6 Ways Schools Can Promote Staff Wellness Beyond Teacher Appreciation Week

There’s no question that now is a great time to show appreciation for all the educators in the world. 

But what if we cultivated a culture of care, respect and honesty in their work environments every day? IMO, that’s the best way to appreciate our educators every day, and especially during these unprecedented times of Covid-19.

Here are 6 practices to help determine where you’re winning at staff wellness and where you might want to make some tweaks. I recommend reading them, self-assessing, and even considering discussing them in your next team meeting. 

  1. Listen

The ability to listen is often the first thing to go in a crisis. It’s easy to get focused on doing and acting but forget to get still and hear what people want and need. Equity of voice is a hallmark of strong organizational culture, and now is an important time to listen to all voices. How might those with lived experience and expertise help you both understand staff needs and potentially support families more effectively?

To address this, I’ve seen some leaders adopting office hours where staff can call in to share what’s working and where they have concerns. Others are scheduling regular staff “pulse check” surveys to help leadership be attuned to wellness concerns. Many people have heard me over the past two months ask the simple question, “how’s your heart?” as a way to allow them to share what they feel moved to tell me in that moment. While I think finding a simple, go-to question is a great thing to do to prompt sharing, the most important thing you can do is be prepared to listen.

  1. Practice flexibility and inclusivity

Remember that this is a time of crisis and uncertainty. Everyone is going through changing and differing emotional reactions. The elaborate dinner menus seen on Facebook feeds and dance parties happening on Instagram Live are occurring alongside illness, confusion, death, loss of income and furloughs for friends and family members. 

School-based staff need space to feel okay this morning with how their distance learning is working but despondent this afternoon about how to keep their own children occupied and manage through having their essential worker family member on the front lines of harm. Not only will each individual have waves of emotions, but each person will need and be responsive to different approaches. Each team is made up of many individuals with diverse needs and inclusive workplaces allow room for them all.

  1. Lift the communication veil

Trust staff at all levels with the truth. Cultivate a culture of transparency in which staff believe you’ll share what you know, anticipate and seek out their questions, and regularly be in touch with updates. Not sure of the exact plan or anticipate that it might change? Don’t be afraid to share what’s unknown and/or is still being determined, while also helping people feel confident that whatever happens you will do your best with their interests in mind.

It’s an act of vulnerability to ask for input, but schools where leaders ask for ideas and suggestions feel more united in their collective purpose. When leaders make decisions that don’t align with feedback they’ve been given, school-based staff have more respect for the choices made when leaders explain their rationale. 

  1. Ensure basic needs are met

Perks and gifts will mean little if employee basic needs aren’t met. While it might seem above the call of duty, there’s a role in staff wellness for just making sure they have what they need to survive. In these Covid-19 times, this can be anything from mental health support and legal/financial resources. 

While not all schools and districts have employee assistance programs, now is a great time to investigate these options or simply develop a list of resources that employees might access on their own. Have you considered reminding staff what’s available through their existing benefits package? That employee who is normally on top of their game might be dealing with unanticipated challenges right now. Schools that can help be responsive to these needs are not only more likely to retain staff but are also better able to ensure students get better care and attention from their teachers.

  1. Demonstrate appreciation

Show gratitude in both word and deed. I’ve heard of boards that have sent bonuses and online delivery service gift certificates to school-based staff as thanks for their added commitment during these trying times. Other schools have encouraged staff to take mental health days in order to rest and rejuvenate. 

My social media feed is full of schools showering teachers with unique ways to show their appreciation this Teacher Appreciation Week. It’s a beautiful sight to behold! Before you schedule another Zoom happy hour, be sure to read the virtual room. If staff have been complaining of Zoom burnout, maybe that’s not the way to celebrate them. Instead, ask for their suggestions and then act accordingly. 

6. Provide tools and resources

Access to tools and resources to be able to do your job well is one of the top indicators of employee engagement, according to Gallup. With the quick shift to remote work, the tools needed to get school-based jobs done have changed. It’s obvious that schools need to provide the right technology hardware and platforms to enable work to get done. But don’t forget to offer sufficient training and ongoing support, as well as tips and guides to make those tools work optimally. 

How about a supply stipend for all staff to ensure they have what they need to turn their home into a makeshift classroom? Continuing a community of practice or professional development sessions? Make sure they’re relevant to current needs – like a book study on blended learning, high engagement virtual learning experiences, or SEL strategies for students dealing with added stress right now. Make it relevant and relatable. 

Could your organization use support in ensuring an inclusive workplace during these uncertain times?

  • Register here for a webinar on Staff Wellness and Appreciation on Thursday, May 7 at 12 noon ET, or
  • Email arobinson@edplusconsulting.com to schedule a coaching consultation