Teacher wellbeing – making staff feel valued
‘We cannot expect our staff to promote and teach wellbeing and positive practices if we are not walking the talk ourselves. It is important that staff feel valued and a sense of belonging,’ Therese Joyce tells Teacher. Joyce is Director of Positive Education at Peninsula Grammar, an independent day and boarding school in Melbourne. In this Q&A with editor Jo Earp, she shares some of the strategies being used to support staff wellbeing and explains why the focus is very much on building positive relationships.
You’re Director of Positive Education at Peninsula Grammar, what does your role entail?
Peninsula Grammar has been embedding Positive Education since 2010. My role is to ensure a cohesive, consistent and age-appropriate scope and sequence has been developed for students across the school, as well as to work with various teams and faculties to enable a positive, collaborative and supportive work environment.
Does the school have a staff wellbeing policy and wellbeing team?
Yes. Our Staff Wellbeing Committee includes myself, one of our Deputy Principals, our Head of Wellbeing, Business Manager, Property Manager, Risk & Compliance Officer and Staff representatives. At various times of the year we survey staff for their thoughts and suggestions, and try to keep these surveys very brief (less than five minutes). The last thing staff want to do is fill out a long and tedious survey.
Lots of schools have a focus on student wellbeing – why is staff wellbeing so important?
We cannot expect our staff to promote and teach wellbeing and positive practices if we are not walking the talk ourselves. It is important that staff feel valued and a sense of belonging. Research has found connections between student and teacher wellbeing (Roffey, 2012) and a positive, mentally healthy and well supported staff will allow for better relationships and connection with our students, as well as a reduction in sick days, and performance management issues.
I understand the staff wellbeing strategies are built around fostering positive relationships?
Positive relationships are the key to a good life. Professor Christopher Peterson summed up Positive Psychology with the three words ‘other people matter’ and this was our theme at Peninsula Grammar for 2016. The Harvard Grant Study (Vaillant, 2012), one of the longest ever longitudinal studies of wellbeing, discovered that strong and healthy relationships throughout our lives are the most important component of a long, happy life. We want our staff to feel appreciated, to connect and collaborate with each other, and to share their joys, and their challenges, constructively.
Can you share a few examples of the kinds of things you do throughout the year to build staff relationships?
Every term a different area of the school host a whole-school morning tea to share with colleagues. Our staff association organises social activities such as end of term drinks or lawn bowls, and some staff in our Junior and Middle Years arrange for a once a week lunch club, where people volunteer to bring salad, curry or soup once per term, and enjoy a free lunch on other lunch-club days.
Staff-led initiatives have also included meet-ups for crafts, knitting, book club, walking, meditation, gym visits, charity runs, and Tough Mudder. We have offered coaching for professional and personal development, using resources such as Sonja Lyubomirsky’s excellent book The How of Happiness and a range of freely available apps, such as those provided by Reach Out. All staff may opt-in to play ‘Secret Friend’ where, over the year, people leave small gifts and kind actions for a colleague. We also promote NEF’s [New Economics Foundation] Five Ways to Wellbeing: Connect; Be Active; Take Notice; Keep Learning; Give.
Wellbeing must also include support and services for staff who are struggling with mental health issues, or personal and/or professional challenges. In addition to personalised and confidential support through our counselling team, we offer services through the Optum Employee Assistance Program and Live Well online resource, and recognise and promote mental health awareness such as RUOK? Day.
One of our most incredible, novel, and successful initiatives is our Hands for the Community Day. This is a day previously used for a staff in-service or professional development after the students had finished the school year. We now spend this day with every teaching and non-teaching staff members, including our executive team, volunteering one full day at a range of local charities and not-for-profits. Examples include our ‘back-yard blitz’ helping elderly local residents with a garden clean up, visits to the Royal Children’s Hospital to share Positive Education practice with teaching staff, and putting together kits for Days for Girls International. On this day, over 200 Peninsula Grammar staff donate a full day of volunteering to not only help create a better community and world, but which also serves to develop better bonds and connections on staff.
You’ve been doing this for a few years now – what has the feedback from staff been?
It is wonderful to work at a school that truly values its staff. Of course we are not perfect, and we still have stress, especially towards the end of term times. However our focus on kindness, positive relationships and authentic care for each other helps to build a positive environment.
Staff wellbeing will always be a ‘work in progress’, because of the ups and downs in a school year, and the ups and downs in each of our lives. If we can enable better communication, and a sense of trust, on staff, then together we should be in a much better position to face any challenges the school year may bring.
Roffey, S. (2012). Pupil wellbeing – teacher wellbeing: Two sides of the same coin? Educational and Child Psychology, 29(4), 8.
Vaillant, G. E., (2012). Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, Harvard University Press.
Does your school have a wellbeing policy for staff as well as students?
As a principal, what strategies are you implementing in your school to ensure staff feel valued?
What individual steps can you take to build positive relationships with colleagues?