Wellbeing – professional & personal

2021 Short-Term E-Exchange report from Mick McCann, Principal, Newcastle East Public School.

As part of the International E-Exchange Program, a virtual exchange was completed between New South Wales and overseas counterparts. This exchange provided an opportunity for short-term one-on-one partnerships between educators with similar interests or fields.

This action research report on the shared focus area was completed following the 6-week program.

Introduction

Wellbeing is vital to everyone’s long term health. The way we manage our day to day wellbeing and stress levels will have an effect on our long-term health. Wellbeing is a constant practice we need to be aware of and how we control it. It is not a set and forget thing. With small daily practices, we can strengthen our personal wellbeing and have the skills to adapt to different changes in our environment.

This holds true for many parts of what schools, teachers, parents and the school leaders do every day. We are operating in a change world. There is something different each day for people to deal with. Having a strong personal change mindset and understanding that change is ok, can be a major driver for working within any system change environment. Today and over the next few weeks and months, we will be in the middle of a major system change. People need to be open to new ideas, new plans and new ways of how old things now need to be done.

This has been very evident over the past 18 months as the world has moved into a new lifestyle where COVID-19 is part of everyday life, and even more so as we move into the next lockdown phase of the school year.

Having a clear plan articulated and reinforced with actions will provide staff and our school communities with some level of certainty as we move through these changing times. Wellbeing should not be a brand new thing right now. School leaders need to think outside the box and have supports in place for staff to maintain the high educational standards we have in the NSW Department of Education (DoE) schools.

Focus of the Study: Description of Current Practice

Through a series of zoom and google meets sessions, we were able to explore our own personal well-being practices and how we apply these to our work settings. Our personal knowledge and practices were a major influence on the professional development ideas used in our schools and how small changes can make bigger gains for our school communities.

Wellbeing has always been something that I have made a focus even before I was in the principal role. I have a personal mantra and it is the lock screen on my phone, “It’s not about perfect. It’s about effort and when you bring effort every single day, that’s where transformation happens. That’s how change occurs.”

Signficant Learning: Findings

All NSW schools receive, in their School Budget Allocation Report (SBAR) funding, principal well-being funding each year. Principals have a choice on how this funding can be spent. Many schools buy additional office time to help with day to day running of the school, some schools may employ additional teaching / counsellor staff, employ additional School Learning Support Officers (SLSO), or in my case, I used these funds to run whole school wellbeing programs.

These programs are for the students, staff and parents of my school community. My major focus is with my staff, as I feel if I have a happy staff, I will have happy students and in turn happy parents. We have a strong wellbeing program, that is individualised for our school’s context.

We see students working through problems using the language we model during our lessons and using skills, like breathing, when faced with challenging situations like a selective high school entrance exam.

We use elements of the Flourish Movement by Dr Adam Fraser, Calm Mind program developed by Amber Hawken, PBL, and a common-sense, day to day point of need approach at school.

The three major programs (Flourish, Calm Mind, PBL) are the foundations we use to develop skills to cope with the changes we are facing. Using elements of these program, we have been able to develop a Newcastle East PS (NEPS) whole school wellbeing program, which works for our school and its needs. NEPS has a Family Occupation and Education Index (FOEI) of 11, which means that we have a low level of socio-economic disadvantage and there is very little which stops our teachers from teaching full days. We have very few playground incidents between students but a lot of time is spent managing the expectations of the parents.

Through student, staff and parent consultation, we have developed our whole school wellbeing plan. Within this plan, we have established our 5 pillars – connect, take notice, give, be active and keep learning. These pillars are displayed around the school, in classrooms and a regular thing in our weekly newsletter to parents. We are always circling back to these pillars to reinforce the need to align what we do each day with these expectations.

Having these major programs is all well and good but it is just as critical to have day to day well-being actions as well. This is the rubber hitting the road each day and not just once a term thing, a poster or QR code on the wall. As a staff, we have established a wellbeing week at school. During week 7 each term, there are no staff meetings, no professional development sessions, a staff lunch and usually a theme for staff to wear something. We have an Angel Program, where you are given a person to look after the whole year. You can buy coffee, send them a card letting them know they are doing wonderful things, take a playground duty or even a simple thank you. We regular meet for breakfast meetings, buy lunches together and socialise on a regular basis outside of school.

All these simple day to day things enables to have that personal connections and strengthen the trust for the whole staff. This is a whole staff thing, including the principal, office staff, cleaner and general assistants. No one is left out if they want to participate.

A strong well-being program means that it is the vibe of the school. It’s something that you feel when you walk in and reinforced with words and actions by all.

Conclusion: Recommendations

Well-being underpins everything we do here at NEPS.

Well-being is not a QR code, business card or an email link.

Well-being starts with having your own personal goals and plans which will influence the way you operate at school, in life, and the decisions you will make each day. Through trust, daily practice and patience, and as everyone jumps on board, you will see how these simple things will make a big difference to what you do each day and the direction or vibe the school has.

Having a strong, co-developed and embedded wellbeing program, where decisions are made in the best interest of the school, staff, students and the school community are vital to the smooth running and operation of a NSW school.

Acknowledgements

1. https://www.theflourishmovement.com/

2. https://calmmindco.com/

3. Ian Wilson, Safety and Wellness Coordinator Wolf Creek School Division ian.wilson@wolfcreek.ab.ca

4. https://education.nsw.gov.au/student-wellbeing/attendance-behaviour-and-engagement/positive-behaviour-for-learning.html

5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

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