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Five ways to enhance wellbeing​

NESLI’s recent strategic forum provided an opportunity for principals and leaders from across Victoria to explore how they could take the lead on conversations about wellbeing and create practical strategies to boost social capital and wellbeing in their schools. Titled ‘Enhancing Staff Wellbeing in Victorian Schools’, principal and teacher wellbeing specialists discussed their research, shared case studies and spoke about how to support increased wellbeing across all school communities. Here are five key takeaways from the day.

Remember why wellbeing is so important

Sometimes, it can be so easy to get caught up in the daily running of schools and classrooms that you forget why wellbeing matters. Wellbeing is vital for several reasons. According to the 2016 Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey, Australian principals are working excessive hours, score poorly on quality of life metrics versus the general population and are experiencing rising threats of violence. This situation is putting principals and other education professionals under mental strain. Worse still, at least in the case of younger principals, the first sign of stress is death, said Dr Philip Riley, Associate Professor of Education Leadership at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education. Focusing on wellbeing also mitigates negative outcomes in the classroom. As noted by David Bott, Associate Director of the Institute of Positive Education at Geelong Grammar School, a climate of wellbeing supports academic achievement rather than hindering it.

Pay attention to your personal wellbeing

Learning to like yourself and practising self- care are important to your personal wellbeing, said Sheree Vertigan, Executive Secretary of the International Confederation of Principals. Ms Vertigan also stated that mindfulness and self-reflection are critical to wellbeing. From a practical perspective that can easily be implemented, Ms Vertigan recommended finding a ‘health buddy’ or two and keeping a regular wellbeing journal.

Foster team wellbeing

In addition to personal wellbeing, team wellbeing supports entire schools to work effectively and achieve their goals. Mark MacLean, K-12 Schools Consultant at Wagga Wagga Diocese, shared ways to promote team wellbeing. Firstly, having regular formative leadership meetings to give constructive feedback builds a culture of openness and wellbeing. Specifically within the Wagga Wagga Diocese, schools are getting mentoring, counselling sessions and increased administrative support and the Diocese has given principals FitBits so that they can look after their physical as well as mental wellbeing.

Be able to deal with difficult conversations

Challenging conversations are sometimes an integral part of creating a climate where the wellbeing of everyone in the school is valued. Dr Riley explained that it is important to approach challenging conversations in a values-driven way so that everyone maintains their dignity.

Build social capital

Building social capital is not a one off thing. Instead, it is about revisiting and reactivating things as you go along. Relationships and trust are the building blocks of social capital, and are a fundamental ingredient to effective teaching. Educational outcomes are usually not favourable where there is little or no trust, as, the energy needed to solve the complex problem of educating a diverse group of students usually gets diverted towards self-protection.

NESLI's Wellbeing Toolkit is a group development program designed to help schools create a professional climate which is conducive to the wellbeing of all staff, and to help improve social capital across the organisation. 

Melita Ferguson is Research Manager at NESLI.

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