Building educator wellbeing through mentally healthy learning communities presented by Professor Andrea Reupert, Nikki Edwards, Chantel Fathers and Rachel Jewell.
Chantel FathersHello and welcome to our session today, Building educator wellbeing through mentally healthy learning communities. My name is Chantel and I'm the Project Manager at Beyond Blue, leading the Be You educator wellbeing work. I began my career in education as a secondary school teacher working in Melbourne. And I've also spent some time consulting with primary and secondary schools on the KidsMatter and MindMatter frameworks. Joining the conversation today, I'm lucky to have two Be Your team members who have played an important part in Be You's resource development.
I'm pleased to have Nikki Edwards with me here in the studio. Nikki is a Be You consultant with Early Childhood Australia. She comes from a diverse background in early childhood education as an educator leader and writer, and is a wonderful advocate for early childhood educators and their wellbeing.
And joining us from New South Wales today on Garigal lands is Rachel Jewell. Rachel is the State and Territory Manager for our headspace Be You Consultants in the ACT and New South Wales. She comes from a background in secondary teaching and pastoral leadership in the UK and now leads her team to build capacity of primary and secondary educators.
We're also fortunate to be joined by Professor Andrea Reupert on Gunai Kurnai land. Andrea is the Head of School of Educational Psychology and Counselling at Monash University. She's an internationally renowned expert in school-based mental health initiatives and Be You was very fortunate to partner with Andrea and a team of researchers last year to develop a strategy to guide Be You's work in this space.
Before we dive into our discussion on educator wellbeing today, I would like to take a moment to Acknowledge that Nikki and I are joining you today from the lands of what was, and always will be the Wurundjeri people of the Eastern Kulin Nation. I also Acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Lands on which each of you are living, learning, and working from and encourage you to Acknowledge those lands in the chat. Aboriginal sovereignty was never ceded. And I pay my respects to Elders of Country past and present. And recognise the continuation and celebration of cultural, spiritual, and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and continuing connections to land, waters and community.
In today's session we aim to provide a safe space to discuss information around personal wellbeing. We recognise that there will be many different lived experiences of wellbeing in the session today. And as part of making our virtual space safe, we ask you to please consider confidentiality and privacy throughout the session when using the discussion forum chat box, as well as the possible impact of what you share might have on others. Having said that, we would love to hear from you throughout the session. So please feel welcome to participate through the chat and polls and share any questions you have throughout the Q and A, hopefully we'll have time to get to them at the end.
The image you see on the screen has contact details for Beyond Blue, headspace and a number of other services that you might find useful should you need to reach out for some external support. We also acknowledge that each of us comes to this session from different roles in our learning community and with different responsibilities and opportunities to implement change. We thank you for making the time to join us and hope that each of you will come away feeling empowered to try some new strategies perhaps for your own wellbeing, to support your colleagues or some ideas for your broader learning community. And just know that we believe the impact you make at any level can make a real difference.
In this session, we will be covering findings from the educator wellbeing research led by Monash university, ways to take care of your own wellbeing as well as ways to support your colleagues, te value of including all voices in your learning communities, the role leaders play in empowering teams, and building a culture of wellbeing in your early learning service or school. And with that much to get through, we better make a start.
We'll begin today with Andrea taking us through the research that she has led. Over to you, Andrea.
Andrea ReupertThank you, Chantel. So Monash were fortunate enough to be able to conduct the research for this space. And we did. We delivered five different projects. One was focus groups with educators from across Australia and different types of educators. We conducted a Delphi that asked national and international experts what they thought was important in this space. We conducted a systematic literature review to find out what the evidence was for different initiatives. We conducted in-house analytics to find out what was happening in Be You. And we also conducted a Google search to find out what educators would find if they went looking for wellbeing resources.
So we found on the basis of all of that, of that data, we developed some guiding principles for future work in this space. Firstly that it's really important to create a positive culture and environment. As in, we need to move past focusing just on the educator, individual educator, but also look at culture and environment.
Another pillar or guiding principle was that educators' professionalism needs to be respected and celebrated. Educators' autonomy is also really important in this space so that we don't force individual wellbeing initiatives but that educators are provided the choice so that strategies developed match their interests, needs and preferences.
