By Pam Mason on 03 Mar 2021
Here we go again, the return to schools for all pupils in England, let's hope we manage to keep the gates open for longer this time. This is the first step in Boris's road map to get us back to some sort of normal however he is clear that further uplifts to restrictions will be about the data not the dates. This continues to leave us in a state of uncertainty. Humans thrive from routine and structure; the next few months will again be very unsettling for people.
Some of us may have had the vaccine but the majority of school staff won't have received it in time for the return to school. Our Government declares that schools are safe working environments with the measures that have been put into place around year bubbles, social distancing, face masks and testing regimes. Regardless of these measures, I am sure your staff will have anxieties about returning to school and around their own personal circumstances which could include worries over; the rate of infection; facing new routines; looking after older relatives; undertaking the school run again; continuation of lockdown and restrictions or just generally living in such an unsettled world.
The wellbeing of staff must be at the heart of everything you do after the 8th March. Staff have enjoyed greater flexibility around; their start and finish times; home-working; reduced after school meetings etc so they will need support in moving back to pre-Covid routines. However, it is sensible to examine at this point if any of the COVID ways of working can be kept to support wellbeing.
Questions to discuss at SLT could include; Can we continue to do team meetings and CPD virtually to allow staff to leave work early and return home before the rush hour traffic? Can PPA and management time be carried out at home as routine? Can certain support staff work from home on a regular basis? Do we need to re-introduce the volume of meetings that were in place pre-Covid? Can marking especially around homework continue to be done electronically to reduce teacher workload? Can you undertake virtual parents evening? Can pupil after-school interventions be done virtually?
If we can support staff with continued flexibility, it should maximise staff buy-in and performance upon return and support mental health.
Here are some top-tips in supporting staff return over the coming weeks:
Staff buy-in: Engage with all staff at the earliest opportunity, ensure they have been given a chance to raise immediate issues and concerns. If you have trade union stewards in school have a separate meeting with them to discuss reopening arrangements and invite their opinions.
Staff 'temperature checks': Undertake short assessments to see how staff are feeling, maybe a quick 'survey monkey' every fortnight upon return.
Staff survey: Keep it simple with a well-being theme. Assess where staff fears and anxieties generally lie to ensure you can quickly respond.
Leadership: Ensure SLT and middle leaders are fully up to speed with uniformed key messages, this will help staff have confidence in moving forward. A strategic wellbeing action plan must be put into place for the short, medium and long term.
CPD: Provide staff with exciting wellness / wellbeing themed training such as resilience, nutrition to boost energy, sleep and coaching skills.
Risk assessments: Continue to share your COVID risk assessment with staff, obtain their views, check their understanding especially around social distancing, hand washing, PPE etc. Consider undertaking stress risk assessments will all staff during the first few weeks.
Health & Safety: Ensure staff are fully updated on Health & Safety matters involving themselves and students prior to returning. Test their knowledge with scenario based questions and FAQs.
Policy: There may have been changes to your operational policies such as behaviour and safeguarding or key personnel, ensure all staff (and students) understand the changes and new expectations.
Communication: Ensure communications continue using a range of methods. A weekly newsletter or email from the leadership team would be helpful in maintaining contact if team meetings have been postponed or are not weekly.
Delegation: Give key staff responsibility areas upon return and ask them for daily / weekly updates to ensure systems are working effectively and to support you as Leader.
Parental complaints & issues: Provide staff with guidance how to deal with parental issues and complaints, an FAQ document of likely concerns should be compiled so staff have confidence in dealing with any low-level problems consistently. It is paramount that parents understand how and who concerns should be raised with once their child returns to school.
Working together: Encourage staff to work in sub groups, ensure they have connection time with their teams and colleagues, they can bounce concerns and ideas off each other, again establishing the 'team spirit' which should help in reducing stress
Grief and loss: It may be necessary to offer 'grief and loss' programmes depending on how the virus has effected your school community.
Mental health: Share useful links for online resources and remind staff they can have 1-1 meetings with their line managers to discuss anxieties and fears. If you have trained 'Mental Health First Aiders' in school ask them to become active in supporting their colleagues.
Counselling & Occupational Health: If employees require more individualised support remind them referrals can be made easily via Occupational Health or about your Employee Assistance Programme.
Fun and Motivation: We have seen so many schools doing fun things for staff; staff zoom meetings; virtual walking challenges; fun quizzes and online socials, don't stop doing this, keep the moral up which will improve motivation. Plan a summer event if all restrictions do lift in June.....how exciting!!!!
A final key message for all staff should be 'we are all in this together', a commitment that measures will be reviewed daily and as individuals we all need support.
Leaders need to recognise their own wellbeing needs, modelling good practice is essential to set the right wellbeing culture in school. Please keep in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or enquiries you may, these are exceptional times and we are here to help you through them, a strong strategic wellbeing plan is essential to get you through this.