Is well being and teacher effectiveness mutually exclusive?

‘We don’t need to think about teacher well being this week !’

~ Quote a Head teacher in the hours leading up to the impending OFSTED inspection visit,(October 2021)

What’s your gut reaction to this leadership comment during undeniably challenging time?  

Some may be in favour of this mindset to the whole subject of staff well being, others may be appalled.   In my experience, wherever a leaders’ stance lies on this issue, the tension between performance results and staff well being is undeniably a tough call. The following quote by Stephen Covey, deconstructs listening, within the framework of emotional strength. For me, it challenges me to consider where I operate from and is my first response always to give out advice, or to listen.

To relate effectively with … working associates, we must learn to listen. And this requires emotional strength. Listening involves patience, openness, and the desire to understand — highly developed qualities of character. It’s so much easier to operate from a low emotional level and to give high-level advice.″ – Stephen Covey, , 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The challenge here is to live out a strength of character in leadership that empowers all our team to want to follow, to feel they belong and are valued.   Leadership that values strong relationship leads to greater productivity, because there is authenticity and honesty to talk through the difficult conversations and collaboratively define a vision of excellence. Adversely, a culture driven by short term measures of success with a culture of fear or threat tends to result in lower outcomes in the long-term. As educators, we know this … yet too often, our default is to operate from short term measure of success, when in challenging situations and it is those challenging situations that count.

In my experience, schools that devise a curriculum which value the students’ whole development through the arts, sports as well as core subjects with equal value, are the ones that achieve sustainable positive results.   Those that chase short term narrow measures adversely affect the mental health and well being of staff and students alike.  Change (and managing it) is much a part of learning, as it is leadership.

In short, it does not have to be results OR mental health, both are intrinsically interlinked and interdependent.  Evidence from long term successes in effective school leadership suggests these may be some top tips worth exploring in deeper level conversations in school improvement planning 2021.   Here are some recent examples seen from school leaders across the country that helped sustain their teams through the pandemic. 

  1. Lead by example in setting the tone for staff to work smartly i.e. not running to exhaustion on tasks that make little difference to the needs of the students.  Systems and processes that are clearly designed, communicated and consistently adhered to create emotional safety for staff and students to work within.
  2. Coming out of lockdowns, acknowledge that staff have suffered loss and often bereavement and not had time to process; let’s talk about it openly.
  3. Consider developing a coaching culture to create a positive atmosphere for peer to peer challenge and support.
  4. Utilise the Mental Health Continuum to create a shared language to openly talk about mental health across the whole spectrum of needs.
  5. Develop a teaching and learning policy that centres around building emotional literacy and resilience coaching throughout daily teaching pedagogy; not as a one off well being day or event.
  6. Be in tune with youth culture. Don’t be so out of touch with the lives our children live (particularly online) that we fail to see how the curriculum is out of touch with the conversations they want and need to have to make healthy life choices.
  7. Analyse your behaviour logs, attendance data and exclusions data to establish a pattern for which students are not being understood by elements of your current curriculum.
  8. Evaluate the effectiveness of your staff absence protocols and procedures in identifying and supporting positive mental health. 
  9. Find visual strategies for open dialogue and problem solving between staff, departments and schools.   E.g. Solution Circles
  10. Understand the factors that affect cognitive overload in staff and students; let’s avoid the amygdala hijacks with quick fix short term strategies.

If you are feeling challenged and overwhelmed by the tension between results and positive mental health amongst staff and students, take the time to be mindful of some of the top tips mentioned.  Remember, #TMOS (True Measures of Success).   It would be good to hear your practical steps in creating resilient school communities for the year ahead.  



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