Planting Seeds: How Would You Grow a Culture of Wellbeing?

Last May I attended the Mental Health and Wellbeing #teachmeet at Magna Carta School, an inspiring event where I met Clare Erasmus for the first time. We stayed in touch and have become friends. Through our conversations, through tweets and blogs,  via events we have both been at like the CWMT Mental Health Conference I hosted in November, I have learnt a lot. She is a trail blazer and is paving the way for the emerging role of MH&WB leaders in our schools, around the country. Visiting her provision and experiencing  her vision in situ really helped me with my strategic vision of  #wellbeing.

A year on, I have secured a Headship. A year on, I returned to facilitate a session. A year on, I am working on bringing my vision to reality. My session was  intended as a crowd sourcing exercise, but ended up being me sharing my ideas and receiving verification I was on the right track and challenge for some of the ideas that needed developing, and/or thinking through for sustainability.

Here are the questions I asked the room and used to facilitate the discussion:

Q1. With a blank piece of paper where would you start in nurturing a school wellbeing culture where everyone can #growlearnflourish?

I know my team and I have the luxury of being able to create things from scratch and do things differently, rather than lead change, the whole staff body and the majority of the parent body are fully behind co-creating a wellbeing culture.  A clean slate is exciting and means we can create new systems from day one.

Q2. How would you define a “Wellbeing Culture”?

I was asked this recently in a group coaching session. I was challenged on using my conditioned vision of wellbeing as the frame for my current wellbeing needs. I had not considered this before – that my parents had brought me up with their wellbeing vision and that my lifestyle is very different so I need to redefine my own interpretation. Growing up in Devon, my parents semi-retired to a farm and live the ‘goodlife’. I love walks on the beach but don’t really do mud! I would rather go to a spa for a weekend and have a massage to nourish my soul – ultimately I shouldn’t feel guilty about this. Equally leading a wellbeing vision and creating a wellbeing provision is about ensuring that  a range of diverse opportunities are offered to cater for all staff needs .e.g staff sports or mindfulness are not for everyone!

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Q3. What does ‘Growing, Learning and Flourishing, Together’ mean to you?

I asked everyone to complete these 3 sentences:

  • Human beings grow best when… they have the right conditions including space and freedom.
  • Human beings learn best when… they have some ownership over their direction and the time/energy to commit to it.
  • Human beings flourish best when… they are loved, nurtured and trusted.

Q4. Does our system focus on student wellbeing at the expense of staff wellbeing?

I think this is true. My pledge is that if we look after our staff better, then our staff will look after our students. Not that they are not striving to do this already, but teachers are barely able to look after their own MH&WB with the pressures of our profession. Our staffing crisis, both recruitment and retention, is exasperated by the negative press about our profession. But there is no smoke without fire. Yes we need to talk up our profession, but we need get to the root cause and fix our system, rather than icing over the cracks.

Q5. How can we create a wellbeing culture where everyone can thrive and flourish?

For me we need to shift our focus. We need to focus on whole human beings, both staff and students, and not reduce them to statistics. We need focus on preventative strategies rather than reactive interventions.

Q6. What strategies would be on the  Action Plan for creating a Wellbeing Culture? What would you establish as your short, medium, long term goals? What would you prioritise?

  • How can we create it? We need to ensure it is embedded in our culture, vision and strategy from day 1.
  • How can we model it? We need to ensure that all of our staff live our values.
  • How can we nurture it? We need to ensure that all of our community are supported.
  • How can we sustain it? We need to review it and regularly take staff voice.
  • How can we audit it? We need to engage all stakeholders.

Q7. Reflections: How can we take our  vision and create a #wellbeing provision?  

Committed to ‘nurturing hearts and minds’  we are developing our holistic offer to include:

  • Mindfulness programme – every morning
  • Art Therapy room – in 8 week blocks
  • Thrive Room – to nurture our vulnerable students through transition
  • Sensory Room – to support our ASD students
  • Martial Arts Academy – for all of our Year 7s
  • Wellbeing Room – for all of our staff
  • Coaching Culture – for all of our staff
  • Family Dining Experience – for all of our community
  • Community Reflection – for our students each night
  • Half-day on Fridays – for our whole community

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This is all a work in progress of course and I can’t wait to have the team started to drive this forward. Ask me a year how we are getting on!

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Changing the language from #teachmeet to #edumeet to be more inclusive of the educators working outside of our classroom.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • Kay Price gave us a MH&WB toolkit of books to read that have shaped her wellbeing provision.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Everyone who attended, facilitated and contributed to the discussions at the #MagnaMHTM17.