Another guiding principle was that a respectful relationships, where relationships amongst staff, community and students are respectful and collaborative. And that wellbeing initiatives are accessible and acknowledge and accommodate participants, culture and experiences and needs. Wellbeing initiatives are evidence informed from others others' research and work, but also with the use of local data to inform decisions about what to offer and how. And finally that wellbeing resources and approaches are adapted to the local context.
The other big factor that we found across our five different research projects were the different factors, if you like, or contributors to educator wellbeing. And I think again, the thing to emphasise here is that the impact on educator wellbeing is more than just the individual contributor. We also need to look at further factors. So we, we made the recommendation that we need to move past self care and where an individual's responsible for their own wellbeing to include that but also encompass a broader framework, which you can see in this circle.
So firstly, the individual educator is important in terms of a contributor to wellbeing through their own diet, lifestyle, the passion that they bring to their work, their mindset, help seeking behaviors and so on. But that's not the only factor. The next level are collegial relationships, particularly between staff where where many of our participants talked about, for example, your toxic staff homes, that were a big factor against their wellbeing. So, you know, collegial relationships need to be respectful, collaborative, inclusive, and where wellbeing is an open topic. It's normalised. Workplace culture is another factor and where policies and expectations exist that promote wellbeing. So for example, policies around emails and when educators are expected to respond to emails. Another part of that was also metrics of wellbeing are put into place. So it's an expectation and something that educator workplaces are accountable for. Leadership contributes, obviously, through their own practices and how collaborative they are but also in terms of how they model their own self-care and respect their own wellbeing and that of others. I think I've got those two mixed up but anyway. Community is also another, a contributor in terms of how much they respect educators and have shared goals around learning and community. And the final contributor is that broad issue around governance and policy, including the types of resources available to educators and their pay and professional development and so on.
Chantel FathersIt's useful to see that there are so many factors that impact an educator's wellbeing. And we need to really be able to see those, to identify what's important and so that we can address them. So now, I think it's time for a poll.
We would like to know how the audience joining us today takes care of their own wellbeing. Do you connect with friends and family? Focus on your strengths? Schedule time for activities you enjoy? Prioritise time for rest and relaxation? Ask for help when you need it? Engage in healthy diet and exercise habits? Or is there something else altogether that you would like to share with us in the chat?
Nikki, I know it's really important for me to schedule in time to do things that I love. What about you?
Nikki EdwardsYeah, I'm the same. I think it's really important to be able to prioritise yourself. Personally, I'm a runner. I really love running. I find it's a really, really good activity to regulate myself. And I guess that's what I'm looking for, because I think about self care now, quite academically. So I'm thinking about what's it actually bringing to me? What am I getting from that? So there are times when I can't run, so then I want to be able to access, what can I do that will give me the same thing, when I can't actually take part in the activity. So I've got a little regulation trick that I do, which is brushing my teeth. So before we came on today, actually, nipped in and brush my teeth.
Chantel FathersI did notice that.
Nikki EdwardsIt's something I've been doing since I was really young. And it just, for some reason, it gives me that sense of like a blank slate. Yeah, and I find it really helpful and a really healthy thing for me to be able to do really quickly that puts me into a really good space. Yeah, that's one of my quirks.
Chantel FathersThank you for sharing that with us.
Alright, let's have a look and see what our audience is telling us. So, our largest response is for connect with friends and family, which is great, and also prioritising time for rest and relaxation, which we know is all really important.
I think all of the options that are there on the slide are all really great things for people to do. And maybe there's some tips in there for people who are looking for some different things that they can try.
So now let's take a look at what educators can do to take care of their own mental health and wellbeing. Rachel, what do you think is helpful to think about when we're considering our wellbeing?
Rachel JewellThanks, Chantel. I think the short answer to this is you can only really influence things that are within your control. And I think people need to reflect on what is and what isn't in their control. This goes for both educators and leaders, particularly given some of the challenging times we've been through recently.
It's really important to see wellbeing as a shared responsibility between the individual and the workplace, as we've mentioned. The working environment of the school of service can contribute so much to a person's wellbeing in terms of the joy and reward of working with children and young people. But you have to acknowledge that being an educator is demanding and it's a complex role where the hours are often long, work's taken home, and there's real risks of burnout and compassion fatigue when we don't make wellbeing a priority.
When we look at planning for staff wellbeing in Be You with a school or service, as well as using the Be You education wellbeing plan we also look at the whole school culture and psychological safety, what the leaders are modelling, how workload is being managed, staff spaces and group activities that provide opportunities for connection with colleagues and also some fun. But having said this, there is a lot the educators can do individually to support their own wellbeing in the role.
