How can we improve staff wellbeing when people use terms like them and us?

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A guest post by @CeriStokes.

SLT and Inspections are often seen as the cause of low wellbeing in schools. Well if you read Twitter, then that is how it seems. And whilst I see that this can sometimes be the case, if we actually want things to change and to address staff wellbeing, then we have to take a whole school approach to this and that means working as a team.

Communication has to be key. SLT and teachers cannot mind read. I know that SLT should remember what was like to have a full teaching load but sometimes they forget, or their situation might have been different. For example, they may not have had children at that point, or were not teaching 4 exam classes all following different syllabuses. Likewise, teachers might not be aware of the pressures that the SLT are going through at that particular time. I like to visualize it like they are holding up a large umbrella, protecting staff from all the rain, but every now and again a splash can bounce up.

Empathy is another key area. SLT and teachers are not experts in everything and are human, they will make mistakes. How staff communicate this mistake is important. I know that as an SLT and teacher you need to be resilient and thick-skinned but if the only time you talk to each other is to complain or to talk about how busy you are; others will probably be less responsive to you. Similarly, if you only ever talk about work then when something happens in your personal life, it can be hard to discuss this with the member of staff, who perhaps knows nothing about you. It can be helpful to build an honest and open relationship so that everyone can spot the signs of increased workload or pressure without even being told. This can take time, time that should be reflected in the SLT timetable. Unfortunately, the timetable (or lack of it) is often viewed with annoyance in the staff room. Walking in other people’s shoes is a cliché but one that seems to have been forgotten.

Honesty is a challenging one. Admitting that you are not coping and need help feels like failure to many (me included) but we all struggle at some point. I used the @MHFAEngland bucket and balls demo in an assembly to show students how resilience can mean different things to different people ( if you are interested I wrote a blog post here). The bucket sits in my office and works when staff are talking to me about themselves. The visual aid helps to make staff feel less concerned about how I will judge them, however I know that there are still staff who are struggling and would never go to SLT or their line manager because they are concerned that it would reflect badly on them. There has been lots of discussion about Staff welfare surveys and hopefully this will allow staff to be honest, but if this is the only way they can talk (confidentiality), then I am very concerned about the state of the common room.

Listening. We as teachers are very good at looking out for our pupils but this can mean that we listen to way more problems than perhaps our mind can cope with. So when our colleague is struggling, do we really listen. And what about to our own body. Can we hear when it is close to breaking point? And if we did hear, what do we do? Not doing anything and just being there can be all that is needed for some staff. Others appreciate the note in their pigeonhole, or the pupils “thank you” from their line managers. Some will need more time or support. And we need to listen to each other to work out what works for them. Mindfulness seems to be all the craze at the moment and I can’t think of anything worse. To me it feels like another thing to tick off my ever growing list of jobs to do, but I know that others find it works wonders. I know because I have listened. One size doesn’t fit all and schools can’t force everyone to attend yoga to promote teamwork.

I am well aware that it isn’t always as simple as this, and personalities can make these points challenging. I always find the motivational quotes about “ removing negative people” from your lives frustrating because you can’t choose who you work with, much like you can’t choose who your family are. However, I do feel they have a point, perhaps not by removing them but working with them and encouraging them to work with you, as a team


Ceri Stokes is an Assistant Head ( DSL) at a mixed Boarding school. She tweets under the twitter handle – @CeriStokes mainly about Mental health, Safeguarding and PSHE. She enjoys blogging – ( as she is aware how isolating the DSL role can be and wants to makes sure that in tough times we all have someone who can hear and support us.