Own Your Wellbeing by Patrick Ottley-O’Connor

posted by cerasmusteach on behalf of a blog written by Patrick Ottley-O’Connor to mark  2018 #cultureofwellbeingDGInset

“Look after yourself before looking after others, so that together we can make a difference for all learners”.

This call to action to own your own wellbeing, was on the first slide that I shared with all staff on my first day as Interim Principal at Essa Academy in September 2016. Now as Executive Principal with the Essa Foundation Academies Trust we have created a culture of wellbeing across our family of schools to support staff mental health and wellbeing. We talk openly about & celebrate mental health and wellbeing every single week. This builds on the analogy of putting on our own oxygen masks on before helping others which has been instrumental in supporting us realise our values based vision where ‘All Will Succeed.’

We encourage & support all staff to see, own, solve and act on their own wellbeing, whatever that may look like. After all, one persons pleasurable wellbeing activity may be another person’s nightmare!

We talk about and celebrate wellbeing with our ‘Wellbeing Stars of the Week’ (weekly nominations by staff for staff to recognise their support for each others mental health and wellbeing). In addition, we facilitate regular #teacher5aday wellbeing activities, such as random & themed acts of kindness, strawberries & cream during Wimbledon, wellbeing bags, Crunchie Fridays & our ‘Wheel of Misfortune’; a Russian Roulette style prize-giving of lovely & cringe worthy surprises!

However, our wellbeing approach is not a soft option! The very reason I prioritise staff wellbeing is to maximize their performance in supporting students to achieve. Children get one shot at school and it is vital that they receive the highest quality experiences & teaching to equip them for life and their next steps in education, training & employment. Difficult decisions were needed to overcome challenges and create opportunities to focus on how colleagues could support each other’s wellbeing, including:
• making changes to school systems & structures to support wellbeing
• reviewing of all policies considering wellbeing
• creation of learning spaces to address wellbeing issues
• increasing the CPD budget by £55k, to facilitate coaching triads for all teachers, bespoke coaching for all leaders and Mental Health First Aid for staff
• increased use of developmental support plans, occupational health referrals and counselling for staff.
• we are planning to increase PPA in September to 20% for all teachers & 50% for Core Middle Leaders.

Our approach has seen some staff come back from the brink of mental health issues to redefine their passion & ‘mojo’ to enjoy the profession once again.

I have high expectations of staff, with a no excuses, no exceptions approach to teaching. After all we must ensure that all children succeed. On its own, this approach can lead to staff isolation & to pressurised high-stakes accountability. However, when the same approach is applied with equal rigor to staff, with the high expectation that staff mental health & wellbeing are prioritised without excuse or exception, it can support all staff to succeed and ultimately help us make the biggest difference to the lives of our learners.

I strongly believe that this approach is impactful, replicable and sustainable. The same approach was applied at The Hereford Academy in September 2015, when I was greeted as Principal with the challenging context of leadership instability & performance issues and where staff described real frustration with workload, initiative overload and a toxic culture of accountability and low morale. Later that year we came out of Special Measures, with the Ofsted report stating, “…leaders said they had been liberated from bureaucratic tasks and teachers had been freed to teach.” Staff spoke openly about how they were enthused, engaged and empowered to own their own wellbeing and prioritise their own mental health.

As a leader in 2018, I pledge:
• to continue to place my own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others at the heart of school improvement.
• To be a wellbeing ‘super model’ by living my balance everyday & talking openly with colleagues about my journey

I am convinced that a sharp & sustained focus on staff wellbeing should be central to all we do in schools to ensure that we are fit & healthy to make a difference for our learners.

To conclude this blog and kick start #cultureofwellbeingDGinset, I would like you to reflect on the following questions:

• Do you see your own wellbeing issues?

o What works or doesn’t work for you?

• Do you own your own wellbeing?

o What are you doing about it?

• Have you solved your own wellbeing issues to achieve balance?

o What have you decided to do?

• Are you acting on your solutions & living the wellbeing change that you want to see?

o What have you actually done to improve your wellbeing?

So, whoever you are and whatever role/position you hold, what will be your wellbeing pledge to yourself & towards others for 2018?

Patrick Ottley-O’Connor