How principals can improve the wellness and performance of staff

How principals can improve the wellness and performance of staff

Earlier this week, a major study of Australian schools found that administrative workloads impacting the health and wellbeing of 72% of teachers, while 28% said they lack a positive relationship with parents and colleagues. The same number indicated workplace bullying, discrimination or harassment was an issue for them.

The same report also found that a third of all students are not coping well, which has been trending upward as the year progresses. Unsurprisingly, this is only exacerbating the pressure and stress that Australia’s teachers and leaders have been feeling.

Mimma Mason is head of Clinical Assessment APAC at British-owned education giant Pearson. Mason has worked in education and cognitive science to improve the health, wellbeing and performance of both school students and staff.

One area of particular interest for Mason is how to measure brain health and improve everyday functional wellness and performance for school staff. To help leaders achieve this, Mason runs professional development workshops around the science of learning: working memory, wellbeing and literacy, differentiated learning, and response to intervention.

Below, The Educator speaks to Mason to find out more.

TE: What do you consider to be the most important areas of professional development for leaders and teachers in 2022, and why?

There needs to be a continuous commitment to learning about learning. Leaders and teachers need to understand the impacts of neurodiversity, Social-Emotional Learning and wellbeing to ensure content they teach is inclusive and being effectively delivered.

School staff are responsible for students making progress in learning and need to be supported to do so. We are increasingly aware that what most affects progress in learning is less about the content of their lessons and more about student wellbeing and sense of belonging in the classroom. Yet we spend too little time training teachers about how students learn, how individual differences affect learning, how wellbeing and social emotional issues affect learning and behaviour. For example the impact of delivering content online during COVID lockdown. If we ask teachers to make classrooms more inclusive, we need to provide teachers with the knowledge and skills to cope. 

TE: Drawing from your work in education and cognitive science, what are some effective ways in which leaders can improve the functional wellness and performance of their staff?

The same things that affect students affect teachers. With a cognitive science hat on I always come back to the fact we are all humans with a need to belong and feel safe in order to learn.

Tactics that we recommend to improve functional wellness and performance of staff include:

  • make time to deliberately problem- solve as a team - allow time for planning activities and do them as a team rather than taking the load alone. This helps remove the pressure of time and individual performance as well as allows for collaboration. Multiple perspectives can assist with achieving better outcomes.
  • when a problem becomes too large, break it up into smaller chunks. - our brains are only capable of managing a limited amount of information and complexity. By limiting the domain of a problem it becomes more manageable , that is easier to keep in mind, focus on and ultimately solve.
  • explicit teaching of goal-setting and coping skills - making a routine of checking in about mood and mental health. Leaders and staff don’t have to solve the issue, they just need to be aware early that an issue is present. We need to know how to identify an issue and to ask for help. Pearson uses assessments and training around learning agility to heighten self-awareness and motivate action that keeps staff performing well.

TE: Workforce management is becoming an increasingly complex challenge for principals, especially as compliance obligations and societal expectations increase. How is Pearson helping to make workforce management easier for principals?

We encourage principals to focus on skills not content. Most schools and staff don't have the skills to match the increasing obligation to manage student wellbeing as well as learning.

The knowledge gap is easy to fix, but the skills gap is complex and a long-term commitment.  Leadership skills, problem solving skills, coping skills, collaboration and communication, these are all the skills valued by every workplace and will especially empower teaching staff to grow, develop and most importantly effectively cope with their increasing obligations. It's also what they will need to model for student success as well.