Teacher's Desk

Staff morale and wellbeing – who is responsible?

The importance of staff morale and wellbeing have never been as significant as they are in these challenging times.

In high functioning schools, both morale and wellbeing are a shared responsibility for the leaders and the individual staff members. It is not up to leaders to ‘fix’ the wellbeing of staff, but they have a huge impact on ensuring a positive school culture that supports staff.

Check out Steve’s full article in our latest print issue. 

One of the biggest factors that impact on staff morale is leadership. It is essential that leaders focus on a culture that supports staff to do their best work. Positive and upbeat leaders create a ‘ripple effect’ leading to positive and happy communities. The happiness of individual leaders has a far-reaching affect. According to author Andy Cope: “As a leader, your happiness reaches three degrees of people removed from you, so if you’re really happy and positive, then every single person you meet during that day is going to be a minimum of 16 percent happier, just because they met you.”

The principal sets the tone. Their attitude is contagious. If they are positive and upbeat, staff, parents and students will be positively impacted. If they are negative, short tempered and gloomy, do not be surprised if those around them are too.

Being positive and upbeat in January is easy when you are well rested and recharged after the Christmas break. It is more challenging to also finish the term well. Students (and staff, for that matter) need positive role models in their lives. As school leaders, we have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives each and every day. According to Cope: “Your job is not to inspire other people; your job is to be inspired. If you can be inspired and become a people person, then your school magically will be inspired too.”

Five tips for school leaders having an immediate impact on staff morale:

  1. Fake it ‘til you make it!

Even if you are not feeling excited, put on a brave face. The fastest way to do this is to change your automatic response to the inevitable social inquiry of ‘How are you?’, from ‘not bad’ to ‘fantastic!’.

  1. Use the Pareto Principle.

More commonly known as the 80/20 rule, Pareto proposes that there are a small number of critical tasks or times during the day where we achieve most of our results. Pareto calls them our critical few as opposed to the trivial many. He says 80 percent of our results are achieved through 20 percent of our tasks. Knowing which are your critical few is the first step. As a principal, my critical few for setting the tone in the school included: being available to staff in the hour before school formally began each day; being visible in the playground at the start or end of breaks; being at the school gate at the end of the day as parents collected their children; and, making sure staff meetings started and finished on time, stuck to the agenda, valued people’s time, and recorded decisions made.

  1. Praise often.

Both public and private praise are important. The praise needs to be genuine and as specific as possible. Saying to an individual staff member, ‘I really appreciate the way that you calmly managed Johnny’s behaviour during his meltdown’, is far more powerful than the broad statement, ‘thank you everyone for a great term’. Do not stop doing the broad praise but look for more opportunities to give individual praise.

  1. Snipper instead of shotgun.

Where the behaviour of some staff has not met your expectations, have a quiet word to the individuals concerned (snipper) rather than raising the issue with the whole staff at a staff meeting (shot gunning).

  1. Feed them at or after school meetings and professional development sessions.

We all know how draining a day in front of students can be. To increase staff morale and the effectiveness of after school meetings and PD sessions, provide some food to reenergise the staff. This small investment will reap big rewards.

While these five strategies are sure to help, one of the best things that you can do to boost staff morale is to find out what is annoying or frustrating staff and take action to fix the aspects that you can change.  Even if you cannot fix it, asking the question and taking a genuine interest in their responses is powerful. This is a key step in becoming a School Employer of Choice.

Tips for staff in schools to improve their wellbeing:

Set your golden rules.

Setting boundaries is important to limit the impact that schoolwork can have on the rest of your life. The rules or boundaries that you put in place are a personal decision that depends on you and what works best for you.

Here are some examples of golden rules:

  • Limiting the checking of work emails to 10 minutes (set a timer) and only Sunday to Thursday nights.
  • Do not take work home.
  • If you must do some work at the weekend – specify the time and stick to it. Do not wreck the whole weekend!
  • Sit down at the dining table for dinner three times each week.
  • Leave school at a reasonable time (early for you), one day per week and do something for you.

At the end of the day appreciate what you got done, not what still needs to be done.

Stop and sit down to eat lunch each day and drink plenty of water each day to look after your voice.

Make exercise a priority every day, especially when you are busy.

Many people stop exercising when they are busy at school (e.g., report writing time). However, taking a break and getting some exercise is the most important thing they could do for their well-being AND their effectiveness.

Try to avoid multi-tasking.

Do this by identifying the most important thing you should be doing with the time available and getting that done, rather than trying to do multiple things at once. Check out and try the Pomodoro technique!

Steve Francis

Steve Francis created the Happy School program to reduce stress and improve the well-being of people who work in schools. Steve works with staff to optimise schools. He is the author of four books including First Semester CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOU! and Time Management For Teachers.

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