School Leaders: a guide to your wellbeing

About this advice

I don’t often start these advice pieces with a quotation, but on this occasion, there’s one that really stands out and is entirely relevant to the topic of wellbeing:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” Maya Angelou [an acclaimed American storyteller, poet and activist].

This brings me onto the definition of wellbeing. Whilst there is no universally accepted definition of wellbeing, the one I lean towards is that wellbeing is about how people are made to feel as they go about their work [hence the quote].

Education Support’s Wellbeing Index defines wellbeing as experiencing “a sense of purpose, achievement and contribution and a balance between the challenges one has to deal with and the resources to overcome them”.

This advice piece is not the panacea to all your wellbeing questions but it’s a great place to start and to reflect on how you can begin to be and stay in control of your own wellbeing.

Below are eight sub-sections each of which will deal with different aspects of wellbeing. Think of it as a ‘menu’ from which you can choose those bits that appeal to you most – be greedy!


What does wellbeing mean to you?

First of all, let’s consider a couple of numbers that are relevant to this paper:

  • Last year, almost 4,000 teachers were signed off work on long-term sick leave as a direct result of work-related stress
  • The Health & Safety Executive rank teaching as the 3rd most stressful job in the UK

Causes have been identified as poor leadership, line management and relationships with colleagues, little control over workload, disruptive pupil behaviour and general day-to-day treatment (e.g. a lack of regular or meaningful professional engagement and respect).

Shouldn’t wellbeing therefore be treated as a strategic priority for schools?

When you’ve read the remainder of this advice piece, the answer is plain for all to see.


Are you entitled to wellbeing?

There’s good news!  Yes, you are entitled to wellbeing!

Section 2 of the School Teachers’ Terms & Conditions Document (aka, the STPCD) states:

“A head teacher is entitled to a break of reasonable length in the course of each school day and must arrange for a suitable person to assume responsibility for the discharge of their functions as head teacher during that break.

Governing bodies and head teachers, in carrying out their duties, must have regard to the need for the heads teacher and teachers at the school being able to achieve a satisfactory balance between the time required to discharge their professional duties and the time required to pursue their personal interests and ensure that they adhere to the working limits set out in the Working Time Regulations”.


Achieve your own wellbeing through others

This section is about developing a framework for wellbeing at your school – if you choose to do this, you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised by the response of staff, pupils and parents – and remember, very few, if any of these suggestions, cost money!

  • Commit to developing a wellbeing culture at your school
  • Commission a wellbeing survey for staff and be ready and prepared to act, reasonably, on any findings
  • Develop a Wellbeing Policy on the back of the survey
  • Consider establishing a Wellbeing group to lead on actions arising from the survey and task the group to report to the senior leadership team at agreed intervals
  • Keep wellbeing firmly on the school’s agenda
  • Consider developing good wellbeing practices – we’ll go to and cover these next


Wellbeing practices you can implement

  • Delegate: this provides staff with autonomy over their day-to-day work; this requires a leap of faith from you but does not amount to an abdication of accountability
  • Build capacity, clarity and consistency: develop an effective TLR structure and tell staff what’s expected of them – use the Teachers’ Standards to set the benchmark
  • Hygiene factors: ensure the school’s environment is pleasant and welcoming
  • Invest in staff development: give staff the opportunity to use and develop their skills
  • Staff support services: hold return to work meetings, ensure staff have access to an Employee Assistance Programme and make effective use of the school’s Occupational Health Service [you may need to consult your HR support team here].


What about my wellbeing? Here are some tips!

Get control and the best out of your day

  • Make a ‘to do’ list of actions and prioritise them
  • Organise your day and allocate actions to chosen times of the day
  • Build your daily break into your working day; the best tip I’ve ever heard is to pop your daily break into your diary first and then you plan your work around it!
  • Delegate actions to those around you and / or ask them for help
  • Walkabout: you get to meet staff and pupils and stretch your legs
  • If you don’t feel well, go home, get better and get your deputy to deputise!
  • Use your GP and occupational health resources to support you and your return to work
  • Build wellbeing into CPD for the SLT, teaching and support staff
  • Make wellbeing one of your performance management objectives
  • Build in 10 minutes to reflect on your day


Get control and the best out of your week

  • Plan your weekend so that you can use the time to best effect
  • Spend time with family and friends to help build a network of support
  • Build exercise into your daily routine, something you enjoy doing
  • Try to eat healthily
  • Consider taking up a new hobby, interest or refreshing an old skill
  • Manage your health: GP; dentist; opticians (give yourself an MOT!)
  • Get your personal finances and affairs in order
  • Walk the dog or walk someone else’s dog
  • Plan your holidays; it’s fun to do and something to look forward to
  • If you have an old bed, buy a new one, to ensure you sleep as well as possible
  • Stay alert to Voltaire’s quote “Perfect is the enemy of good”
  • Remember why wellbeing is important: it improves staff attendance, performance and outcomes
  • Embed simple and unconditional wellbeing into your daily routine
  • You lead and model behaviour so your approach can lift the wellbeing of others around you


Build your resilience

  • You are owed a ‘duty of care’ by your employer, your governing body or trustees
  • You can take direct measures – here are a couple of examples – think about having a wellbeing objective agreed as part of your overall performance management arrangements – this will help to formalise an important step facilitating your own wellbeing and fulfils the duty of care owed to you
  • Make a ‘virtue out of a vice’ – as you probably don’t take a proper lunch break away from your desk, start a daily lunchtime ‘walkabout’ throughout the school to meet the teaching and support staff and the pupils – they’ll welcome it and so will you.


Wellbeing can’t be bought off the shelf

  • It develops at a pace when there is a genuine, positive and authentic intention and approach to creating a wellbeing framework and working practices that support the approach
  • A wellbeing approach lies in every interaction, encounter and communication that you, as a school leader have with others

Head teachers carry the weight of responsibility of the next generation on their shoulders – NAHT has your back in this respect and will continue to press the government of the day to ensure that your wellbeing is protected.


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