I have been a Headteacher for 9 years and at the age of 48 this much I know about staff well-being.
Right now, keeping the fear factor outside the school gates is very difficult. I try hard to resist the climate of fear this government has so effectively crafted, yet I can feel it seeping into the staff room like chlorine gas. The attack on the profession is orchestrated and relentless, and Headteachers are the single most important defence against the Coalition’s bombardment. What we have to do is relentlessly exhibit behaviours which are supportive and creative, not penal and reductive, especially during this period of industrial action. With immense irony, we need to behave like we’re all in this together.
You won’t ever get it all right when it comes to looking after colleagues. All you can do is try your hardest and don’t make the same mistake twice!  It’s not you, it’s your designation as Headteacher which sometimes makes relationships difficult. Develop your emotional intelligence to understand how you must come across to colleagues.  And always think about how you would want to be treated.
The best thing for students is a happy, motivated staff; by putting the staff equal first with the students, you are doing the best you can do for the students. Any Headteacher who claims she or he always puts students first probably hasn’t thought through in detail exactly what that means.
We offer free flu jabs to colleagues – last year nearly half the staff accepted the offer and at £10 a jab it’s a bargain.
Free tea and coffee facilities in the staff room aren’t too much to ask.
I’m exploring free health insurance for colleagues. It would cost £15,000 p.a. and would, I think, be another marginal step towards colleagues feeling like they work in a profession. Do we even extend that to offering newly-appointed colleagues a choice of employment packages, where they can choose between different pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits?
I feel very strongly that we shouldn’t miss out on the rites of passage moments of our own children just because we are teachers. We have an extraordinary policy whereby colleagues can take a Family Day of paid leave which allows them to attend family events or attend to family business. Those colleagues without children might have parents to support or have other important domestic issues to deal with. Our Family Day policy allowed me to attend my youngest son’s Year 6 Leavers’ assembly in July, a tissue-heavy event!
Employ a qualified HR manager. We employ 170 staff; I cannot imagine another organisation of that size operating without one. The countless benefits of such a post easily outweigh the salary costs. Colleagues feel looked after and have immediate expert advice available at all times. Since appointing an HR manager, our short-term sickness rate has plummeted.
Seek out colleagues and tell them how well they have done. We all like praise. I know I need to tell people more often how much I appreciate them, but I keep trying.
Do all you can to create the sense of a single staff. Where possible all policies and practices should apply consistently to teachers and Support Staff alike. The Whitehall Study in 1965 concluded that, Men in the lowest grade (messengers, doorkeepers, etc.) had a mortality rate three times higher than that of men in the highest grade (administrators) and that more attention should be paid to the social environments, job design, and the consequences of income inequality.
Invest in CPD. In this age of austerity, pour your funding into training your colleagues to be the best they can be. I’ve made this point before. It’s so obvious but it’s all too easy to forget that the only sure way to raise standards is to professionally develop every single member of staff.
We have a Book Club organised by a Subject Leader. Anything which helps create a sense of community is supportive.
Tim Brighouse always emphasises the importance of saying thank you, something you forget at your peril.
It’s not until you are a Headteacher that you realise the extent to which death impacts upon your colleagues. My very first act as a Headteacher was to attend the funeral of a colleague’s husband; he’d stayed up to watch TV and she found him dead on the sofa in the morning. No one asks to go to a funeral for fun – you have to grant permission without question. The Local Authority’s HR manual is barbaric; it states that grandparents do not have an automatic right to attend a grandchild’s funeral.
Returning from maternity leave is traumatic. It’s like a kind of bereavement and I think you have to be prepared to support new mothers as flexibly as you can. It’s difficult to manipulate timetables, but if we are about nurturing young people that should extend to the children of our staff. We have 31 of our 108 teachers on part-time contracts – it drives our timetabler crazy but we have just seen our students gain their best ever results!
Set up a Well-Being Committee. And don’t micro-manage it. Ours wanted me to hold Open Door Headteacher’s Clinics for colleagues which have since proven popular and beneficial.
Send flowers to the mothers of new born babes and to the proper poorly; it’s the thought that counts, not the cost.
Berne’s transactional analysis theory is good for reminding Headteachers about how to interact with colleagues; work in adult to adult mode always – the tendency to slip into adult-child mode occurs all too frequently.
Encourage moments when staff unite in celebration. We finish early on the final day of the autumn term and our chef James and his team cook us full Christmas Dinner. SLT serve the food to colleagues and we pay for the wine. Secret Santa tops the whole thing off – I’ve still got my set of juggling boobs.
If they are free last period of the day, let colleagues go home if they want to. Trust them to get their work done when they choose – it’s about being treated like professionals.
Let your colleagues pursue exciting things to nourish their lives. Our school’s core purpose is, inspiring confident learners who will thrive in a changing world. A colleague has written two novels about ancient China; the Shanghai Literature and Publishing Group has chosen to translate his books into Mandarin and promote them in China next year. A few days off for a book tour? Of course – if our core purpose is good enough for our students, it’s good enough for our staff.

