By Colette Soan
In Sandwell, the local authority where I practice as an educational psychologist, we have been working with every school to think about how they can support and promote mental health. This project has been running for four years and we have devised a Charter Mark for schools to help staff to reflect on what is working well and what priorities to work on. These reflections form their bespoke action plan.
The project is funded by our local Public Health department and is based on the eight principles from the 2015 guidance: Promoting children and young people’s emotional health and well-being: A whole school and college approach. One of the principles includes teacher well being. So, one part of the training for the Charter Mark involves asking staff to develop activities that cost little in terms of time and money but can make a real difference to how people in the school community feel.
One theme that has featured a lot in feedback is the fact that staff are so busy, they forget to do simple things like thank each other, or compliment each other. So ideas from school staff about ways of communicating to each other have included senior leaders giving out M.A.D. cards (making a difference). These are given to staff when senior leaders have seen someone going above and beyond , showing that it hasn’t gone unnoticed. This has been developed in other schools to include peer to peer sticky notes thanking staff for something they have done. In other schools the children nominate staff member of the week in the same way as pupil of the week awards.
Random acts of kindness benefit everyone. One school has introduced ‘Mugged Off’, a mug filled with goodies and placed on someone’s desk. It may be as a thank you, or that someone has noticed someone needing a bit of a virtual hug. Once emptied, it is filled by the recipient and passed on to the next person. Having time to connect with each other was another common theme in staff feedback. Staff often felt that the demands of the job means they didn’t have time to link up with each other and develop a sense of community. People have developed plans to re introduce staff socials. These include a range of activities so that there is something for everyone. This week we heard from a school who has introduced Pilates for all as part of their action plan.
Linked to this was the staff room space. In some schools timetabling could mean that staff didn’t see each other very often. In other schools the multi-function of the staff room meant that there wasn’t enough space. People made changes, like a concerted effort to keep the space in the staffroom clutter free and make the staffroom a calm and welcoming space to enter. Some staffrooms have had a loving lick of paint, others simply had a table put in so people could eat together. A sense of belonging and connecting with each other is crucial to well being. It can be easily overlooked, but a little effort can change how a place feels, both to those in it and those visiting it.
One thing that this project has shown is that school staff have many ideas about how to improve their own well-being. It’s important that these ideas are local and fit with the school’s culture. In this way it is more likely that any changes will reduce rather than increase teacher stress. Feedback from the schools involved in the Sandwell Charter Mark has shown just how creative school staff can be when coming up with ideas to support one another.
Colette is a course tutor on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham.
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