Developed in the UK by the New Economics Foundation as part of the Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing, the Five Ways to Wellbeing program provides evidence-based approaches to improving mental health and wellbeing.
I have referenced these approaches that are designed to promote wellbeing across the general population, and demonstrated how they can be translated into a school context.
With a focus on how the school principal and executive can lead their staff in the area of wellbeing by being role models and positive examples, the five ways to wellbeing fit beautifully into school life especially as part of building a positive school culture that supports staff health and wellness.
Five Ways to Wellbeing for A School Leader
School Principals and executive must build positive relationships with staff if they are to be effective leaders and if they are going to build a culture of wellbeing and a sense of belonging for their staff. Relationships are proven to be the strongest indicators of a successful, contented life (Vaillant, 2012) and people will stay in jobs with less remuneration when they have strong connections with their work mates.
Anecdotally, teachers report high levels of job satisfaction even in schools with students with particularly challenging behaviour, if they have a strong sense of belonging and support with their colleagues.Just as students work harder for teachers they feel care about them, teachers will work harder for a Principal/Executive whom they feel knows, understands and is concerned about them as people.
- Be Active.
As a school leader, it is essential to lead staff in health and wellbeing practices beginning with physical wellbeing. Demonstrate that you value physical health by taking time in the school day to walk outside and take a breather, getting away from the computer to walk around the school and look into classrooms, participating in school sports days, fun runs or staff/student games and incorporating physical activity into your daily routine.
When you set an example for staff without being judgemental or accusatory, teachers will look to you for leadership around wellbeing and take their cues from you about how to prioritise their own health.
- Take Notice.
Be a leader who notices what is going on for your staff. Remark on achievements or interests that staff may have. Comment on outfits, haircuts, families, hobbies etc of your staff in a way that shows your interest as well as valuing them as people.
In the same way teachers build relationships with students by being aware of their needs and interests, school leaders must do the same with staff. Be interested in what interests them because you care about them and want them to feel valued and recognised. The behaviour you model to your staff will be replicated between staff, and toward students and parents, creating the culture of the school.
- Keep Learning.
Teachers pride themselves on being life-long learners. It is a vital quality of an effective teacher. As a school leader, demonstrate this characteristic by being open to learning novel skills, taking up new interests, or reimagining a past interest.
When you take up a new hobby relay the challenges, joys and triumphs to your staff, modelling a growth mindset– you might not be proficient at backhanded volleys or playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on the guitar just yet, but you are working on it!
Doing something that you love improves wellbeing by making you more confident and gives you a hit of oxytocin just because it is fun!
Doing something for someone else has been shown to be more beneficial for the giver than the receiver (Smith& Davidson, 2014). Giving is indeed its own reward. In the school context, this may include developing projects such as ‘Secret Angel’ where each person on staff is designated a special buddy to surprise during the term.
A spin on the Kris Kindle Christmas idea, this initiative spreads the joy throughout the whole year.
Start a Gratitude Wall either in the staff room or school foyer, and provide coloured post it notes for people to express gratitude, and be the first to write something up.
Everyone will enjoy reading all the positivity!
School leaders are in a unique position to drive the culture of the school, to promote staff and student wellbeing and to improve academic results by working on a whole school approach to health and wellness.
Smith, C., & Davidson, H. (2014). The paradox of generosity: Giving we receive, grasping we lose. Oxford University Press, USA.
Thompson, S., Aked, J., Marks, N., & Cordon, C., (2008), New Economics Foundation Five Ways to Wellbeing
Vaillant, G. E., (2012), Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, Harvard University Press