


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