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Ask Andy – Blog 23

A whole school/ trust vision for wellbeing

Setting a whole school vision for wellbeing at staff and student level is a relatively straightforward task as long as staff and students have been part of the formulation and you have a clear idea about what you want to achieve and where you want to get to.

It’s the sustaining and promoting this vision especially when times are tough and energy and funds short that is the real ongoing challenge.

When the organisation you are leading has 15 or so schools within it, vision setting is important but sustaining and promoting consistency of wellbeing values is so important to ensure that all staff and students have the same opportunities for support and wellbeing.

My starting point for this work would be with a shared definition of wellbeing. Wellbeing as a concept means so many different things to so many people that the use of the word wellbeing can be so easily misinterpreted. At a recent training event that I ran for a school I asked the question what is wellbeing and all 14 participants gave me a different answer. Unless we are clear what we mean by wellbeing we can’t be clear on how we want it to improve.

I’ve looked at so many definitions of wellbeing that eventually I came up with one of my own that embraces the need for, and interconnectedness of, personal and professional wellbeing. One can’t properly exist without the other. I also wanted to capture that sense of fulfilment in a personal and professional sense and being in that great place where we can be the best of who we are meant to be.

“Wellbeing is the state of being well. It is a state of mental and physical health where an individual can thrive, flourish and be the best version of themselves both personally and professionally.”

Feel free to use this definition as a basis for your work across your trust or school. Having set a definition which espouses the values that you have, you can start to pin down and verbalise these values. These are the values that will dictate how you respond and interrelate with staff and pupils and epitomise “the way we do things here.”

Those schools with “human first” values, policy and practice are the ones who see the greatest impact on staff and student wellbeing. Staff and pupil performance is raised by a human first approach, which is why wellbeing must be at the heart of the school and course through the lifeblood of any organisation, relationships. 

Even the way that we teach and that pupils learn has an impact on wellbeing. Daniel Pink in his book on motivation called “Drive” talks about three key factors and I believe they are just as important for the growth of personal wellbeing. They are autonomy, mastery and purpose and I want to cover each one to explain why they are so important.

Autonomy is absolutely key to staff and pupil wellbeing. We know over the last 20 months of the pandemic, how our loss of autonomy to go about our daily lives, has affected our mental health and wellbeing. Everyone needs to experience some autonomy otherwise the feeling that your life is beyond your own control to any extent is debilitating. Similarly, pupils need to have a part in their own learning otherwise it is a “done to” activity, where the role of the learner is just to remember. Learning should be a participatory activity where pupils see the value in learning especially for those who have chaotic home lives and little or no control over what goes on at home.

Mastery is so important for all of us, as with mastery we can fulfil our potential more readily. If we came to school and did the same things day in day out without being offered the opportunity to improve and become more effective, we essentially are production line robots, and this might be fine for robots but undermine wellbeing and fulfilment.

Purpose if often what drives us if you are classroom facing and seeing the young people we are serving on a daily basis. However, there are two aspects I’d like you to consider:

1) Are we clear on our purpose if we are classroom facing? It has been very easy to be attainment outcomes focused in the last 20 years as there are compliance systems in place to ensure this. But where are we as a school in developing the wellbeing of the whole student? Do we do this well? How could we improve this even though it doesn’t have an empirical measure in the accountability framework?

2) What about the staff in school who don’t see the students each day. How do we build them into the fabric of the school so that they can help the learners to improve and see the impact of their work in the learners? Schemes where the site supervisor is able to award a weekly prize for the tidiest classroom for example is a good way of doing this. Having a sense of purpose by changing the lives of our youngsters and instilling our values is just as valuable for the development of our students as it is for the purpose and drive of all our staff.

So, when you look at an audit of staff and student wellbeing try to look at it through the lens of autonomy, mastery and purpose. For me these three key areas apply just as much to staff as they do students and could be a theme that runs across your trust or single school.

If you are an SAS client and are interested in this work, I have a presentation with lots of ideas about how you can develop wellbeing through teaching and learning and these three key areas.

In the meantime, please prioritise your own wellbeing as we approach such a busy time of the year in school.

“Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s the way we have the resource to support ourselves and others.”

Ask Andy

If you have questions about wellbeing practice, would like to suggest future content for Andy's blogs or if you are having success with wellbeing culture in your school and would like to share your story, please complete the form below.