As Covid persists, the need is strong for an emphasis on wellbeing for both students and staff in international schools. For staff and their families, this situation is unprecedented, and a difficult time to be away from extended family and friends. Furthermore, there is no clarity on when there will be a return to normality.
As these are unsettling times, it is important to think about how both managers and teachers can support one another during the pandemic. Staff have experienced a drastic change to their role requirements, level of freedom, and ability to live their lives the way in which we are used to. However, this does not mean that international staff will want to leave and return home. If an appreciative and thoughtful school culture prevails, teachers are more likely to stay. Here I gather some reflections on how leaders and staff can work together to create such an environment.
Show interest in your staff to support ‘belonging’
This statement seems obvious to teachers, as I have found colleagues always ask how I am doing, they ask about my family, and how my weekend was, for example. However, some managers do not operate in this way and this, perhaps unintentionally, can lead to teachers feeling devalued. As leaders, take time to learn a little about your staff, as this helps them feel comfortable within a school.
“As a teacher, should you feel a particular member of admin is not approachable, address this.”
However, as a teacher, should you feel a particular member of admin is not approachable, address this. For example, invite them to your classroom, stop them in the corridor and ask them about their weekend. This may seem daunting at first, but if you do, you can make steps towards changing this situation.
For leaders, offering genuine comments and specific feedback to staff goes a long way to raising self-esteem, and showing you value a member of staff. This can be a note, an email, or verbal comment. Recognise their work such as a project, planning, or great communication with a parent for example. When treated this way, teachers feel respected and inevitably repeat their actions.
“Offering genuine comments and specific feedback to staff goes a long way to raising self-esteem.”
In one school a colleague read my article and brought it to her headteacher. The headteacher shared this article as good practice with his division. Hearing this made me feel incredibly proud and appreciated that my work was being put to use.
From a teacher’s point of view, if a manager has improved a situation or supported you, make them aware of this and let others know too.
Create wellbeing initiatives that are well-researched
Ensure any wellbeing initiative is specific to the needs of the staff. Leaders should ask staff what they really need and move on from these suggestions. Make sure you carefully consider any new initiative: what will be the impact and is this a genuine attempt to support wellbeing or simply an idea that will phase out quickly? For example, an easy, quick-to-implement idea is a “praise your colleague” initiative, using a shout-out board in an often-frequented space, such as a staff room.
As a teacher, should you have suggestions for wellbeing, share them. Creating a collaborative understanding of what wellbeing means as a school will ensure most will benefit from it.
Remember to be kind
Teachers I have worked with have been so kind, and done so much to boost my self-esteem and make me feel valued in the workplace. This support can range from buying a bar of chocolate, providing recognition for my work, or simply sharing that an idea I have had was great. Imagine then, if a senior leader found out when a team meeting was and brought in coffee?
Offer to help one another in times of need
If you know a member of staff is struggling, offer to support them. Ask them what they need. If they insist they are fine, continue to check on the situation. It can be difficult when abroad to be without family, and that little offer of help means a lot. As a leader, actively support staff in taking ‘mental health’ or ‘personal’ days, again this helps teachers to assess how they are feeling and whether they need that break before burnout.
“As a leader, actively support staff in taking ‘mental health’ or ‘personal’ days”
If you are already part of a school that considers wellbeing important for all, from the cleaners to the teachers, then consider yourself fortunate. Praise your leaders for this and shout out to other international teachers. Advice from a teacher to leaders: genuine attempts at getting to know staff, celebrating their strengths, and making time for all in your school, will contribute to a happier workforce.
Jess Gosling writes regularly on her blog and tweets @ JessGosling2. If you are interested in international teaching, join her Facebook group, set up to help international teachers with advice as they contemplate their next move: New International Teachers.