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This post has 42 Comments

  1. Wow! Gizza job! Humane, compassionate and caring. And absolutely right, especially in this climate. Well done sir – I like the cut of your jib!

  2. Excellent advice. I pay for a trained life coach to come into College every week to support – staff really appreciate it. We run a pick-up / collect ironing service, pick up car valleting and MOTs to name a few staff support services. All wonderfully enjoyed. I agree- look after your staff and they look after their cor business better too.

  3. How lovely it must be to work for you. Being treated like an adult who can be trusted to do the work you’re paid for must alleviate so much of the stress of this job. Thank you for this – I wish my HT could see it but after the union meeting last night, it’d be a step too far.

    1. It is very difficult. I’ve worked with the unions this week and it’s been testy at times, but I sat down on Thursday night and asked myself “Why are people feeling like this?” And of course, the answer is that they’ve had enough of being battered. So I thought I’d write down all we do for them. And it was helpful to share with people. It’s easy to react to challenge in a way which is confrontational. When I teach a lesson which goes badly, I always ask myself what did I do that encouraged that disengagement; the same applies with this. I sincerely believe that every teacher wants to be a good teacher. No one wants to do a bad job.

      1. Well, we’re down to only PPA time; cover disguised as ‘support’ [on colleague did 60 covers last year]; two learning walks per half term reports every term, 20 minute lunch with one lunch duty per week and teaching an extra per day as a 25 minute tutor session [no PPA] and we’ve had to submit all planning, lesson by lesson for each class for the whole year and provide a pupil progress sheet for each module for each child – differentiated. We may be in for a rocky road and I don’t expect it to be pleasant on Monday morning. So your post has certainly made me feel more positive.

  4. John
    I think this is a wonderful article. I wholeheartedly agree with your ethos of looking after the staff. I’m trying desperately at the moment to balance in my own mind how I do this yet still move the school forward quickly enough to ensure the children reach their full potential and we move away for the horrible requires improvement grade that is looming. The difficulty I have with this, however, comes back to finances. In a primary school I simply don’t have funds for dedicated HR staff or a business manager. My staff and I end up spending time dealing with site management issues, contractors, quotes for new equipment and the like which inevitably drains time and resources. I am certainly going to look into some of the other ideas that you have mentioned I the article which don’t appear to be as costly. My question would be how did you sell it to governors – was there any resistance, do parents ever comment on any of the “perks” (not my choice of words, but might be how some of m parents would view it) and does it ever lead to staff taking liberties with this ethos or has it truly engendered a culture of mutual respect and support?

    1. I know I am lucky to have 1,500 students and capacity to implement imaginative solutions. Governors understand that cared for colleagues are good for students. Staff push boundaries but I am clear about what we can and cannot accommodate. I think there is some fear still in the school, but it is because of what’s going on externally. Sometimes I communicate the fear I live with and that has a bad effect on staff but I control that as best I can…I wonder if you can link with a number of schools in order to benefit from some of the more expensive resources. Having said that, I think much of what I suggest is about ethos-creation and costs nothing. Thanks for your comments.

