The Wellbeing Lady GuideTo A Mentally HealthySchool Working Environment

Whatever your role in a school, everyone has a responsibility for both their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. It is a challenging balancing act. If you are a teacher, you may feel powerless to change organisational infrastructure and expectations which are counter-intuitive to your personal wellbeing. Those at the top, on the other hand, may be battling furiously to reach the holy grail of workplace utopia, only to come across barriers at every turn.

This article is designed to allow everyone to consider what can be improved at both ends of the spectrum as the only way to achieve a fully mentally healthy workplace is to have everybody commit to the same vision. I would also encourage leaders to reflect on what the workplace experience is actually like for all sectors of your workforce. It is often easy to make incorrect assumptions about what it’s like ‘on the ground’. I would urge leaders to actively seek out this information, welcoming candid discussions around workplace issues. Letting your guard down and showing some level of vulnerability is a great start to this process and will help to cement the foundations of a workplace community that feels like family.  

How does your school compare to these attributes? 

Whether you are an LSA or the headteacher, these are all important factors that feed into whole school wellbeing. This would be an interesting exercise to give your school community. How do the views of different groups compare to the head’s view? This task would be a good gauge of impact if it is completed annually.  

Area of workplace wellbeing: Score from 1-10
(1 = very poor, 10 = excellent)
Individuals have autonomy in how they complete their tasks. Where autonomy is a challenge, the reasons for uniformity are clear.  
Staff are actively involved in decision making. They feel that their views are listened to and taken into account.  
Line managers are effectively trained to manage delegation of control and decision making with staff wellbeing at the centre.  
Good leadership and relationships are promoted by good role modelling and core values by all.  
Staff all buy into the aims and ethos of the school.  
Greater flexibility in working allowances for staff such as the ability to apply for leave and flexible working time where possible.  
Empathy and understanding for staff when issues arise such as sickness and family emergency. Staff feel that they are cared for.  
Commitment and effort are greatly appreciated and this is communicated.  
The school sets healthy boundaries for working hours and communication outside of school.  
Staff are actively encouraged to discuss workload issues.  
Staff are trained to look out for stress and low wellbeing in themselves and each other. There is a culture of care and mutual respect.  
Senior leaders are also supported to ensure their healthy work/life balance and positive mental health.  
A wellbeing policy is in place to share and promote this good practice.  
Score out of 130  

If your school falls short of these areas, is there anything you can do?

As an individual, it can seem rather overwhelming to try and make an impact in an organisation that is set in its ways. In these instances, you could:

  • Petition your SLT to let you start a well-being committee that isn’t about cake and yoga and addresses some of these fundamental areas. Ensure you have regular slots at SLT meetings to discuss concerns. 
  • Ask if you can all do a Mental Health First Aid course as part of your whole school professional development. 
  • Hold a staff meeting to set a well-being policy/charter to support everyone. The head included. 
  • Set healthy communication boundaries as a school.
  • Make a stand against workplace bullying and gaslighting. 
  • Ensure union guidelines are followed regarding directed time, lunch duty etc. 
  • Reflect on how far you are willing to go in your individual circumstances in order to improve things.
  • Consider what you wish to do if nothing improves. You always have a choice. 

Is your school toxic?

Occasionally, colleagues may find themselves in an unfortunate situation where they are in a toxic working environment. The following are characteristics of toxic relationships which are scarily transferable to the workplace.  

Characteristics of toxic relationships

For further support with these issues please refer to my article on toxic working environments and also refer to my Facebook teacher wellbeing group.  For immediate help, please see Education Support.

Personal workplace boundaries 

We all need to set our own boundaries when it comes to wellbeing. This can be a challenge to do in a busy work environment but as a profession, we need to work together to challenge the current conditions in some of our schools. 

  1. Work boundaries support us in safeguarding our time, our energy and our overall self. Healthier boundaries are clearly linked to a positive work/life balance.  
  2. Some work boundaries are functional and clear such as needing to leave to collect children. 
  3. Others are more intangible and flexible, such as not generally taking books home but changing your mind when you get ‘the call’.
  4. Without these boundaries there is no recharge time, leading to more stress and potential illness. 
  5. We all have a lot of value that we can’t see ourselves. 
  6. When you consider your own wellbeing, give and follow the same advice you would give your best friend or loved one. We are never kind enough to ourselves. 

Here is my Wellbeing Lady guide to setting our own boundaries.

Guide to setting our own boundaries

Lynn has had 20 years teaching experience across the primary age range. During this time she has been an Assistant Head, Lead Mentor for ITT and SENCO. 

She holds an MA in Education, NASENCO and NPQH. Her particular areas of interest are wellbeing (staff and pupil), SEND, children’s mental health, leadership, mentoring and coaching. Recently she has started an Educational Consultancy business for SEND (SEND support) and Teacher Wellbeing (The Wellbeing Lady) and has several books in the pipeline – watch this space!

She loves to write and her blog address is: www.positiveyoungmind.com. She is also the editor of Teacher Toolkit (https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/author/l-how/ ).