Continuing with the Exeter series, I’m delighted to present Karen Salter, who delivered a session on well-being for educators at the Babcock conference. Karen has worked as an Early Years consultant in Devon since 2009. Before this she worked as an EYFS teacher and EYFS/KS1 leader. Karen has an MSc in occupational psychology, specialising in workplace wellbeing, and undertook research into the role of workplace support on school staff wellbeing levels.
“As an Early Years consultant I’ve witnessed a growing need to support staff wellbeing, owing to the challenges of the education system and continued pace of change. I have recently started running training for Early Years leaders on looking after their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of their team.
It makes sense that educators who feel well, with a manageable workload, will be effective at their jobs. Indeed, research suggests this is the case. For example, Briner and Dewberry (2007) found a positive relationship between teacher wellbeing and children’s school performance, indicating that supporting staff wellbeing may also be beneficial for the children we educate.
So what does staff wellbeing look like? A useful wellbeing definition is:
“the balance between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced.” (Dodge, Daly, Huyton & Saunders, 2012).
It’s important to point out that this is individualised, for example, some people favour higher levels of challenge than others. In addition, a person’s perception of their skills/abilities and the challenges they face is important in determining their wellbeing. Two people may view exactly the same situation as posing a different level of challenge.
Research suggests that removing (or reducing) stressors and pressures that are negatively affecting staff wellbeing will boost wellbeing most effectively. However, we all know that there are pressures inherent in our jobs that cannot be removed, as well as pressures from government agencies that we cannot completely control! Therefore, I focus on supporting staff to recognise and deal with challenges by adapting how we respond, for example, by teaching coping skills, thinking strategies, relaxation techniques and time management approaches. We focus on things we can control so we can make a difference.
The Health and Safety Executive has identified several factors often related to workplace wellbeing:
- Demands – e.g. workload and working hours
- Control – by the staff in how they do their work
- Support – formal and informal help/assistance from leaders and colleagues
- Relationships – positive working practices, avoiding conflict, dealing with unacceptable behaviour
- Role – understanding and clarity of job role
- Change – how change is managed and communicated
These can be used to identify current challenges to wellbeing and to consider how to better manage or respond to these, whilst identifying ways to boost wellbeing, such as increasing staff support.
One way of addressing challenges is to consider how staff members think about these. The way we think can significantly affect our wellbeing. Some thoughts can make us feel more stressed, anxious or angry, whilst others can lessen stress and calm us. For example, if we have a tendency to focus on negative events, blowing these out of proportion, we can try to keep things in perspective, developing a realistic view of their significance.
Changing our thinking isn’t easy, but with time and practice we can replace stress-inducing thoughts with more realistic and helpful ones, supporting our wellbeing.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas to support your wellbeing or the wellbeing of those you work with. Even small changes can make a real positive difference! If you would like to discuss any of this further, please do get in touch.
Briner, R., & Dewberry, C. (2007). Staff wellbeing is key to school success: A research study into the links between staff wellbeing and school performance. London: Worklife Support.
Dodge, R., Daly, A., Huyton, J., & Saunders, L. (2012). The challenge of defining wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2, 222-235.
HSE (2007). Management competencies for preventing and reducing stress at work. London: Goldsmiths, University of London.
Follow Karen on Twitter: @KarenSalter78
Contact Karen by email: Karen.Salter@babcockinternational.com
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