Author: Ross McDermott
Posted: 08 Nov 2021
Estimated time to read: 5 mins
In order to create a positive school environment, and with new wellbeing judgements being added to the Ofsted inspection handbook, it is important that schools are continuously looking at ways to improve staff and student wellbeing.
According to figures by the DfE, the retention rate of teachers still in the profession after one year has gradually declined since 2011. Research by Public Health England also shows that 1 in 10 children will have a clinically diagnosed mental disorder at any one point during their childhood. With 50% of all mental disorders emerging before the age of 14 and 75% of all mental disorders emerging before the age of 25.
With these statistics in mind, the following tips aim to provide schools with the knowledge they need to make staff feel valued and provide a positive learning environment for students.
Listen to your staff’s needs
According to a National Education Union poll of 10,000 members, 35% said they would “definitely” not be working in education by 2026. For those who intend to leave, the most common reason given was that the profession was not valued or trusted by government or media (53%), closely followed by workload (51%), accountability (34%) and pay (24%).
In order to make staff feel valued, it is important to listen to their needs, this means giving staff a forum where they feel comfortable voicing any concerns. This might come in the way of anonymous surveys, or frequent one to ones with staff to ensure they feel valued and any concerns are addressed. If an issue, for example workload, is frequently brought up by staff, it highlights a key area that SLT needs to address.
Be aware of the impacts on student wellbeing both inside and outside of the classroom
It is important to identify the key factors affecting student wellbeing early to ensure students are safe, have positive wellbeing and are given the best chance to learn.
Whilst a teacher can have a direct influence on students’ wellbeing inside the classroom, such as identifying bullying and putting a stop to it, they have less direct control on what happens outside of the classroom. Teachers should be aware of any changes within a student that may indicate problems with their mental health. A ‘mental health and behaviour in schools’ report by the DfE highlights indications within a student of underlying mental health problems. These include;
- Emotional state (fearful, withdrawn, low self-esteem)
- Behaviour (aggressive or oppositional; habitual body rocking)
- Interpersonal behaviours (indiscriminate contact or affection seeking, overfriendliness or excessive clinginess; demonstrating excessively 'good' behaviour to prevent disapproval; failing to seek or accept appropriate comfort or affection from an appropriate person when significantly distressed; coercive controlling behaviour; or lack of ability to understand and recognise emotions)
When a teacher does have concerns that a student may be suffering from mental health problems, the DfE recommends a four step plan: 1) An assessment to establish a clear analysis of the pupil’s needs, 2) a plan to set out how the pupil will be supported, 3) action to provide that support and 4) regular reviews.
Develop an action plan
Developing an action plan gives you a well defined goal and strategy for improving student and staff wellbeing. Satchel Pulse recommends eight steps to develop a successful action plan.
Step one: Define the problem - In this case, what are the key culture or wellbeing problems your school is facing.
Step two: Write your SMART objective for improvement - SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time based. Is your objective able to meet these goals?
Step three: Identify the root causes - This is school dependent and may be based on feedback from staff and students, such as workload, work-life balance or staff culture.
Step four: Brainstorm strategy and ideas - This would be a good step for SLT to join together and brainstorm various ideas that could help improve school culture and wellbeing.
Step five: Identify a few key strategies that address the root causes of the problem you’re solving - Following step four, SLT should narrow these ideas down to key strategies that address the root causes of wellbeing problems.
Step six: List the actions necessary to accomplish each strategy - Depending on the root cause and the associated strategy, relate back to the SMART objective and identify the actions necessary and how you will tackle these.
Step seven: Build in accountability and sustainability - Track your actions often. Define how follow-up will occur. Once your action plan is created and shared with the staff, the next step is simple: make it a habit to frequently follow-up.
Build reviews into routine activities like a monthly meeting and/or report. Success with an action plan depends on follow-up and accountability.
Use tools and processes that support sustainable plan implementation, for example, staff surveys and QandAs. Making your plans sustainable allows you to re-use them at a later date if needed or use them for a sustained amount of time.
Step eight: Monitor and adjust - Monitor the actions you have put in place closely to see if they're having the desired effect on staff and students and make adjustments to the plan as needed if your progress is not on track toward success. You can do this effortlessly with Satchel Pulse's Wellbeing Tracker resource.
Implement and track positive changes
After developing and implementing your action plan, it is important that the positive changes you make are effectively tracked so they have a long term effect. Ensuring your changes have a long term effect, rather than acting as an immediate solution, allows you to maintain a positive staff and student culture and stops the root cause of the problems from reappearing at a later date.
This relates back to step seven of the action plan, accountability and sustainability. When you have identified strategies that are working it is important to regularly receive staff and student feedback, such as through regular surveys. This ensures that the strategies and implemented changes are effectively addressing the root causes of mental health problems and producing a positive change, both for individual staff members and the workplace culture as a whole.
Make staff and students aware of mental health resources available
Making staff and students aware of additional mental health resources available both inside and outside the classroom is another way of ensuring you create a positive staff and student culture. This also gives staff and students agency to seek solutions to mental health problems that they may feel uncomfortable bringing up with senior staff or teachers.
Within school, this may mean alerting staff and students to any additional mental health support they are entitled to, such as pastoral leads, staff psychologists or online resources, dependent on the school. There are also a number of free resources available online, such as mental health tips and printable posters and guides.
Our new wellbeing tool, Satchel Pulse, also gives schools the ability to send staff, student and parent wellbeing surveys automatically and gather honest feedback that’s linked to key areas in your school. Visit our website to find out more.