So I think one of the top things we talk about is self-awareness, it's really key. So knowing yourself and your indicators for when you might be starting to show signs of stress, burnout, or compassion fatigue. You can gain more self awareness by practicing things like mindfulness and meditation, journaling your thoughts or feelings or asking for feedback from colleagues or friends. So to notice what your early signs are of stress and combat that before they can get worse. So common flags people can feel are things like impatience or feeling frustrated, overwhelmed or sad. Cognitive flags, such as that difficulty making decisions, negativity or ruminating. Physical flags, like sleep disruption, appetite change or even some pain. And changes in behaviour like feeling unmotivated, cynical or irritable.
Once you're aware, there are some small adjustments you could make, depending on what works for you. Things such as going for a simple walk or seeing a movie, improving your bedtime routine, or just having a phone chat with someone that you feel really comfortable speaking with. Test things out and see what works. If you're noticing more chronic signs of stress like feeling down or numb for more than a couple of weeks, losing interest in activities that you once enjoyed or start feeling hopeless or helpless, it's really important to seek additional support.
And then finally, one idea that really helps me is Adam Fraser's concept of The Third Space. And this is all about transitioning between one activity or space and another, for example, between work and home or between two lessons. And it's a technique that helps you compartmentalise and avoid taking thoughts and emotions from one to the other. And I'm thinking about Nikki's teeth-brushing here as a good example of doing this. It involves reflection at the end of the first space, rest opportunity to recompose grounded in the middle and to reset, then prepare yourself for the second space you're traveling to.
I'm going to hand over to Nikki now.
Nikki EdwardsThanks so much, Rachel. I've told everyone now, about my teeth brushing. Everyone's going to be looking out for me nipping out to brush my teeth.
Yeah, I agree with everything you've said. I think a really powerful message that came from the research that Andrea shared with us earlier is that we have the capacity as individuals to rethink stress. To rethink the terminology, to rethink how we feel about the word. And as you said before, Rachel, we want to move it away from being an individual's responsibility to it being a shared responsibility. The last thing we want is for educators to hear that it's just another thing to put on their list to take care of. Because what we know is actually often it's the circumstance or the environment that's stressful and that's creating the stress. So it's just rethinking about, and then it becomes like a deficit, you know, like a personal deficit I have, if only I could take care of my stress or take care of my self-care, I would be doing better when actually there's some impacts that are really difficult to avoid.
So we actually know stress is really positive, it's just when it becomes too overwhelming and unmanageable. So to think positively about stress is a tool for resilience and thinking about it being manageable.
Self-compassion I think trumps self care. Self care is incredibly important, but not without self-compassion. So being able to think about what you can impact and have a control of and what you can't. And being realistic about that. Because we know self-care can't fix fundamentally unhealthy wellbeing environments. It doesn't mean we shouldn't do be doing that, but we just shouldn't be looking at it as, as a fix.
Definitely promoting help seeking is really important. You can do that as an individual, so promote it for yourself, be an advocate for yourself around seeking help, and understand that healthy people seek help. So like Rachel said before it gets to that crunchy time that we understand ourselves and we know the signs and we're really aware of it.
I really promote mantras and rituals. So I've, you know, the toothbrushing ritual, but having shared mantras or rituals in your workplace can actually be incredibly helpful. Phrases that you use that are understood amongst each other. And ways of being when you arrive into the workplace. This is something that you can do and can be shared, a ritual for arriving and a ritual for leaving. And a ritual for when you're in that space in between as well, when you've left your workplace and then going home or wherever you're going.
I think having a really strong touch point around our professional identity is incredibly important. I think it can often be what's first is lost when we're struggling or feeling challenged. And our wellbeing is not good.
We sometimes move away from what our purpose and intention of our work is, and we feel lost. So coming back to that perspective and frame of mind and remembering the meaning of your work and you know, what is my core business and what am I working on every day? And being really open and clear about that.
And also that's what we know as well. In poor wellbeing environments or the hard time that you might be having, the removal of choice is often what happens. That idea of having no advocacy for your agency and your voice. So not wanting to put it back on to individuals again, but if you can look for those moments, if you're really aware that you're looking for moments where you have that sense of agency and voice and pursuing them and taking your right to them. I think is really important.
