Smile protector programme
Saturday 30th is #TeachWellFest. I am an advocating for the event because without positive staff well-being, there is no profession and second because I respect the investment of hard working, determined educators, putting staff well-being and career longevity in the spotlight.
The names associated with event will hardly surprise you. They are the agitators and rabble-rousers, protagonists and promoters. The do-something-about-it-‘ers and the social-cultural architects of our profession (I recognise that there are many, many, more teachers supporting their schools not on social media). Swing by the website and you will get to see the full directory but before you do that can ‘we,’ I want to recognise the toil of the event organiser – Georgia Holleran. Georgia has convened and tirelessly promoted #TeachWellFest on an unreasonably tight schedule, armed with little more than goodwill and the forethought of creating a sway of interest in teacher wellbeing that will ripple out across staffrooms and classrooms thereafter. Along with Georgia, Emma, Vic, Anora, Amjad and Victoria (and those I am looking forward to meeting for the first time next Saturday), I am standing strong for a more aware and supportive teaching profession.
From a personal perspective, I want to acknowledge the guidance and commentary of Mike Armiger, Martyn Reah, Simon Warburton, Mary Myatt, Tom Rogers and others, who consistently remind me of the importance of promoting staff well-being and mental health in teaching.
Here is my contribution, a magpied idea,
stollen borrowed for our Head Teachers meeting last week.
‘Good’ is not to be taken for granted
Last week I attended our Trusts’ Head Teachers training event. Squeezed in amongst the firehose of information, reviews, updated policy, scheduling, GDPR, Safeguarding, was a flip-chart dedicated to sharing staff well-being ideas.
Within my leadership outlook – deliberate actions to recognise discretionary effort and professional contributions, are essential contributors to staff well-being and organisational culture, however, I offer a serious cautionary note. Just because these programmes or actions are wholesome and well intended, does not mean they are protected from due criticism, potholes and pitfalls.
In fact, it is because they are “wholesome and well intended” that we are lulled into lazy decisions making. In fact, many well-intended actions are fraught unintentional outcomes; attendance rewards and staff-leaving recognition are just two examples.
…The pot-holes are often the result of unsophisticated policy and poorly defined criteria or poorly defined definitions of authorised or unauthorised absences that lead to questionable records. That is before you add the line manager interpretation and responsibility for actually recording the absence. The end result is that some staff may work as harder (in some cases harder) than their colleagues, then miss one day for a very genuine reason not recognised or accounted for by the policy and that colleague fall foul of the line.
Thanking leaving staff by name seems simple. It should be. But miss out a colleague, at any level of the organisation, expect to backdraft of disapproval. You can’t even afford to over-look staff that left a day, a week earlier for whatever reason, from your list – without expecting a few “humphs” and disparaging “snorts.” Should you fall foul, all I can say is be humble, but the truth is, it really is too late.
Smile Protector Programme
I borrowed and thought through this idea from Kimberley Hutton – Head Teacher at Cottingham Campus. Who may have seen this on TES? Well being is not new news… this post is from 2006 and highlights the work of the London Wellbeing Programme.
Kimberly referred to her staff “guardian angel” programme. Think of a programme much like a perpetual Secret Santa. Each staff member is privately assigned a colleague. It is now their responsibility to quietly “keep an eye out” for that colleague and their well-being. Should that colleague falter, it is their responsibility / opportunity to secretly, protect that colleague’s smile – typically by offering a random act of kindness (RAK) to help “turn that frown-upside-down” again.
Lets say a colleague bemoans a “rubbish day” where their only PPA was engulfed by controversy, where Y8 decided that the helicopter outside the classroom was more important that Hamlet’s outrageous fortune – (true story) and, and, and… It is that Smile Protectors responsibility / opportunity to help them bounceback. To be an agent of bouncebackability.
Seems simple enough. Wholesome and worthwhile? Most certainly.
And yet, this wonderfully well-intended programme is not without its unintentional outcomes, potholes and pitfalls.
Your actions or RAK is seen as; artificial, exaggerated or undercooked, too soon, delayed, too grand, too meagre. Overlooked even? (I know, these seem unreasonably critical, though plausible). What if your kind intent shows that you really do not know the colleague at all?
Mitigations: How to be a better RAKivist. (It really is a term).
Some simple reflections – a defined or co-design and shared understanding of the parameters of the programme at it’s launch, would undoubtedly help float this fantastic idea and keep it afloat.
- An agreement and commitment that this is indeed a good idea.
- Do we need to frame the response act? A modest token gesture? Discouraging one-upmanship? A review at the end of the term?
- Do we need to agree when to share the act? Is that question even necessary or too constraining? Do we agree to share the RAK the following morning? Just in case we misread the situation and our good intention adds fuel to the fire?
- Are we at risk of making a bad situation – worse? Are there frowns that we should leave well alone?
- What if a bad day goes unnoticed?
- Recommendation – Always maintain anonymity.
Do not think that the Smile Protector Programme is for the recipient only. From experience, I would recommend that you underline the covertness of the RAKivists. Maintaining the anonymity was half the fun, even if caught red-handed. Second, staff got a lot from seeing others benefit from their actions
There is hard research evidence that committing random acts of kindness has positive psychological impact. It comes under the research heading of gratitude and has been shown to reduce stress, boost our immune systems, and help reduce a range of negative emotions. For leaders in schools, it also enhances the release of oxytocin the hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter and predictor of how trustworthy we are of others. A rather important aspect of a healthy school culture.
Are you growing a healthy school?
Staff retention, reduce absenteeism (national benchmark 7.9 days a year – Schoolworkforce Statistical First Release) are all commonly available measures to compare yourself against, as team, department or school. We also offer termly stakeholder survey ratings with both simple questions and opportunities to feedback.
Just for the record – you are reading this post on either Kristianstill.co.uk or Teachwellfest.com If the former, you are doing so because of Mike Jenkins, who gifted the domain name to me some 10 years ago. Thank you Mike, I am still blabbering on.