Tag Archives: Wellbeing

Staff wellbeing matters. Part 2

In my previous blog I reproduced a post by Kevin McLaughlin who wrote very movingly about his experience. The issue of staff wellbeing is one that we, as governors, should keep very high on our agendas. After reading Kevin’s post I started to think of some questions we should be asking ourselves/our heads. The questions which I came up with are as below. In this post when I refer to staff I mean anyone who is working in schools, be they teaching or non-teaching staff members.

Culture

  1. Does your board foster a culture where everyone feels they can seek support without feeling that their position may be threatened?
  2. What would you say if I asked you about the culture of mutual trust, respect, transparency, and recognition in your school? This all feeds into wellbeing.
  3. Have you thought about doing anonymous staff surveys with questions on wellbeing, work/life balance and workload with results reported to the board?
  4. Do you question if you notice a high staff turnover?
  5. Do you do exit interviews? These may give you valuable information about the culture in the school and how staff are feeling.
  6. Do you get data about staff sickness and days off? Can you identify any trends?
  7. Do you know what support is put into place once staff return to work after illness?
  8. Do you have a wellbeing policy/governor? Do they report back to the board? How are their reports used to change/modify your practice?
  9. Are you aware of your duty of care as employers?
  10. Do you regularly review what you are doing to look after the head’s wellbeing? This is important for two reasons. Firstly because as governors we would want to ensure that we are looking after and supporting our heads. Secondly, a stressed head may result in rest of the staff becoming stressed too.
  11. Are staff are happy to talk to you and do they believe you have their interests at heart?
  12. Are you sure that the initiatives you/the school have introduced to address wellbeing are more than just a gesture/tick in the box?
  13. How do you prioritise raising awareness of Mental Health issues?

Workload

  1. Have you thought about adding something in your SDP about teacher workload?
  2. Do you ask about the effect on teacher workload when new initiatives/policy amendments are brought to the board?
  3. Do you ask school leaders to justify new initiatives they bring to you for approval?
  4. Do you ask what is being dropped to accommodate new initiatives?
  5. Are members of SLT/teachers with additional responsibilities given sufficient non-contact time/working at home days to facilitate their leadership & management responsibilities?
  6. Do you make sure you ask for information well in advance of when it’s needed? It can help to draft agendas for the whole year, in consultation with the head, so that the head and school know in advance what information is required at what time of the year. This will help with managing staff workload.
  7. Is there a communication policy? This should deal with communication between staff, between governors and staff and between parents and staff.
  8. Do you set an example yourself as a governor by ensuring that everyone, including your clerk, knows that you may be emailing at a time when it’s convenient to you but you do not expect an immediate reply?
  9. Do you think about the reports/data you are asking the school to provide? Are they necessary? Are you duplicating? Can you get the same information but with less data/ fewer reports?
  10. What would your clerk say if I asked them how your practice affected their workload? Do you, for example, send out the papers you need to on time? Do you respond to the clerk’s requests on time?

Work/life balance

  1. What would your head/SLT say if you asked them if they can tell you how many extra hours are teachers putting in and why?
  2. Are your meetings held at mutually convenient times for governors and staff (including the caretakers who will be locking up the school if meetings are held in the evenings) who attend?
  3. Do your meetings run to time?
  4. Do you place items for which the responsible/presenting member of staff who doesn’t need to stay for the whole meeting, at the top of the agenda?
  5. How do you/your school leaders deal with requests to go part time?

Are there any other questions we should be asking or issues we should be thinking of? Please add these in the comments and I will incorporate them.

Further reading:

1. Workload and wellbeing by David Jones.

2. Leading on staff mental health by Patrick Ottley-O’Connor

3. The self-evident truths of staff wellbeing by Robin Macpherson

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Staff wellbeing matters. Part 1. With thanks to @kvnmcl

Today I read a blog by Kevin McLaughlin titled The depressed teacher. This blog is about a topic I think governors need to think about. With Kevin’s kind permission I’ve copied the blog below in order to raise awareness of this issue amongst governors. I will follow this blog with another one where I will pose some questions we should be asking ourselves about staff wellbeing.

For many years I have been recognised, in the main, as an ‘outstanding teacher’ by my peers, the LA and Ofsted. I learned from my errors, I listened to advice from those more experienced and I strove to improve my pedagogy through CPD and reading literature. In September 2012 I was recognised as an ‘outstanding’ teacher, one of only two in the school, by Ofsted yet only one month later I was deemed ‘requires improvement’ by the newly appointed headteacher. Why? What happened to my teaching? Where did I go wrong? How could I have let this happen? I questioned it yet found the reply insane- I didn’t meet the new observation checklist. A descent into ill health and depression followed with two emergency visits to A&E with suspected heart attacks.

It’s been a long time coming but I feel ready to tell this side of my teaching career so that others may recognise the signs and do something about it. My first visit to A&E happened during 2014. The atmosphere at school had taken a nose dive and staff, including myself, were teaching in fear; fear that we were not teaching well, fear that we wouldn’t meet our PM targets, fear that we had missed out the non-negotiables, fear that our displays wouldn’t meet the new standards. The warning signs were there. I woke up one night with what felt like a huge weight on my chest. I slid off the bed and crawled out to the bathroom but ended up sliding down the stairs calling for help. My partner rang the emergency services as I lay there on the stairs worrying about everyone I loved. Thankfully, after the various tests it was found I hadn’t had a heart attack and it was more than likely my condition was brought about by acute stress. I returned to work a few days later and everyone said I had to take it easy. That was it. Nothing else. No gradual easing back into teaching, not much support from management. The warning signs were there. I never read them. One term later I had another observation (part of my performance management) which resulted in requires improvement. I contested the outcome and got it changed to good. I knew I had to leave so started looking for a new job.

Job hunting was proving fruitless as nothing interested me. Another warning sign, I should have left no matter what but financial security tied me to this unhealthy post. The year ahead was spent meeting targets, doing what management expected to see rather than what I knew my class required. I was told to ‘keep my head down and just play the game’. But I couldn’t. I would not accept this. I should have read the signs. It was 2015 when I had another suspected heart attack, this time at school. I experienced the same symptoms again, a very heavy chest, pains in my side, rapid breathing. The office rang the ambulance and I was taken to hospital from school. A multitude of tests later and I was given the all clear. The relief brought me and my partner to tears. She demanded I leave the school. Once again it was stress related. I never sought my doctor’s advice, I never signed off sick, I never took time off. I felt ‘obliged’ to my job. Management expressed their feelings yet a couple of weeks later it was as if nothing had happened to me. I had gotten over it. I was back at work. I was expected to be outstanding all the time, nothing less.

I resigned from the school in 2016.

My health has improved considerably since then. Apart from a blip during my disastrous venture into Deputy Headship where I was shouted at by the headteacher (another story) I have been on the road to complete recovery and mental stability.

Now I point the finger of blame at myself. I should have recognised the warning signs. I should have acted sooner and shouted more loudly. I didn’t. The education system in England has become poisoned with data, ill conceived marking policies, fixations on passing tests at the expense of a wider and richer curriculum. Thankfully Ofsted have recognised this and have published their myth busting documents, changes to school inspections and recent speeches. But more needs to be done as the message is not sinking in. Too many schools are ignoring the advice and are continuing with a rule of fear. Too many schools are putting too much pressure on their staff. Too many schools are ignoring common sense.

Recognise the signs and act upon them. Your good health is more important than turning up for work as a quivering wreck. Your school needs to understand this. If your school doesn’t, resign. No school is worth ill health.