Supporting Staff Wellness

Whether your school is doing virtual or in-person instruction, or a combination of the two, this school year will bring unprecedented adjustments, challenges and changes. The year may also bring a unique opportunity to reset and focus on developing a school culture that values teamwork, creativity, flexibility and wellness. As a leader, you're an important source of guidance and support for your school community. Here are some tips to help you navigate this challenging time while taking care of your needs and your staff’s.

With so much uncertainty and change, it is normal to feel overwhelmed, stressed and anxious. Now more than ever, it’s critical that you take time to care for yourself.

  • Acknowledge your feelings and allow yourself to feel them. Whatever you feel is real and valid, and sometimes just acknowledging what you feel can provide a sense of control and reduce stress.
  • Try various self-care strategies to find what works best for you. What works one day may not work the next, so it's important to have options to choose from.
  • Reach out when you need support. Having a group of fellow administrators you can talk to, get support from and run ideas by can be very helpful.
  • Set an example for your staff. Your staff is looking to you to set the precedent. If you are prioritizing your own wellness, they are more likely to do the same and to feel supported in doing so.

This school year will present unique challenges to your staff. Here are a few ways you can support your staff during this transitional period:

  • Give clear expectations and follow through. We all feel more at ease when we know what to expect.
    • Communicate expectations clearly and repeatedly and do your best to follow through on your commitments.
    • Try to schedule staff meetings at the same time every week, and make sure to start and end them on time to show staff that you value their time.
  • Listen. Sometimes the most simple and meaningful way to help people feel cared for is to simply listen.
    • Carve out intentional, routine check-ins to allow staff to share feelings and concerns. When you can’t implement their recommendations, explain why. It’s important for staff to understand that there are limits to what you can do, but that their concerns are still important to you.
    • Consider creating an anonymous feedback option so that individuals who might not feel comfortable speaking up in staff meetings still have opportunities to let you know how they are feeling.
  • Address any tension. Differing opinions around safety protocols, such as mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines, will likely arise amongst your staff. Although you may have strict guidelines within the school building, you cannot control how staff operate outside of work. As a result, staff may hear stories or see posts on social media of other staff being more or less strict with social distancing or masking while out in the community.

    Be aware of any tension these differences may cause. Try to get ahead of tension by:
    • Being clear about expectations in the building and enforcing policies consistently.
    • Setting an example by following all safety protocols, such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.
    • Creating opportunities for staff to talk openly and respectfully about concerns.

Even though staff may be familiar with emotional wellness practices for their students, they may need encouragement to use similar strategies for themselves. Your staff will be more likely to care for themselves if they feel as though wellness is supported by the administration. Try to carve out time in staff meetings, and throughout the weekly schedule, to incorporate opportunities for staff to prioritize their own wellness.

Here are a few ideas to promote staff wellness:

Check-ins: During staff meetings, take a moment to do a quick check-in about how people are doing before jumping into the agenda. This allows everyone a chance to slow down and think about how they feel. It also provides your staff an opportunity to feel seen and heard, and gives you insight into what the staff may need.

  • Do a “lightning round,” asking each staff member to use one word to describe how they feel.
  • Have staff enter one emoji, one color or one feeling word into the chat function to represent how they’re feeling. Follow up later with staff who are struggling and offer support.
    • Green = I’m good to go!
    • Yellow = I’m doing OK.
    • Red = I’m not OK.

Checkouts: Ask people to identify how they are feeling at the end of the meeting. Did you notice a shift from many people being yellow to green? Did you notice a shift from a lot of yellows to reds?

How you end a meeting can be just as important as how you start it.

  • Use the end of a meeting to provide a summary of what was discussed and set positive intentions for next steps.
  • Have each staff member share one thing they are looking forward to the following day or week if time allows.

  • Set designated times that teachers in a virtual setting can take lunch and planning breaks.
  • Start a staff meeting with a quick mindfulness, breathing or stretching exercise.
  • Encourage staff to incorporate movement breaks throughout the day. Movement has a positive impact on concentration, mood and behavior for students and staff alike.
  • Create a “tap in, tap out” system for staff to encourage them to support one another throughout the day.
  • Set up a way for staff to communicate when they need help or need a break.