  5. What an inspiring leader you must be. I believe that staff are your most valuable resource – if you look after them well they will flourish.

  6. I am at a crossroads, thinking of leaving education, enough is enough. Over time I have witnessed the most appalling interactions between SLT and staff, I am disgusted at the professions. This is wonderful to read, you should be leading the NPQH programme! SLT everywhere should read this and respond accordingly.

  7. I had a Head Teacher like you. She is a wonderful human being for whom her staff would always go the extra mile. She gave up headship because f the detrimental effect on her health. Wish my current HT would rea this.

  8. You taught me at Huntington many years ago. I am now a teacher myself and aspire to be a leader one day I shall remember these words. Congratulations on your success.

  9. Thank you John. I see you are in the UK. I was originally, now I teach in NZ. They are principals here! Some are good and some are bad but if they all followed your thoughts wouldn’t teaching be an awesome career. I’ve always thought that a school is only as good as its teachers. Being respected and valued is key to a happy staffroom and follows through to the classroom to make school a place where we all want to be. Thank you for this Blog post.

  10. Wow! I’ve just realised how undervalued I feel! Not through fault of the Headteacher but as a consequence of poor county management. Any jobs going spare???!

  11. Inspirational stuff John. I attended a meeting recently with a group of senior managers and business leaders in the North East. The theme was what can business do to support teachers. I asked them to think about what teachers could do to support businesses. Teachers rarely realise how skilled they are in key business skills like people management, presentation and advocacy skills, report writing, innovation or the preparation and management of budgets. Businesses have lots to offer schools for sure, but schools could do so much for business.

  12. Your words are inspiring and refreshing, you have so much vision and common sense, thank you for taking the time to share this. I am commenting from a blog I use to share e-learning tips and tricks with colleagues, it’s science orientated but please feel free to browse if it’s useful.

  13. If half of what you suggest had been in place at the school I taught at, it’s unlikely I would have left teaching.

  14. It’s not just in a school environment where this approach should be adopted! I worked in a private mortgage company as an Senior Administrator and staff were treated like machines. Senior Management even adopted “Lean” techniques to monitor our output – a management tool normally used in industry not an office, customer facing environment! Every move was monitored and questioned. It was stiffling, actually hindered us doing our jobs, and we felt like we were being treated like children. Any sense of trust or being valued was completely eroded!
    I am now a happy full-time mum and cannot imagine ever returning to such an awful working environment!

  15. Rather embarrassingly, this made me want to cry. I work in a sixth form in an FE college where the management ethos is absolutely the reverse. I received an email from a friend/colleague this week that said this:
    “When I went to the briefing [the boss] actually said that his job was to find out how hard he could push his staff without breaking them. I pointed out that many of his staff were already broken and off with stress as we had already been pushed quite enough, and that surely if they were trying to save money then breaking us all was not a sensible option as they’d just end up paying twice for teaching staff and lose good teachers. His response was that he would be reducing sick pay. So that’s OK then.”
    I have lost all my passion for my work.

  16. This is a wonderful read of how a school should be run. Look after your staff well-being and they in turn will look after the children in their care. I have taken my redundancy / retirement from the local LA. the last few years supporting schools/teachers has been upsetting in the way I have seen staff treated by the SLT, who in the effort to increase results, pommel teaches just so that they can get their annual bonus!

  17. Speaking as the husband of a teacher I think that these are all good ideas but one other thing that someone needs to think about is: who looks after the Headteacher?

  18. Never have I read such a fantastic account of how to run a school. Far too many school leaders have the approach of a Terminator, relentlessly tracking results and chasing teachers, failing to recognise that teachers are organic beings, with physical and emotional needs, not automata that require nothing other than a quick dab of oil. Pupils, too, have these needs and are even less capable of performing faultlessly and with 100% efficiency. Education, like health care, is about looking after and nourishing humans, accepting that they are fallible and need careful nurturing to flourish, otherwise they wilt and die.

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