Chantel FathersYeah, I love that. And I really love what you said about self care, not being able to fix an unhealthy environment. Like I think that's a really key point for everybody to remember.
So we've got some good advice for taking care of ourselves, but what about taking care of our colleagues? So Nik, how might we know if someone we're working with just isn't doing so well?
Nikki EdwardsYeah, I think Rachel talked about it, you know, having awareness of self and talked about the signs for ourselves if we think we might not be doing well, but we can actually be looking for those cues from our colleagues as well. Usually we can turn to our reflective practices and the process and policy that we already have. In our work, we're often observing children and young people, like it's what we do. So we're really keyed in to having those skills to observe and notice changes over time. And we might be looking at changes in things like actions or attitudes and mood and energy. In the same way that we're looking for them in children and young people. Help seeking, sometimes that helps seeking from our colleagues does not have a lot of clarity or it might be done in a non-functioning way. And we should be looking for that and recognising it for what it is. "Oh, I think that person is looking for some help." And how can I actually do that?
As a colleague being really present, having regular check-ins and what we might call, 'tap outs'. You know, being able to say, "I think I can see that you're feeling overwhelmed or you're having a feeling, do you need to tap out with me?" You know, I'll step into that space. Be really clear about your intention when you go to support a colleague or to provide some caregiving from what you've perceived as help seeking. I think that's really important that you're really clear about your intention as being caregiving, because the issue around seeking help is often that it feels like I'm somebody who's going to make a judgment on you, or question your ability to be competent at your role. And if we're really clear that when we see here help seeking that we're just really ready and able to caregive. And in that, trying not to power shift, not to make it I'm the one who's managing and competent and so I can offer you some help, but actually just that empathic feeling. And come up with a plan, I think you should, if you're going to go to support a colleague, do it in a planned way, like be thoughtful about what your first step is going to be. And that's when you need to start the conversation. And I know Rachel has got some really lovely points around how you actually might start that engagement with a colleague that you're concerned about.
Rachel JewellThanks, Nikki. I think you've spoken to that really well, and it can be really hard to start that conversation, particularly if we're not used to having those sorts of conversations. I think one of the things about planning the conversation is really thinking about the timing of the day of asking and being prepared that that person just by talking, it could open a flood gate because someone's noticed and being kind and I know when people are kind to me, I tend to cry. So it's best to be able to give them the time that they need, which might be hard if you're running to a lesson or they have to. So just thinking about that timing.
So opening sentences could be things like talking about what you've noticed. So focusing on, I've noticed lately that you have, and then give the behaviour that you've observed. What's that like for you? Or can you tell me about something that you've noticed, how's that going? Think about active listening, so using phrases, like "I can hear that's really" and then insert the emotion "difficult for you" or "frustrating for you". And then checking that you're getting it right. "So what I'm hearing is X, is that right? Am I correct?" So really show that you're listening.
And then you can use some phrases that validate their feelings and encourage them and be encouraging of the fact they're talking to someone. So things like, "I'm really sorry you've had that experience. I really appreciate you being able to tell me that." And you can use a little bit of identification, "when I was going through a difficult time. I tried this strategy. You might find it useful too."
And then make sure that you know what support they might need going forward. So "what can I do or what can you do that will be helpful right now in this moment?" So small steps. "And what support would you like from me?"
Just wanted to mention as well that, as Nikki kind of touched on, there’s so many barriers to people seeking support. For example, things like that stigma and shame, denial, job security, worrying about not bothering people, particularly in a school and service environment where things are so fast paced. So don't be disheartened if someone doesn't want to talk about it right now, or to you. I think what's really strong is the fact that you've offered some support and that kindness might encourage them to then have a conversation with yourself or somebody else later down the track.
Back to Chantel.
Chantel FathersI think that was really great. There's some really good practical things that people can take away and put in their tool bag. I think one of the things that is really important also for us to touch on is that it's important in every learning community that everyone feels that they are valued and important.
And Andrea, I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about what the research found when it came to groups in learning communities who are more likely to feel excluded or othered.
Andrea ReupertThank you. So yeah, part of our focus groups, we ran 13 focus groups with different types of educators and some of those focus group results I'll just go over now.
But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators for example, said that it was really important for workplaces to provide an Acknowledgement of Country and to celebrate the sorts of cultural artwork and artifacts often associated with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
LGBTQIA+ educators in the focus group talked about the importance of being able to be their authentic self. And that might've been through their hairstyle or clothes, being able to talk about their partner without fear or judgment.
