Making Staff Wellbeing A Priority

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David Howe

David is headteacher of a large 11-18 secondary school, working in the role since 2014. Additionally, David has worked as an assessor for Advanced Skills Teachers and has over a decade of experience as an Ofsted inspector. David has been a teacher for 25 years...
Read more about David Howe

Is staff wellbeing a priority in your school?

There is a great deal of talk about staff wellbeing these days, some of which is useful, some of which is rhetorical lip service and some of which is rather misguided. So to cut to the chase, staff wellbeing should always be a leadership priority, in any organisation.

This flows from an understanding that leadership is a role (not a rank), and leaders are there to serve (not subjugate) their colleagues. Here are 5 straightforward ways to ensure staff wellbeing stays a top priority in your school and trust.

1. Annual wellbeing and workload survey

Ideally using the same questions and at the same time of year, to facilitate a degree of consistency and comparability. Use the (online) survey responses to establish your top five staff wellbeing improvement priorities and write them into an action plan, that is transparently shared with all staff for input and feedback.

The survey outcomes should be quickly acknowledged with staff (e.g. via a whole-staff meeting), where key findings are presented, and staff have the opportunity to add more details to the views they expressed in the survey.

2. Form a staff wellbeing group

Who can lead staff wellbeing and suggest actions to address the wellbeing improvement priorities identified in the survey? This group is ideally formed of teaching and support staff to ensure all staff are properly represented.

It is sometimes useful not to have senior leaders in the group, but it does need to be led effectively. So encourage strong middle leaders to take part. This group should ideally meet at least termly and plan to address workload concerns and wellbeing. The group chair should liaise closely with senior leaders to share suggestions and implement change.

3. Be flexible

Emphasise that families come first and proactively support colleagues who wish to work part-time.

Part-time staff are not an inconvenience but a huge asset due to extra skill sets and improved work/life balance. Look after them, and they will be happy to go the extra mile when needed.

4. Feedback, not marking

There has been so much on the topic of marking over the past decade – from the limited benefits of triple impact marking to stamping students’ work with ‘oral feedback given.’

Thankfully our understanding of feedback is now grounded in a deeper understanding of cognitive learning. Work with your teaching staff to develop a sensible ‘feedback’ (not marking) strategy. Students need good quality feedback on their learning and bespoke advice on how to progress.

Written marking is one of the least effective means to do this. To reduce workload in this area try:

  1. Exploring peer marking and peer feedback (e.g. using exemplar work on a visualiser).
  2. Explicit and scaffolded feedback based on shared marking criteria.
  3. Live marking during lessons (e.g. plan to work with students identified as vulnerable / underperforming).
  4. Using the start of lessons to address whole-class misconceptions.
  5. Mark randomly five books each week.

You can further gather feedback on students’ progress and understanding by reading key pieces of work instead of writing any comments in books. Use this method for your recall activity at the start of the next lesson. In short, there are many ways to cut down the time it takes to understand students’ progress and give them effective feedback – explore what works best in your school, collaboratively develop a feedback strategy and regularly review it with teachers.

5. Recognise your staff

It goes without saying, we all like to be thanked and noticed for doing a good job.

School leaders must go out of their way to do this. Make a point of thanking staff when they have gone the extra mile, write postcards and formal letters of appreciation to your staff. Plan random acts of kindness into each term (e.g. tea and cakes after school, Friday pastries) and develop an employee assistance programme that includes access to a counsellor, concessional rates at local attractions and sports centres etc.

Finally, make sure every staff training event has an element devoted to staff wellbeing – even if it is just 5-10 minutes worth. You may want to consider something strategic and try ‘Stay Interviews‘ this year …

Focusing on staff wellbeing has always been a priority for good leaders. There remains an inextricable link between staff who feel valued and supported in their workplace and colleagues who can be relied upon to do a good job. These colleagues will step up when needed!


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