What can schools do about declining staff morale?

With mounting evidence of plummeting staff morale in schools, Nigel Gann, a school governor, education consultant and school wellbeing consultant, recommends some strategies, activities and further reading for addressing wellbeing in education. Here’s an extract from his article in the Guardian…

Here are some guidelines and thoughts for developing staff wellbeing in school:

• Do you know what elements of your school’s operation are well thought of by staff, and which aren’t? If not, why not?

• When you’re looking at staff morale, make sure you look at the whole staff spectrum. How the office staff, premises staff, classroom assistants, lunchtime supervisors feel about their work can be as important as how teachers behave for organisational morale. Everyone in an organisation needs to feel valued if they are to perform at their best.

• There is some evidence nationally that there is a correlation between staff wellbeing and student achievement (Worklife Support on the Relation Between Well-Being and Climate in Schools and Pupil Performance, Dr. Chris Dewberry and Professor Rob B Briner, Birkbeck College, May 2007). I would recommend exploring it within your own school. Can you relate classroom staff attitude to pupil performance in your own experience?

• ‘Being nice’ to each other is an exhortation, not a strategy. A strategy is “a carefully devised plan of action to achieve a goal”. Many schools do have wellbeing strategies and action plans to promote wellbeing. Such a strategy might identify areas where staff think the school could do better, with steps to be taken to achieve improvements and to review progress.

• There are ways of measuring staff wellbeing objectively – Worklife Support, a non-profit-making company which is part of the Teacher Support Network, uses an online instrument which can show improving (or deteriorating) wellbeing, and the areas on which the school can focus to make things better. Look at this survey.

• There is a science of wellbeing now. Martin Seligman’s work in positive psychology is the basis for much of this. We have to be able to define a concept before we can work with it, so you need to know what you’re working towards. Simply, the job of the school’s leadership is not to make everyone happy. It is, rather, to create an environment where staff work most effectively with the most desired outcomes for students. This will enable the highest levels of job satisfaction and the most appropriate environment for everyone. It will eliminate inappropriate and time-wasting processes, and it will demonstrate the leadership’s intention to do its best for everyone in the organisation.

• Schools can take active steps to monitor and develop morale. For example, does the school provide supportive activities to enable best staff performance, for example, coaching, supervision, and other forms of employee assistance and support? In one primary school in the south west, two thirds of all the staff have a coaching qualification which enables them to work with pupils and colleagues. This school, despite working in an area of significant deprivation, is able to give staff both collectively and individually the resilience to continue working in difficult circumstances. Simple activities, such as briefly reviewing the day before finishing to identify successes with students, help to maintain morale as well as giving ideas for future strategies.

• Consider reviewing the school’s practices to enable best performance. For example, a large secondary school found that cutting the hours required of staff in school actually increased efficiency. Another school banned managers from sending emails to staff on Sunday evenings. Shifting the lesson-change signal from a raucous bell to a civilised bleep (or even doing away with it altogether) can have a real impact on the school environment. Using texting and tweeting to communicate can ensure that all staff are kept informed and never feel left out of the loop – poor communication is one of those things that appears as a real downer in staff morale in all organisations.

• Are there regular morale-raising activities and celebrations, such as school awards and celebratory gatherings? Are the staff encouraged and enabled to organise diversionary activities for positive bonding: quiz nights, cake days, seasonal entertainments and so on?

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