The educators who identified as culturally and linguistically diverse said that it was, likewise, important to be able to celebrate their background. But it was not enough just to focus on initiatives to promote belonging, such as Harmony Day for example, people bringing in different sorts of foods. But also to actively address instances of discrimination or exclusion.
And overall our various groups said that it was not the responsibility of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or CALD or LGBTQIA+ people to educate others, that was the responsibility of everybody.
Another specific group that was also highlighted was contract or relief teachers, substitute teachers, they're sometimes known as. And they identified their own needs, especially around belonging, when they work across different schools or places. And onboarding, and that was particularly in different schools that they worked in.
So, I think the message to that is that there's not one approach to wellbeing and that we definitely have to listen to different voices and allow opportunities for that. And not just come up with blanket approaches, but find out what the issues are and then work with specific groups to address those issues around wellbeing.
Chantel FathersThanks, Andrea, for sharing those insights. I think what's really important is for everyone to be mindful of the experiences of often marginalised groups, but the next step of taking responsibility for educating ourselves and being inclusive.
Rachel, what have you seen work well in schools when it comes to inclusion?
Rachel JewellThanks. So, schools are doing some really wonderful and genius things in the inclusion space and are often really tuned into their young people and fostering a sense of belonging. I think that having that understanding and knowing your learning community and placing importance on recognising diversity helps children and young people, but also staff at the same time.
I saw a really great example on social media last month, where a southwest Sydney school held an Eid-ster show, so like combining Eid and Easter festivals, enabling different cultures to be recognised and celebrated by the whole community.
Being mindful around creating opportunities for staff connection as well. If you're thinking about getting this staff working as a team and connecting. But making sure that it appeals to different cultural, familial and personal situations is vital. That's something I've definitely learnt in my role.
If you notice that some cohorts of staff are not showing up for connection opportunities provided, perhaps ask what might not be working for them about a Friday morning staff room morning tea, perhaps, or footy at the pub after work. And if they've got some ideas of things they might like to trial. And that's why we encourage schools to have an action team or wellbeing team. So one person doesn't carry the burden for the load and the ideas for enabling these opportunities. So think about getting a range of voices and perspectives in the team and the outcomes will be richer for it.
One of the practical things a school can do to support inclusion is providing a psychologically safe working environment. Where educators feel comfortable having respectful, open and honest dialogue back and forth between colleagues, leaders, and educators. A no blame culture where people are able to own and learn from mistakes and behaviours and make um behaviours that make others feel discriminated against are challenged, as Andrea mentioned, challenged early. This really makes a difference. This could require some training for staff around having difficult conversations but this will really benefit in the long run and also have a knock on effect to support dealing with parents and the wider community as well.
Be You has some resources around it and if you're interested, contact your consultant, and I know Nikki, you've got loads of ideas as well.
Nikki EdwardsThanks Rachel. I was just really listening then, I forgot that I needed to speak because I was really listening to you, Rachel.
Yeah, so I was listening to you so closely because you're talking about the school environment, which is not the background that I come from. So I was going to talk about early learning services, but I just agree with so much of what you've said.
We know that early childhood, it's been a site historically for such a long time for social justice, equity, inclusion, diversity and reconciliation. Like it's really a hotbed of that happening. And then that's because we're so keyed into early intervention, early learning, obviously, about these things. We don't want children to come to them later into their life. We want them to be able to think about them very early.
I think it's really it, so it is happening, inclusion is happening. That really great understanding of multiple perspectives, multiple voices. And I think this touches into the fact that how wellbeing works in different sites is going to be different because the population is different. And that's something that can be a challenge because we might want to have you know, a one way that's going to work and be successful. But actually when we're trying to build a well-being culture, we want to look at all of those perspectives. We need to be able to hear all those voices and we need to have a way to do that safely like Rachel said.
I think early childhood educators are really good at stepping into the space, which we might call safe, but uncomfortable. And I think that's a really big thing, is to be able to tolerate being uncomfortable. You must be safe while you're doing it, but to be able to question, interrogate, unpack bias and ways and practices that are not supportive of being inclusive of everybody is really important.
I think you have to create those channels though, where you can have diverse participation and communications, because once again, not everyone is going to do it in the same way. So we don't want to assume what participation looks like in these conversations. I think that’s really important.
