Mark Solomons, CEO of School Wellbeing Accelerator - an acclaimed wellbeing expert with over 12 years’ experience developing leadership and culture in schools and creator of Welbee a highly effective online evaluation and staff wellbeing improvement tool, ERA Wellbeing Award 2023 and 2022, ERA Primary Tools for Leadership Management and Assessment Award 2023, Bett Finalist 2023, and GESS Judges Commendation Award 2022 discusses how leaders can foster a positive school culture leading by example.
There are competitive, financial and of course moral reasons for schools to build a culture where staff really matter. To create a workplace where they enjoy themselves, are able to do their best work and will stay! At the core of a school’s culture are everyday behaviours and interactions that affect the experience of every staff member.
Although the beginning of the academic year is a busy time for leaders, it is a good time to reflect on climate and culture. Is it evident that staff wellbeing is part of the daily life of the school? Will new staff joining the school recognise it as being a cornerstone feature?
The school’s vision and values are likely to have clear expectations that support the wellbeing of staff and pupils - but do these translate into actions? How can we foster a positive school culture and encourage staff to ‘live’ these values and meet the expectations, so they are simply an integral part of the school experience?
The most effective way is to lead by example.
As a school leader, you have the power to shape your school community, cultivate a culture where compassion and kindness are a priority, and be a positive role model for other staff and pupils.
Often leaders and line managers are driven by the heavy demands placed on them - always racing against the clock. Yet, being there for staff brings significant benefits both short and long term. It can be a challenge with having to meet timetable commitments, scheduled and unscheduled meetings and interruptions. All staff roles are demanding and they need good leadership, encouragement and support, to deliver their best each day.
Being there can be as simple as checking in with staff, listening to how they are doing, and taking an interest in their lives, both in and outside school. The more visible you are, the more staff see you in a positive light, and the more likely they are to approach you in a time of need.
Try ‘Managing by wandering around’ (MBWA) - scheduling time each day to walk around your school and observe what's happening, with the primary goal of catching people doing the right things and praising, rather than simply monitoring teaching or pupil behaviour. Staff members will look forward to seeing you, feel comfortable when you come into classrooms, and confident to share their successes and challenges with you.
The way you behave and speak to staff has a significant impact on their wellbeing, so it’s important to think about how you communicate. Are you consistent, fair and considered, even during times of stress or when you need to hold a ‘difficult’ conversation? Are you able to listen thoughtfully and delay judgement to ensure you have understood the other person’s point of view? Are you able to coach and not simply tell? Always think about your response and consider how it will be perceived, before replying. If necessary ask further questions, so you have all the information and a clearer grasp of the situation.
Some leaders and line managers, and particularly when new to role, have not received the relevant training to help them understand how to lead successfully. And for those who came from the classroom, they may have to continue to juggle teaching and leadership responsibilities – they remain subject or specialism experts, and now need to be people experts too. Investing time in developing leadership skills and helping them understand the impact of their behaviour, will have a positive impact across the school.
Extensive research from Goldsmiths, University of London, ‘Refined management competencies for preventing and reducing stress at work’, identified four main areas, comprised of 12 key competencies and behaviours which when demonstrated by leaders, prevent or reduce stress in those they lead, improving overall staff wellbeing. These competencies provide a comprehensive structure for leadership development, as well as an accessible checklist for self-assessment or self-reflection for those already in leadership positions.
They are a good place to start if you want to boost academic outcomes in the new year – motivated staff, enjoying their job, makes a real difference.
The competencies identified by Goldsmith’s are shown below, with each being underpinned by a set of behaviours.
‘Respectful and responsible'
1. Integrity; Being respectful and honest with employees.
2. Managing emotions; Behaving consistently and calmly around the team.
3. Considerate approach; Being thoughtful in managing others and delegating.
Managing and communicating existing and future work
4. Proactive work management; Monitoring and reviewing existing work, allowing future prioritisation and planning.
5. Problem-solving; Dealing with problems promptly, rationally and responsibly.
6. Participative/empowering; Listening to, meeting and consulting with the team, providing direction, autonomy and development opportunities to individuals.
Managing the individual within the team
7. Personally accessible; Available to talk to personally.
8. Sociable; Relaxed approach, such as socialising and using appropriate humour.
9. Empathetic engagement; Seeking to understand everyone in the team in terms of their health and satisfaction, motivation, point of view and life outside work.
Reasoning/managing difficult situations
10. Managing conflict; Dealing with conflicts decisively, promptly and objectively.
11. Use of organisation and external resources; Seeking advice when necessary from other leaders, experts and specialists.
12. Taking responsibility for resolving issues; Having a supportive and responsible approach to issues and incidents in the team.’
Outside the classroom, the behaviours staff observe and the interactions they have with their colleagues, line managers and leaders have the greatest impact on their school day and their wellbeing. School leaders have the power to shape school culture and promote positive behaviours and interactions, making staff wellbeing simply part of everyday.
For further information, support and advice about creating a culture with staff wellbeing at its centre, please contact welbee.international.