More of us are opening up about mental health, and increased understanding of the need for open, honest discussion is now making its way into the workplace. For World Mental Health Day 2017, which this year has a focus on mental health in the workplace, we’ve compiled 5 top tips for prioritising mental health at your school.
- Make Staff Wellbeing a Priority
Staff wellbeing and mental health will ideally be high up on the agenda in your school. Teaching is undoubtedly a stressful job and busy school environments make it simple for us to forget we are all human beings – yet the best school leaders and governors remember this above all else.
Staff are one of the most valuable resources your school has, and cultivating an understanding culture which allows staff to feel cared for as individuals and fully engaged in their highly purposeful yet demanding job, has a knock-on effect across many areas of school life, including outcomes for children.
There are so many things which can be done to help make staff feel valued, from honouring and encouraging ‘down time’ away from teaching, to enabling appropriate time off for significant events, and leading by example with healthy workplace habits. For example, it might be better for everyone to go home half an hour earlier than holding yet another meeting this week. Or a walking meeting might be a more creative, productive and restorative way to discuss an issue with another member of staff.
You can show that you take time to create an environment in which staff feel they are listened to, supported and cared about as key members of your team. This will in turn create more motivated staff, encouraging happier classrooms and a better environment for pupils.
- Take Time to Talk
Opening the lines of communication and talking regularly about staff mental health and wellbeing is far more valuable than a yearly INSET day, so try to embed regular discussion into your school culture.
Encourage staff to discuss their feelings of stress or pressure in a supportive, positive and solution-focussed way. Acknowledging particularly difficult times such as the end of a long autumn term or during report-writing and pre-exam season, and putting small things in place that can help can go a long way to creating a happier environment and a collective feeling of working hard towards a goal.
Work related stress and mental health problems can be a large issue in schools, so make sure you put mental health and well-being high up on the agenda to cultivate a healthy, happy working environment.
- Support Your Staff
Staff should know whom they could talk to should they experience problems with their mental health and wellbeing. This will help to create a culture of trust, and make dealing with common teaching issues such as a difficult head of department, an excessive workload, serious issues with pupils, or indeed issues at home much more straightforward. Ensure there are always ready sources of support available to staff, over and above their immediate line manager.
If you have counselling services available, ensure they are easy to access. At the least, ensure exterior mental health services (whether telephone lines, or the teacher support union) are well-signposted in your school.
- Give Appropriate Training
School staff are all too often promoted to managerial level without any leadership training, which can cause them to feel stressed and out of their depth, and create tension, with staff in their care left feeling unsupported.
Ensuring everyone with managerial responsibilities has basic training in stress-management and knows how to spot the signs of mental health and wellbeing issues in the staff they manage.
This is not only good practice, but it creates a management who respect, support, trust and help to develop their staff. Line management updates should also include discussions around staff well-being, and how managers take care of the staff in their care.
- Manage and Monitor Change
Change can create one of the biggest stress triggers in all of us, and how change is managed within your school will have a significant impact on staff mental health and wellbeing. All too often, particularly in larger institutions, change is imposed on staff without adequate preparation and discussion, and most importantly without a cohesive plan for implementation. If it seems staff are struggling when transitioning to a key change, talk to them about it rather than dismissing their concerns.
Ensuring a coordinated, well-organised approach to change and making sure senior leaders are trained in the same is a helpful and productive way to approach inevitable change. It also helps staff to feel leaders are considerate of their concerns, and helps them feel valued, motivated and contented in the workplace – which can only ever lead to a more positive effect upon their mental health and wellbeing.