In care and education settings, we bring our whole self. It's a really unique space. So you're actually bringing who you are, your experience, your home life, every time that you step into the door to work with children and young people. So I think it's really important that we have that sense of that as part of our professional identity, that we own that. The heart of my professional identity is my whole self and I bring all of that when I'm interacting with children and young people.
So to do that we need to have really deeply listening. We've got lots of people who are really good at talking, but we need to understand that wellbeing work actually is not always transactional. And we expect it to be, but it's not.
I also think that there are lots of times that educators who sit in these spaces where they have diverse or unique perspectives do actually want to be change-makers. They often want to, they understand their own sphere of influence and they want to be proactive, have agency and have that seat at the table around being activists and allies for each other. So I think while it's not their responsibility and we understand that, I think we need to make space for those people who choose to step into those roles and support them in those as well.
Chantel FathersThanks Nik. I think you make a really good point about making space for people who might not actually hold official position, but really have the capacity to make some difference.
So I'd like to turn the conversation now towards leaders in learning communities. I think we all know that our leaders' wellbeing is important and that there's a flow on effect to the rest of the learning community.
Nikki, do you have any advice for our leaders?
Nikki EdwardsI do. I think it's really important that we, and we've spoken about this from the start when Andrea opened the session and she spoke about the fact that there is historically not been a recognition of leaders actually having wellbeing needs. They too in their leadership position have really strong wellbeing needs. And I think it's important that we normalise that, prioritise it and address it. So that it's something that's really on the table. I really love the term strength in vulnerability. And I think I've worked with so many leaders over the last couple of years who struggle with that, struggle with being vulnerable, struggle with showing that they are experiencing a challenge to their mental health and wellbeing. They feel this sense that they need to keep everything together and that they need to present a front. And we actually know that that's not true and that's because healthy people seek help. And healthy people are able to say like, I'm actually feeling vulnerable or there's something I'm not sure about. I really need you to get on board and hold this for me for some time. I think that's really important.
We need to actually have leaders who understand who the individuals in their team are, not who they think they are, but actually who they are. And that harks back to the point that we made before about hearing those voices, having channels, having ways that people can participate and share their whole selves and we can understand who they are when they come to the table.
I really love the AIM model. I think it's a really great tool that leaders could be using to empower their teams. So it's that idea of anticipating your challenge and your stressors and your wins as well. Identifying them, so naming the challenge, actually being really transparent. This is difficult, this is what is not working and really naming that. And then managing it, co-creating plans with your team to address that wellbeing need.
You're always able to be hopeful and helpful. I think it's really important for leaders to be transparent, which once again goes back to that idea of safe even if uncomfortable. And also knowing who your team is and strength in vulnerability. So I think transparency is really important.
We know in crisis people feel disempowered by a lack of, or misinformation. It's something that becomes really unsettling and children and young people and the same. Following crisis, they actually want to know what's going on. There's a lack of engagement with that process and the planning, so they have no agency.
So bring your team, as a leader, bring your team in, be a member yourself around the planning to address those wellbeing needs. Remember that we actually are all a village. It's true. Or a system, if you like, if that works better for you. And people want to be active agents in their lives.
Rachel has some really specific points for us regarding the characteristics and skills of supportive leaders.
Rachel JewellYeah, thanks, Nik. I think you've delved into a lot of it. I'll just add a couple of bits.
As a manager, I keep having to come back to this question quite a lot. And I've got to say I've got the utmost respect for people leading schools and services. It's a really tough role, particularly with additional challenges we've been facing recently with things like COVID, drought, bushfires, floods.
So, if you ask me about the role of a leader in whole staff wellbeing it's huge. What a leader models and says it's listened to, it influences how other staff act and the adjustments or changes of wellbeing culture has to be endorsed and led by the top.
So really just attitude and understanding of the Mental Health Continuum, normalising and de-stigmatising of language and supporting staff who are struggling with their mental health can make such a difference. And I think not just to staff retention and engagement, but it must have a knock-on effect on student academic and wellbeing outcomes as well.
So I think interpersonal skills, communication skills and a compassionate style are more important than ever in leadership. And being a role model for relational expectations around things like respectful language, inclusive actions and constructive feedback are important.
Building an atmosphere of psychological safety and trust can take a lot of time and effort and maintenance as well, but it can have a huge impact, small things like maintaining an interest in the day-to-day teaching and learning experiences of staff or valuing the diverse range of contributions and achievements can make a massive difference.
