Wellbeing must be one of the most frequently used words in education recently, and not just as a result of Coronavirus. It’s hard to know whether it is because it has now appeared in the current Ofsted framework (the irony!) or because teachers have realised that a previous way of working was simply not sustainable. Either way, it has brought this important issue to a prominent place and one which it deserves.
But wellbeing isn’t a policy. It isn’t something that you write down and follow. It is part of the culture of the school. It is part of what happens on a day to day basis. It lives and breathes within and beyond the school walls. But only when it is built into the decision making process.
It frustrates me when I read or hear about schools that have staff meetings on yoga or even meetings to discuss what we can do about wellbeing. It reminds me of Monty Python! If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a watch – https://youtu.be/55fqjw2J1vI. This is paying lip service to wellbeing without ever actually doing anything to support it.
Policies can help. If they are done in collaboration and communication with all staff then they can have an impact. An obvious example is marking/feedback. I’ve certainly been guilty of expecting detailed in depth marking with next steps and response marking. Thankfully we’ve long moved away from this – ours is now super simple: you choose the best way to feedback to your children.
We do have some things- a wellbeing day for Christmas Shopping (Bluewater can get mighty busy at times), time back for running clubs (which are optional anyway), a report writing day for teachers. We also bought tickets for anyone who wanted to attend a ResearchEd event at the weekend and gave a wellbeing day back as the event was at the weekend. But these are just extras.
Wellbeing for me is about understanding the person. What is it that they need? How can we support that? A lot of this understanding has deepened since becoming a father. It’s not that I didn’t know about the challenges of balancing family life, but since having children, I have definitely reassessed things. Getting home for family dinner, bath time and story time is the best thing for my wellbeing, so I have to make sure that our practices at school enable all staff to be able to do exactly that. I know that I will want to see nativities, sports days and assemblies so my staff need to be able to do that too.
I have seen some Twitter posts recently where teachers have been discussing interview questions, and one I have seen repeated is where candidates are being encouraged to ask schools what they are doing for wellbeing. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I find answering it interesting. If you start with wellbeing, then your staff will grow as a result. If you consider their needs, and make work as enjoyable as you can, they will give back in spades. If wellbeing is woven in to the fabric of your school, then people will be happy to go with you on your journey. So when I am asked ‘What do you do about wellbeing?’ My answer is usually along the lines on everything … and nothing.