 

 

 

School Leadership: Growing, Learning and Flourishing

Viv Grant is doing a school leaders’ blog series on how we can flourish. Below are my reflections to the questions that she posed about wellbeing, thriving and flourishing as educators, school leaders and schools.

Context:

I was appointed as a Headteacher Designate in June and started in January but am not yet in the full role as I have no staff, students or parents but I do now have a site and an office. It has been an interesting transition into my 1st Headship.

I joined GLF as the visions and the values of the trust were strong: ‘to grow, to learn, to flourish’. As a values-led leader, designing a values-based education this resonated with me. Our mission at Aureus is to educate the whole child and to ‘nurture hearts and minds’.

I relocated for the role, I now live in Oxfordshire after 12 years in London. This was part of my wellbeing commitment to myself, I wanted a change in pace, a new lifestyle and a new environment. The atmosphere in my school is calm because of the large windows framing stunning views. Seeing blue skies and green fields is very calming and I took this for granted when I grew up in Devon.

I am committed to ensuring that my staff and students grow, learn and flourish, but I also need to ensure that I have this pledge for myself as a school leader: I need to practice what I preach!

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Have you ever struggled with the reality of school leadership? If so, when and how did it affect you?

I have a strong ethical and moral code. I lead and behave based on my values. I have seen several leaders lose themselves in their role and behave in ways I do not respect.
I always strive to maintain my professional integrity and have had to fight my corner when I have been asked to do things I do not think are ethical. I have whistleblown when I feel my values are being compromised. The increasing pressures from the system need leaders to be strong, resilient and tenacious to stay true to who they are, what they believe and what they stand for.

In what ways does the role sometimes fail to support the flourishing and wellbeing of its leaders?

Teaching and leading in education can become all-consuming. I believe that a lot of the profession are struggling to survive and keep their head above the water line. Hence why we have a recruitment and retention crisis for school staffing.

We have a lot of systems in our schools which are not time nor energy efficient which need reviewing. We also have traditional practices and paperwork for paperwork’s sake which could be changed.

Our profession has a renewed focus on wellbeing, but quite often it is focused on student wellbeing at the expense of student wellbeing. We need to focus on positive mental health and wellbeing for everyone in our school community. I have appointed a brilliant Deputy Headteacher, Julie Hunter, who has done the .B mindfulness course and the MHFA accreditation. She will be leading our wellbeing strategy.

What changes have you made to your own ways of being and leading that have served you better in Headship?

I am only a term in and do not yet have a team as I am the founding Headteacher of a brand new school site and community. This has it pros and cons.

The pros are that I have had a term lead in to think about and plan how to do things differently. I have recruited a dynamic team are all aligned with my vision and values for the school. The cons are that I am the only team member and the job feels like it is 24/7. I have especially felt the impact of this with communications as I have no one to streamline the flow and interface with all of the stakeholders who want to talk to me/ meet me.

With no team to delegate to, I am accountable for everything and everything is medium to high priority. I am employed a virtual PA to support me as I could not keep all of the balls in the air at one time! From September I will have a personal plan as well as a professional plan for 2017-18 goals. I will get into more a routine once the school is opening and ring fence more time for me. With our holistic offer including yoga, mindfulness and martial arts I will build this into my working week.

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What advice would you give to those struggling with the role?

I have a very strong support network who have kept me sane – I have a professional mentor and a personal coach who I can contact to seek support and advice from. I live the #10%braver mantra of #womened – I found my voice a while back and use it. If I am overwhelmed, stressed, unhappy I articulate it.

I have recently been involved in a group coaching programme curated by Annemarie Williams and we had a session with Harriet Minter who challenged me to challenge myself about how I ensure that self-care and self-compassion are part of my professional identity. I am realistic about the fact I am a one woman band and cannot do it all, so I do what I can, when I can and do not beat myself up when I miss deadlines or make mistakes – we are humans and things go wrong, when they do I apologise and make amends.

For me, it is all about fit. I have found myself in the wrong role, at the wrong school, in the wrong culture and I had to walk away. We are responsible for the culture of our schools and the behaviours of our teams, but we are also responsible for our own wellbeing. If we are not healthy, happy and well, then how can we look after the wellbeing of others?

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On a wider level, what needs to happen?