I think it's important to say as well, that leadership does not have to be carried by one or two people. Accepting of our smaller schools and services, and working as a team with that shared vision and goal helps.
One more thing. I'd really urge school leaders to make use of professional and collegial networks available to you. This was highlighted by the 2020 Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey. Often people will be facing similar challenges or have good ideas and leadership can feel really lonely sometimes. So those connection points really help. And that's me.
Chantel FathersGreat. Thank you, Rachel. That's some really good advice for all learning community leaders and perhaps some things that we don't traditionally think about as being critical to educator wellbeing.
I think it's time now for another poll, which I think you might have had a sneak peek at. So looking at your screens, we'd like to hear from you about what your learning community does to promote educator wellbeing. Do they provide opportunities for input and feedback? Cultivate and promote an inclusive workplace? Have supportive supervision structures in place? Offer optional wellbeing activities? Advocate for and respect personal and professional boundaries? Promote mental health and wellbeing initiatives? Celebrate individual and team achievements and successes? Or is there something else not in our list that you'd like to tell us about in the chat?
Rachel, what's an example of what you've seen?
Rachel JewellWell, I'd love to see more supervision structures in place. I think at the time when I left my school, they had supervision, like proper clinical supervision structures in place for pastoral staff, which was fantastic and really made a difference to the wellbeing of those staff.
I think emails, I know Andrea touched on it earlier, but emails are a big, well, when I started teaching your communication came from a pigeon hole in the staff room and now it feels like email can be a full-time job. So thinking about having cut-off times for when emails can be sent and taken, and strategies in schools for managing emails from parents and students and those sorts of things.
Yeah, those are the sorts of things I'd be looking at there around those kind of boundaries.
Chantel FathersYeah. Great.
So we've got some results. It's great to see our highest response is for 'celebrating individual and team achievements and successes', which is really lovely, but also 'providing opportunities for input and feedback'. I think we all like to feel heard it's important for everyone in a learning community to feel like what they think is important to everyone as well.
So, I think while we've got some more popular options, again, all of the options in the poll have the potential to positively impact the learning community.
Nikki, what are some things that you would recommend?
Nikki EdwardsI'm just having a struggle with my throat sorry, Chantel.
Chantel FathersOh, are you alright?
Nikki EdwardsYeah, I'm okay. It has to happen at some stage.
I think, yeah, so I think it's really important- I have one point to make. I have plenty, but I'm just going to make one, because I think given the time that we've got. I think you should consider an audit of where you are now. Because we want to come from a strength based approach and often we're doing a whole lot of really great things already. So ask educators, interrogate your policies and then see where you are now, and that will allow you to plan into where you'd like to be.
Chantel FathersYeah, that's great. Thanks.
What about you, Rachel?
Rachel JewellI was just going to say the same, Nikki. I was thinking about this team. We have our Be You Consultants who could support you with this by helping you with some pretty simple actions. Gathering data on how things are currently, what are the needs, what's going well, what might need strengthening? And we've got some really simple ideas for how to gather this available to schools.
Happy to support you with planning and ideas to address your development ideas and also chat through any challenges along the way as well, so just reach out.
There's a number of tools, but I think we're going to talk about how Be You could help later. Just finally, to build a better culture, you’ve just got to be really explicit about the why, about why you're investing time and efforts in it and keep trying. It won't happen overnight.
A principal told us last term that it had taken several times of trying any strategy of reflective practice before staff got used to it, but now they're really seeing the benefits to culture. So yeah, keep at it.
Chantel FathersThat's great, thank you.
We might take a minute to check now to see if we've had any questions from our participants that we might be able to answer for you.
Or perhaps we have not had any questions from our participants. That's alright, let's keep going.
Wait. Oh, no, sorry. We absolutely do have questions. Nikki, is there anything there that is speaking to you in particular?
Nikki EdwardsSorry, I'm just having a little look.
Chantel FathersYeah okay, so we've got, how can a more integrated approach be developed and encouraged for all stakeholders to share understanding and personal experience of separate or siloed programs?
Nikki EdwardsThat's a great question, but I don't think I could address it today.
Chantel FathersYeah, fair enough.
