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28 Apr 2020

Top tips for school leaders to develop resilience and mental wellbeing within your staff team

1. Create a positive culture

The key to a mindful and resilient culture is its prominence and embedding across the whole school. Ensure you reinforce through the school environment, policies and practices the importance of mental health, so staff know its value. This could be from a staff wellbeing policy, to growth mindset posters and displays around the school or staff knowing that it is okay to have a ‘grump on’, but encourage them to know ways to get their ‘grump off’. Try to encourage a no shouting policy within the school and encourage staff to be ‘mirrors’ – role modelling the positive qualities and behaviours you want everyone in the school community to see and adopt.

2. Reduce the stigma surrounding mental health – encourage open talk

Research shows that staff can be worried about disclosing to school leaders when they are going through difficulties or suffering from mental health related issues. Make sure mental health is promoted in the school, such as in the staff room through posters and leaflets of where staff can find support. Have buddies or key trusted people that staff know they can talk to, in confidence, as talking about issues means they are taking charge of their well-being and seeking support.

3. Encourage a connected staff

Research shows that having connections to others is key to being mentally healthy. Try to create physical spaces and opportunities for staff to regularly collaborate and work co-operatively with others. Ensure your communal spaces like the staff room is inviting so staff want to go in and have time with others, rather than spending the whole day in the staff room. Have defined spaces where leaders and staff can meet for professional dialogue and collaboration, in relative comfort. No matter what your job role is or position in the school, make sure that you are not isolated and have time in your day to talk, share and be with other people.

4. Encourage staff to create boundaries between work and home

Try to support and encourage staff to have some separation between school and home such as finding clear ways to have a set finishing time and trying to turn off the ‘teacher’ mindset when they leave. As a leader, model this so staff see it is okay to leave at a reasonable time and set clear expectations about cut off times for school communication.

5. Remember the little things and praise them

Little thank-you’s and positive affirmations go along way and make staff feel valued. You could have a staff ‘shout out board’ in the staff room so people can write positive messages about their colleagues, walk around your school regularly and praise staff for effort – not just outcomes. This reinforces positive ‘self-talk’ whereby staff internalise their strengths and positives, which is a good strategy to use to build resilience.

6. Foster a solution focused approach

Teaching is a difficult job and can be emotionally draining. Try to establish systems and structures that create a solution focused approach to challenges, rather than only focusing on the problem or letting staff just rant about an issue. Reinforce with your staff that they are more than capable of solving problems on their own, rather than expecting school leaders or others to solve the problem for them. Use coaching techniques to foster this growth mindset so staff adopt a more solution focused approach which will help to build their own resilience, confidence and ability to overcome challenges more readily themselves.

7. Support staff building their own emotional resilience through high quality training

You can help to shape a more resilient workforce by assisting your staff to develop self-help strategies and be aware of and understand more about their own mental health, so that they perceive and experience stressors in a more resilient way and are able to cope more effectively.  Planned, purposeful and high quality training is key to this! You could provide training on proven stress-busting activities such as yoga, meditation and emotional intelligence. Try to offer training opportunities linked to positive psychology and developing cognitive skills, which will aid them in managing stressful situations and enable them to overcome the daily challenges of school life.

8. Random Acts of Kindness

We know that teachers often go ‘above and beyond’ in the job, so recognise that and provide rewards and incentives as random ways to say thank you to your staff and let them know you appreciate the effort that they are giving.  Encourage staff to give random acts of kindness to colleagues, as supporting others can build resilience and wellbeing network between colleagues. Can you have Fudge Friday or pass on ‘a little whisper’ or have a staff member walk in to find a thank-you card or flowers on their desk after doing something great?

9. Encourage staff to look after themselves

We know the benefits of a healthy mind and a healthy body and that the two go hand in hand. Can you encourage staff to eat healthily by providing free fruit in the staff room or breakfast cereal, so you know staff are eating in a morning and have enough energy to start the day? Can you offer any after school staff keep fit activities or mindful moments such as yoga or meditation? Give staff short periods of time out where possible, during busy school times, to support their mental health and not deplete their emotional resilience which they may need to overcome challenges at another time. Urge staff to take mindful breaks regularly, can they go for a short walk at lunchtime to get fresh air or relax with some breathing techniques for a few minutes as examples.

10.  Try to protect your staff

As a school leader remain mindful of the stresses, pressures and expectations placed on staff at all levels. Education can be a never-ending hamster wheel of changes, accountability measures and outcomes. As a leadership team and staff do you regularly review workload and plan ways to reduce it, without compromising on the quality. When implementing a new initiative, consider the impact on staff’s well-being and plan for any change so you minimise the impact on staff - both physically and mentally. Make sure you give staff enough time to complete the jobs that you ask of them and try to become more in tune with your staff so you can recognise the signs of when someone is struggling and may need support. This also goes for school leaders, as you need to ensure someone is looking out for you too!

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