• To make school leadership more sustainable we need to invest in wellbeing and resilience build in activity such as coaching and mentoring.
• To support the well-being of school leaders we need to review the workload challenge and create a space and a range of opportunities in schools for staff to breath.
• To help school leaders to flourish we need to invest in the development of their leadership capacity.
• To create a happy & healthy school we need to focus on the whole person and offer holistic activities to develop the mind, the body and the soul.
• To recapture the soul and put the humanity back into education we need to remember and focus on the ‘names, not the numbers’ for our children and the ‘souls, not the roles’ for our staff.

We also need to spend more time on our values as individuals and as communities, ensuring that our values are ‘lived, not laminated’.

MLK FLOURISH QUOTE

Final Thoughts:

I am presenting at the Mental Health and Wellbeing TeachMeet at Magna Carta School this week, sponsored by the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust. My workshop is on MH & WB Policy and Vision: With a blank piece of paper where would you start in nurturing a school culture where everyone can #growlearnflourish?

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The Holistic offer we have at Aureus to develop the Whole Child, I now want to focus on ensuring we have an offer for the Whole Educator too!

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I am looking into how we can establish, develop and nurture our Mental Health and Wellbeing programme at Aureus School.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • My #wellbeing contacts who I will see at the MHWB teachmeet this week – Clare Erasmus, Kathryn Lovewell, Sue Webb and Viv Grant inspire me.

 

Leading Wellbeing and Mental Health: On Visiting MCS

Wellbeing and Mental Health have been a high priority in education for a while. Both have generated a lot of headlines about the state of the UK education system. There are wellbeing and mental health concerns for the children, as emphasised by the NSPCC’s published report today:

  • 50,000 children rang childline last year
  • on average they received a crisis call every 11 minutes
  • this is an 8% increase on last year

Statistics like this really worry me and make me question the status quo:

  • What is going wrong in our schools?
  • How are we addressing these issues with our young people?
  • Why is our school system exasperating wellbeing and mental health issues?

A lot of schools now have reactive interventions to support those who are vulnerable. But, more importantly, how can we be preventative in out strategies?

The beauty of social media is that through #wellbeing #mentalhealth #teacher5aday tweets and blogs I have connected with a community of educators who  not only care, but are being proactive in crowd-sourcing/ cascading strategies and initiatives they are embedding in their schools. This is how I stumbled across Clare Erasmus. In May 2016, I saw a tweet about a #MHteachmeet at Magna Carta School, Staines. I shared it with a few friends and a group of us went down. I was intrigued as I had not seen a #teachmeet with a pastoral focus before.

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The event was brilliant. It blew me away in fact. Nina Jackson was the key note and there followed a series of presentations on mindfulness, yoga, peer mentoring, family outreach, a mental health app designed by the students which showcased the #wellbeing ethos of the MCS. Clare had recently been promoted to Director of Mental Health and Wellbeing; she and her team had created a Wellbeing Zone with a provision of physical and virtual resources to support the community.

Clare and I have stayed in touch since the spring, and I have followed her as she has tweeted and blogged about their journey. She has presented on her research-led strategies  at numerous events including the Mental Health Conference that we hosted at Harris Crystal Palace, funded by the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust and curated by Dr Pooky Knightsmith. Today I visited her, with some Wellbeing colleagues and our HR team from GLF schools to see the  provision in situ.

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What I took away from my visit:

  • Collate the data – the student and staff voice focus is strong and underpins decision making but also gives leverage to get buy in
  • Create the space – MCS is well-provisioned with a suite  of rooms and offices
  • Invest in the training – the staff team have been trained to do yoga instruction, mindfulness, counselling – great CPD for them and brings value to the community
  • Identify role models – the young people have been trained to be Anti-Bullying Ambassadors, Wellbeing Ambassadors and Peer Mentors
  • Use the technology – an app designed by the students and a provision mapping tool have saved time and energy, whilst also breaking down barriers/ stigmas
  • Embed in culture – the different themed days, national awareness weeks, PSHE lessons and competitions include art and film artefacts displayed around the school

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So keep Thursday 25th free as Clare and the team are planning the 2nd #MHTeachmeet t build on the success of last year.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Creating a values based education at Aureus School, with #wellbeing at its core

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • The Magna Carta School #wellbeing research which has informed their strategic direction and decision making re preemptive initiatives

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Clare Erasmus – a visionary when it comes to the strategic leadership of Mental Health and Wellbeing
  • Nicola Lainsbury – what a team these 2 make – great operational insight in to the day to day management of the space, the policies and the student ambassadors
  • Sue Webb – looking forward to working with Sue on embedding a VBE at Aureus School with #Wellbeing at the heart of our values
  • GLF Schools HR team – looking forward to collaborating on a MAT/ TSA wide strategy on how to ensure all of our stakeholders are well