At the start of my geography teaching career I worked with an amazing teacher for three years – she was my Faculty Head and a geographer. I learned so much from her that has stood me in good stead through my career. It was not just subject knowledge she imparted but organisational skills and above all how to treat all members of staff in school (not just fellow teachers).
I have always chosen to put on my personal development plan a section that includes “to keep an eye out” for colleagues. I am a Head of Department but not a member of SLT and I feel have a role to play in helping support colleagues in any way I can. I will be retiring at the end of this school year and have been thinking about the things that can make a difference to fellow teachers and support staff. How can we be wellbeing supporters?
This is not a tick list of suggestion but merely a few thoughts about simple positive actions that an individual can carry out that could make a difference to how someone is feeling.
// Take an interest – remember the things that are important to people –names of their children, partners, family events, their birthday, where they were going on holiday. Ask after their family regularly it shows you are valuing the relationship you have with them.
// A little note/ card or text can be supportive without being intrusive when people seem to be having a tough time. “I’m here if you need me / want to talk” shows care without being forceful. Keeping in touch by text / message means people don’t have to respond immediately (or at all if they don’t feel like it) as they do with a phone call.
// A small gift – a chocolate bar, hand cream, a small pot plant/ bunch of flowers, a piece of home-made cake can raise a smile. (I would especially recommend Co-op dark chocolate and orange block £1.59 which goes down a treat – it is Fairtrade too!) After all it is nice to know that someone is thinking of you at any time-not just when you are feeling low-although it is especially important then.
// Act as a supportive sounding board when someone is upset – take the emotion out of a situation and say “perhaps this was what was meant”; “have you thought about this angle”. Take the “tone” out of an email – sometimes just hearing it read differently
(without the negativity they are reading into it) is enough to make people feel better about a situation.
// When someone says “what should I do about?”– help them to focus on possible solution /objectives/ resolutions, don’t give definite answers but make suggestion “What if …..” “think about….” “might this be a possibility”.
// Make time to listen and find a quiet corner in school or arrange to meet for at a convenient time or place. Show your colleague you care and are willing to invest your time in them.
// Look at the whole person-not just the teacher in them-if appropriate you can encourage or suggest that someone tries to find time to think about themselves more i.e. the whole point of wellbeing.
// Aim to be supportive and trustworthy whilst keeping things confidential but when necessary suggest they need to tell / discuss situation with someone else. Signpost help e.g. confidential helplines which can be a great source of information. It is also possible to ring up a helpline to ask how you can support someone with a particular difficulty / need and the information you receive can be most helpful.
Another way of improving staff wellbeing is to organise simple, inexpensive social events open to all staff. Two easy to organise possibilities are wine / gin and target golf.
Our local branch of Majestic Wines is brilliant – you pay £20 for a tasting session and get a £20 voucher to spend in the shop-these have proved very popular indeed. We always have a theme e.g. wines of France and hold them on a Friday evening at 6.00pm for about an hour and a half. A different group of people come each time and it is a great opportunity to get to know colleagues better whilst learning about wine.
Making contact with a local golf club professional / driving range is worthwhile as they can often offer “team challenges” -we just divide the cost of an hour of the professional’s time between everyone and then have a bar supper afterwards. The cost is less than £20 and the evening can last as long as people want to stay and chat.
The role of cake cannot in my view be underestimated as in both happy and more stressful times the vast majority of teachers will not say no to a slice of cake. (If they do, there is something seriously amiss! )
Above everything be a good listener-everyone has occasions when they need to get something off their chest and they will feel better for doing so. The key thing is to help people find their own solutions to problems by bouncing ideas and thoughts off you.
It is an honour to be entrusted with people’s thoughts and worries and anything you can do to alleviate them having a difficult time will be appreciated and will help not only them but their pupils and families as well.