Striking a Balance Between Staff Wellbeing and a Quality Education

How we deliver a quality curriculum to our learners at home is a question that leaders continue to grapple with. I worry however, that staff workload and wellbeing could well be forgotten as schools hastily redesign their systems and processes. There has been somewhat of a revolution in staff wellbeing and workload over the last 10 years (and rightly so) but leaders now have to work even harder to make sure that staff are at the forefront of their thinking as teaching and learning is being reinvented.

Get the Language Right

Before we even start to think about planning an appropriate home learning offer with our teams, leaders have to force the focus of staff conversations in school. There is no way to talk about COVID without there being a negative connotation, a personal issue for a member of staff or a frustration at the state of the nation. That being said, we are in education and we have no choice but to battle on through. We have to show a positive mindset and remain focused on problem solving with the hand we’ve been dealt. We cannot control infection rates, local lockdowns or local and national policy, so we have to be careful that we don’t let it hijack our professional discussions. Leaders must focus only on what they can control and aim to develop a well thought through, accurately communicated plan. Staff and parents will take comfort in knowing that leaders ‘have it all in hand’, therefore channel all your energies and conversations into your offer so that people will have some certainty in an otherwise uncertain world.

The Offer

Don’t always go for what is new and shiny!

Even though there is a rush to start up new platforms and information sharing sites, make sure you have properly considered what you already use in school that can be used for sharing work should a bubble close. If all new tech is introduced, especially with the short turnaround time a closing bubble affords you, there is higher chance of confusion and the system not working. A sensible approach would be to use a mixture of the platforms and online programmes the parents and children are used to, with a few new ones thrown in to ensure a high quality delivery.

Individual Isolation

In the event of individual children having to isolate, this is something that your staff must have pre-prepared and ready to go. In a perfect world, this would reflect what is being taught in class but remember, without the benefit of the teacher teaching it, you are limited to how much impact you can have from a distance. Consider creating two-week packs of basic skills around the child’s level of ability. Make up a pack for each academic year group and give out the one most appropriate to them (Due to lockdown this may not be the child’s chronological class). Leaders must dedicate staff meeting time to teachers creating these packs so that they are ready to send as soon as needed. Also, this is a ‘job ticked off’ for teachers and one that TA’s could easily prepare and send off with a child should they have to self-isolate.

Bubble Closure

This one requires more thinking and staff wellbeing should be at the forefront of leaders’ minds. The main concern in terms of wellbeing is that the online classroom never switches off. Potentially, students and parents can communicate with teachers at any time of day or night. Below are a few ideas to support leaders in planning the right balance between quality online teaching and staff wellbeing.

Communicate the School Working Day: Make the working day clear to all parents. If your online school day starts at 9, make sure everyone knows there will be no communication after 4:30pm (for example). Leaders must protect their staff wellbeing with clear rules around communication and contact, clearly shared and understood by all.

Online Teaching: This is currently a hotly debated topic on social media. How much is too much and how little is not enough. Obviously, the best person to teach the children is their class teacher, but staff cannot maintain 5 hours on zoom a day and then be expected to respond to completed work as it comes in. There are four areas to consider when planning your online offer:

  1. The children deserve to see their teachers  – How can we build in face to face time
  2. The children need to be taught concepts
  3. The children deserve support if they are stuck, possibly 1:1
  4. Their efforts deserve feedback either written or verbal

With all these areas falling to teachers and TA’s, how can you protect their wellbeing? After all, they may have to fulfill these for up to 10 school days. In my next blog, I will give practical examples on how each of these non-negotiables can be approached by leaders and teachers, ensuring a moderate workload for staff.

Are we getting it right?

The only way to know whether your planned offer is striking the right balance between appropriate workload and a quality education is to have well-structured feedback loops. Firstly, to understand if your staff are OK, you need to communicate with them regularly. Ask whether they are getting to switch off at 4:30 or whether feedback and communication carries on long into the night. Visit some of the zoom sessions and have a log in to the platform where work is posted to check that staff are not doing too much. Secondly, to ensure you are delivering a quality curriculum, you need to ask parents (and even children) if they are happy with the work being set and the plan for home learning. This can be through questionnaires and surveys, but I often feel the personal touch is best. Choose two or three families per class to call, just to see if they’re OK and happy with the offer. Finally, make sure you use the feedback to amend your plan. Although the bubble may only be away from school for ten working days, there is no predicting when the next positive case will strike and your offer needs to evolve to be better each time.

There is obviously no perfect solution here because every school is different and every bubble’s needs will be unique. That being said, if leaders remain relentlessly focused on striking the right balance between staff wellbeing and a quality educational offer, there is no reason why we all can’t ride this storm and possibly create systems that can be carried into the post COVID world.