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Wellbeing a must for 2016!

As I write this post, I am sat in my office at the end of another extremely busy calendar year in school, and for all schools. When are they not? Like most school leaders, teachers and support staff, I am tired. The run up to Christmas is one of the most tiring periods in any school, but also one of the most exciting. I wouldn't want to lose any of this excitement and the opportunities pupils have to shine in so many ways. This year though, we did make one or two adjustments to our Christmas performances to lessen the stress for pupils, staff and parents. I am pleased to say that these worked well, and everyone was pleased by the outcomes. In the two schools I lead we have had to deal with various staffing issues including long and short-term staff illnesses, pregnancies and changes caused by redeployments and retrials. We have had an HMIE inspection in one school and all the while we have been trying to move forward with our school development plans, whilst dealing with a shifting picture of priorities at local and national level. Out of the blue in the last week of this term, we were also asked to help host most of our neighbouring primary school that had been damaged by storm 'Desmond' passing through the Borders region of southern Scotland. We were happy to help in any way we could, but of course the sudden influx of more pupils and more staff, and the logistics of accommodating them all, presented myself and our staff with a host of unexpected challenges. Whilst dealing with all of this, staff wellbeing has remained one of my most important priorities. As a school leader, it is part of my professional responsibility to look after the staff who work in my schools, and to care for them. It is also my responsibility to look after myself and my own wellbeing. We owe it to ourselves, our families, our staff and our students to see wellbeing as a priority, and the first step to delivering on this is to recognise it. I believe all staff have a responsibility to look after their own wellbeing and that of their colleagues. This is a collective responsibility and should be reflected in the culture and ethos of the school. Every school, and every staff, hopefully, recognises and embraces their responsibilities toward learner wellbeing, however it is easy to lose sight of the importance of the wellbeing of the adults in the school and to fail to recognise the impact of their wellbeing has for learners. I have often said that the school leadership role is challenging and enjoyable, and one can only fulfil it effectively when there is balance in your life. This means you need to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy in order to keep meeting agendas like those described above. As it is for school leaders, so it is for the staff on whom we depend. They need balance in order to achieve and deliver.

I wonder how many school leaders spend any time, and how often, asking themselves what it must feel like to be a member of staff in their establishments? Some might think this is not something to spend a lot of time thinking about, either because it is not important or because it is a given. Both are wrong and I believe we should always be aware and thinking about staff well being, including our own.Think about the leaders and managers you have worked under. Which were the ones you enjoyed working for the most? Which were the worst? Can you identify the characteristics that separated them into the different categories you put them in? I have worked with, and for, lots of different leaders. The ones who I respected most, and for whom I achieved the most, were the ones who viewed me holistically as an individual and supported my development. They at times had to protect me from myself. They would stop me from taking on too much and send me home when they thought it was the right thing to do. They encouraged me to have a life away from my work and to prioritise my family and my health. They supported me through illness and difficulties, and professionally  they enabled me to grow my understanding and my practice. They encouraged me to take risks and were there when I made mistakes, not to judge or to criticise, but to support and encourage. In short, they cared about my total wellbeing. They did this, not only because they were caring people, but also because they were deeply concerned about the learners in their schools, and recognised that it was impossible to divorce teacher and staff wellbeing from pupil wellbeing, both were intrinsically linked. I believe the same.

It is easy to say all this and to think this way, but what can you actually do to protect teachers, staff and your own wellbeing on a daily basis?

Being aware is the first step. Being aware of staff as individuals and being interested in them as people, helps you to identify when people perhaps need just a little extra space, time or support. Being concerned for their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, not just how they are performing in their role. Both are linked anyway. When there are issues to do with performance these are often just the outward manifestations of other issues that need addressing. You can prevent problems occurring for yourself and your staff by paying attention to these basic needs, and not ignoring their importance. Make sure staff, and yourself, have down time. Remember you're all people, not positions. Myself, I like to model the behaviours I articulate and wish to promote. So it's 'do as I do' not just 'do as I say.' When at work, we work hard and to the best of our abilities, and we should play hard and remember to have fun too. I like to think myself and the staff who work with me are focused relentlessly on what we are trying to achieve for all our learners, but that we have realistic perspectives and expectations of ourselves and of colleagues. We don't take ourselves too seriously, we have a laugh and smile a lot. I hardly ever take work home at weekends. I like to play golf, cycle, draw, photography and to go walking. My wife and I have regular holidays and we have weekends away. I like to read, but I also like to think about education, my role and learning and teaching. I write about this in my blog and elsewhere, and I like to meet others to talk about these things, because I am a bit of a nerd about education and how we can make it better. However, I also recognise these are my choices and my choices might not work for everyone. We all have to find ways of getting the work/life balance conundrum right for us. We should also recognise that 'what works' will change over time as our life develops and our circumstances change. My children are now adults, and this in itself frees up a lot of my time and allows me to make changes to my work and life patterns that I couldn't when the children were younger. Richard Branson says he doesn't see the work/life balance thing as a problem, 'it's all life.' There is something to this in my view, but balance in all aspects of our life is so important.

Wellbeing is crucial if we are to be able to function at our best and achieve the best for our learners. It's crucial for learners, staff and each of us and we negelect it at our peril. 

A group of us will be running a #slowedchat #ScotEdChat around wellbeing from 27th December running till 3rd January. Why not join in the discussion and share your thoughts on how we can focus on and improve teacher and leader wellbeing. This discussion  has been stimulated by @MartynReah and his post in January of this year and the resultant  #teacher5aday hashtag on Twitter, and we thank him for helping us all to think further on this. So if you have a little down time after all the Christmas festivities, why not join us when you can over the week and help everyone start 2016 with the wellbeing of all at the forefront of our thinking? Now there's a resolution!


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