Wellbeing for Staff

by David Ingram

Key Takeaways from Our Post-pandemic Journey

Staff wellbeing is an essential element of running any organisation but especially so for international schools. A workplace culture that enables individuals to flourish, supports the overall success of our whole school community. 

Our College Context

In March 2022, our community went into hard lockdown as part of the city’s COVID-19 prevention measures. No one was allowed out of their compound to go shopping. At that time, our focus for staff wellbeing was clear and simple: we wanted to ensure that everyone on our team had enough food to feed their family. As the hard lockdown progressed from days to weeks to months, our focus shifted to emotional wellbeing and mental health. From organising online social events to arranging bespoke counselling, we wanted to ensure that our team felt connected and cared for. When the lockdown ended, our number one priority was getting teachers home to see their friends and families. This involved financial support to cover the cost of exorbitant air fares and actually chartering a flight from London to Shanghai to give our team the peace of mind about safe travel on their return to China. Our community really pulled together during this period of adversity. Staff wellbeing was all about life’s fundamentals. Our post-pandemic context is different so our continued focus on staff wellbeing is different as well. 

The Complexity of Wellbeing

One of the challenges of promoting wellbeing is that it’s a complex and multifaceted concept. Wellbeing means different things to different people. At our College, we allow staff children to accompany their parents on the staff bus. This initiative supports their wellbeing but doesn’t benefit staff without children or those who drive to work. Granting a member of staff leave to attend a special family event may give their wellbeing a boost but may adversely affect the wellbeing of those who cover their lessons. Another complexity is that the responsibility for staff wellbeing lies with both the individual and the employer. Individuals have a responsibility to take care of their own physical and mental health through self-care practices and seeking support when needed. Employers, on the other hand, have a duty to create a supportive work environment, provide resources for staff wellbeing, and promote a healthy work-life balance. The lines of demarcation aren’t always clear, which can lead to bad feelings on both sides. Diana Osagie spoke eloquently on this subject at the FOBISIA Leadership Conference in Bangkok earlier this year. It is important to find the right balance. Ultimately, a collaborative effort between individuals and employers is essential for creating a positive and healthy work environment. Given this complexity, staff wellbeing requires a holistic approach that considers physical, emotional, and mental health, as well as work-life balance and job satisfaction.

Developing a Holistic Approach

At Education in Motion, we have implemented a holistic wellbeing framework to support our understanding of staff wellbeing. The framework was developed in partnership with David Bott, Co-Founding Director of The Wellbeing Distillery, in a year long process that involved input from lots of staff from across our group of schools. The aim of the framework is to foster an environment in which staff feel connected, respected and empowered. It comprises five strands: organisational wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, social wellbeing, mental health and physical health. Critically, the framework is accompanied by a staff wellbeing audit tool to evaluate the how effectively we are covering the five strands at College level, identifying strengths and areas for development. This has enabled a comprehensive review of the way in which we operate. At the group level, the framework has facilitated the sharing of good practice and collaborative solutions for common areas of development. At College level, this has resulted in a greater awareness of physical wellbeing, leading to the provision of ergonomic furniture, dedicated staff times in the gym and swimming pool and a new Health and Safety plan. It has also resulted in greater awareness of mental health leading to mental health first aid training and coaching skills for line managers so that they feel better equipped to support members of their team. More importantly, the audit tool provides meaningful opportunities and for teams to reflect upon the factors that affect their wellbeing. The impact of this is a much more authentic dialogue.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

We have also recognised the intrinsic link between diversity, equity, and inclusion and staff wellbeing. We have valued the opportunity to work with DEI consultant, Angie Browne. Together we have covered: sex, pregnancy and maternity; race; sexual orientation; disability; gender; religion and belief. This has been a challenging but rewarding process that has fostered a more open dialogue about working at our school for individuals associated with protected characteristics. This has informed our approach to recruitment, induction, professional development and, of course, wellbeing. Our work with Angie Browne has also led to practical changes, such as the provision of breastfeeding rooms, all-gender toilets and our menstrual care partnership with Luuna. This award-winning and woman-led social enterprise is committed to building a more equitable world by working with organisations to make period products freely available in every washroom – just like toilet paper. They also provide resources to help destigmatise the menstrual cycle. This has been well received by staff and students alike. Our partnership with Luuna not only makes a difference in our school. It funds regular product distributions to vulnerable communities, ensuring everyone can experience menstruation with confidence and dignity. We are the first school in China to partner with Luuna and other schools are contacting us to find out more about doing the same. 

Intentionality in Creating a Supportive and Motivational Culture

Intentionality in creating a supportive and inclusive culture is crucial. It is tempting to start the academic year by focusing on what we need to do. We are intentional about focusing on how we are going to work together. We dedicate time to revisit our College values at the beginning of the year to ensure they are reflected in our working culture, especially during periods of challenge. This involves asking difficult questions:

  • How do we behave when things are stressful?
  • How do we behave when there is disagreement?
  • How do we behave when someone is struggling?

We are equally intentional in prioritising team-building, partnering with organizations like Team Building Asia and The Hutong. Team building activities underline the importance we attach to communication, collaboration and positive relationships. These are essential elements for creating a supportive culture. Linked to this is the importance we attach to professional growth. As David Whyte said, ‘the antidote to exhaustion isn’t rest, it’s wholeheartedness.’ Professional challenge and professional learning play a crucial role in our College. We are intentional in creating an environment that is professionally engaging and enriching and invest heavily in the development of our staff. We seek teachers who are motivated by this culture and who are looking to grow during their time with us. Future employability also contributes to long-term wellbeing. This is an important feature of our College.

Getting Better Never Stops

While we are pleased with what we have been able to achieve, we still have a long way to go. We are looking forward to widening participation in the next round of the auditing process. This means digging deeper into both our systems and our culture. We are keen to harness AI to reduce the burden of paperwork and getting calendar planning right remains a holy grail. Working on staff wellbeing is an ongoing dynamic, which requires both aspiration and authenticity. Our staff don’t expect the academic year to be stress-free, but they do appreciate the actions we have taken so far and our commitment to keeping staff wellbeing as a priority. The key takeaways from our journey so far include:

  • The value of dialogue, especially listening
  • The value of taking a holistic approach
  • The value of diversity, equity and inclusion
  • The value of intentionality

As we continue this journey, we are committed to creating an environment where staff feel valued, supported, and motivated, ultimately contributing to a positive and thriving College community.

Find Out More

Diana Osagie and Courageous Leadership https://www.courageousleadership.co.uk

David Bott and The Wellbeing Distillery https://www.thewellbeingdistillery.com

Angie Browne https://www.beingluminary.co.uk

Luuna https://luuna.care

Teambuilding Asia https://www.teambuildingasia.com

The Hutong https://thehutong.com

David Ingram is the Founding Head of Dulwich College Shanghai Puxi. He previously worked at Tanglin Trust School in Singapore, Kellett School in Hong Kong and The Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur. David serves on the Board of FOBISIA and the Executive Committee of the Shanghai International Schools Association. 

To connect with David on LinkedIn, click Here

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