How can you create a school of wellbeing?
They say “never work with children or animals”. Well, children are the easy part, it’s the staff who you have to worry about.
Misery loves company and there is little doubt that a culture of complaint has grown up around the teaching profession to its detriment. Some schools struggle to improve because this culture acts as a barrier. Language is emotionally charged and instead of positive messages filling the staffroom, corridors and classrooms, the atmosphere is heavy in frustration and stress.
Some teachers have gone from what Muhammad and Hollie (2012) describe as ‘Believers’ to ‘Fundamentalists’. They differentiate between the two as follows:
“Those who display productive organisational behaviour are the Believers, and those who display unproductive behaviour are the Fundamentalists. It is this behaviour that affects the will of the school, educators’ ability to lead, whether a school culture is healthy or toxic, and, ultimately whether the learning environment is a positive one in which students can succeed.”
I’ve never quite understood why senior leadership teams would allow a culture of complaint to ever take hold, establish itself and grow.
No one wants to work in a toxic environment with poisonous mushrooms yet there are plenty of them. It’s poor management that allows a school to become a receptacle for persistent complaining.
Many teachers have become ‘selfies’ rather than ‘we first’ team players. Their personal agenda comes first and the collective agenda comes last.
It doesn’t take much either – if you have one or two members of staff chipping away and always complaining then it can drag a place down as they can normally recruit new members quite quickly. This collegial complaining then mushrooms into further bitterness making it hard for a problem-solving culture to grow.
As Muhammad and Hollie (2012) say, “Unfortunately, Fundamentalists have been allowed to hijack the focus, energy, and commitment in many schools” and senior managers therefore need to target these staff members and bring them back to being Believers rather than dangerous disruptors.
I like the way Muhammad and Hollie get to the core of what a healthy school looks like. They say that teachers in these problem-solving cultures “do get tired, angry, and even frustrated, but their resolve does not change.”
The determination and tenacity to never give in to negativity is key and changing our communication style can make a huge difference to the cultural identity of a school. ‘We first’ is important because the focus is on everyone and not just the pupils. Everyone matters and everyone has to participate, contribute, consider and learn in an atmosphere of ‘us’ and ‘can do’.
Next staff meeting, forget the usual groaning and moaning and focus on the good. Give staff the following question to answer by themselves:
“Recall an example of inspiring behaviour that you witnessed by a colleague. Describe the situation and its impact on you, the team, and pupils.”
The primary objective here is to put some pride back into the system and to help Fundamentalists see the thoughtfulness and humanity that led them to teaching in the first place.
Then as a team, go round each member of staff and listen to what people have said. Get positivity on the agenda and never let it get away and transform. Happiness loves company too – persistent complainers who vent their spleen are not welcome.
Schools will always be spaces that hold ignorance, imperfection and complaints but they can’t ever be allowed to take hold. Creating a healthy collective focus, a collaborative culture and cultivating accountability are key. The DNA of a school can be seriously damaged by those who do not invest in agency, collaboration and relationships.