A few weeks ago I blogged about leading a table session in a School Improvement Meeting on Staff Wellbeing (Part 1) and I promised to report back.
It’s always an interesting experience, leading within what is traditionally a “teacher” forum, and it still makes me slightly nervous. How am I going to be received? Will I be able to steer the conversation effectively? Will I get the information I need to formulate an action plan that will be relevant and recognised by our staff?
The event itself went very well. I accept that there are negative personalities; staff that can only look at wellbeing from their own individual viewpoint and others who have an agenda of their own, wanting to use the opportunity to ‘soapbox’; staff who think they know everything there is to know about wellbeing and others who start with the premise of “why should I contribute when nothing is going to change?” But, when it comes to wellbeing, these individuals are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the positive personalities; staff who have their own wellbeing toolkit and would love the opportunity to share it with their colleagues; staff who want to learn and staff who have ideas of their own, but aren’t sure they will apply to anyone else. My tables single question format worked to get everyone talking, I took notes and offered suggestions when we went off-topic.
I left the session feeling energised and enthusiastic for a shift in our culture.
I soon crashed and burned.
A wise colleague once told me that it doesn’t matter how negative the conversation becomes, the fact that it has been started and everyone is talking about it, is what is important in the long term. It’s true, the conversation turned very negative and confrontational for a while but my SBL rhino skin means I am armed with a wellbeing tool of my own, I very rarely take things personally.
You see, I know that my colleagues wanted to see that change was happening. They wanted it…now, and they wanted to be involved in the direction of that change. They were at the end of a demanding term and they were frustrated by a perception that any change was going to be slow coming to fruition. I was keen to get moving too and, with the help of a teaching colleague, we have now set up a working party that has a remit to introduce a step change in staff wellbeing in our school. We have lots of ideas, big and small, short and long term, some that will be a minor improvement and some that will have a major impact.
What I’m most pleased about is that our conversation includes ALL teaching staff and ALL support staff. We’re genuinely talking about the wellbeing of everyone on our staffing body, recognising that everyone contributes to our community and everyone has an interest in supporting each other. And that makes me really proud.
So here is what I’ve learned;
- If (or when) you become the target of discontent, do not take it personally. Keep talking to even your most ardent critics. I consider it part of my SBL role to be “the messenger”. I need to keep the conversation going and work through the issues.
- Accept what isn’t quite right. There is always more to learn and tweaks that can be made to improve policy and practice. Listen and consider every suggestion without being defensive.
- Keep hold of your enthusiasm for new initiatives. Change, even positive change, is scary to some. It needs continuous checking and driving forwards.
- Accept help and be willing to pass the baton to someone who maybe can, more effectively, “take it from here”. The aim is to improve your school, not take credit for a new initiative.
- Having said that, keep notes in a personal file about what you have done. When you are at an interview for your next dream job you can relate how you instigated an improvement, describe the process and identify outcomes.
The initial process hasn’t been easy and I’m sure there are challenges to come but the conversation has started and if, together, we can improve the wellbeing of all our staff and have procedures that we can go on to share freely with other schools – it will all be worthwhile.