Nikki EdwardsI think we could return to that one though, but Rachel might, I think-
Rachel JewellWell, I don't know. I'm kind of thinking about the Be You Framework and I guess the things like the Implementation Reflection Tool, the gathering of a diverse action team. I think some of those practices that you would see in a Be You Essential you'd be able to bring in to some of that. And I just urge people to reach out to their Consultant. If you're not sure who that is, go through the website contact page.
In schools, we've just developed a staff wellbeing action plan that's available from your consultant as well. So do reach out for that as well.
Chantel FathersRachel, can you share a bit more with us about what Be You can do to support learning communities?
Rachel JewellYeah, sure. So I support the, I manage the New South Wales/ACT team here for headspace Schools. So I've work with primary and secondary schools. We've got an experienced multidisciplinary national team of consultants and they're available by phone, email or video conference at no cost to support a whole school approach to staff wellbeing, to wellbeing in general. They've got really good understanding around schools and early learning services and their unique challenges and can listen and support you.
The Be You website is brilliant. It's got a whole section about educator wellbeing with a number of tools, examples of practice, professional learning recordings, as well as fact sheets. And for networks of educators, if you're in a network, we can facilitate a reflective session to connect and learn about some of the practical strategies to support a whole school, mental health approach and staff wellbeing, in particular, if that's what you'd like as well, based on the Be You evidence-based.
Yeah. And as I mentioned, if you're not sure who your consultant is, give us a shout through the contact page on the website.
Chantel FathersAnd Nik, what about you?
Nikki EdwardsI'm going back to that question before, it's still bouncing around in my head. I don't think I'm ready to actually - oh thank you - it's come back up on the screen. I was just thinking about, I'm not sure if the question's asking, like, how do we consult? It feels a little bit like it's asking how do we consult better and communicate better around what the actual experience and understanding is of our community. Meaning that as a school or service community, and then those ever widening systems that Andrea shared with us in the beginning. And I just think it's about going back to the point made before it's about being transparent.
So I think if you're looking to build a well-being culture and have a shared experience and to have that conversation, is you just need to start it. So you need to have some provocations and you need to be really transparent about we’re looking into, or checking up on our culture. And we want to know what we're doing well, and then we want to know what might be missing or what we could be doing, we could be strengthening and doing more of, but you won't know until you start asking those questions.
And that sort of feeds into, as Rachel so beautifully said as well, is to what, we do have resources in Be You that can help with that. And I do think that it starts first with messaging. So we've got the beautiful posters that you can use in your foyer or office or wherever the people first come into, to make it really clear that this is a site for wellbeing, where we're thinking about it, we're talking about it, we prioritised it. And we're open to having a conversation. We want you to share with us your experience and it's safe to do that here. I think it's really important.
We have some really beautiful spaces. One that I think of most prominently is the Be You Connected Community space. There are ongoing and sustainable opportunities for educators to connect, share knowledge, lead learning and undertake some of that collective action for growing a mentally healthy generation.
Each community is unique that we have online and that's because they're created, grown and evolved, according to the interest of those members, like people who come into that community.
You can have a look at them on the website and I think it's being posted in the chat.
One of them that comes to mind, that's really relevant to what we've talked about today, is Mindfulness in Early Childhood Communities, that's the title of the Connected Community. And the other one is Using Strengths to Support Recovery, which was built specifically to support communities of people who had experienced crisis or community trauma. And it was particularly to do with bushfire experience for people.
And then we also have one called Be You and Staff Wellbeing, sharing stories of wellbeing practice.
So they're online spaces that you can come into to have those conversations. What are you doing at your place? What's working? What have you tried? And if you have that need to be consultative and you're like, I'm struggling to get some feedback from the community and people are not responding to my survey, or, you know, how can I do that in a different way?
Chantel FathersAnd I think often the best professional learning we get is from each other, by talking to our colleagues or people in a similar service.
Nikki EdwardsAbsolutely. I think that sort of reminds me of the point that wasn't brought up before, which is absolutely we should be turning to each other for our wellbeing supports, but we also don't want to put weight or pressure on our colleagues if it's not within their role. And, you know, it's not something that we want to also be their responsibility. So that concept of everybody's wellbeing is everybody's responsibility. It needs to have some sense of safety for each other that sits in that community of practice. So I think if you need to look outside yourself, these communities can be really useful because they're all online and you get that opportunity to talk to others. So. I think that's, I mean, there's so many places that I think you could go. I really encourage people if they haven't stepped into the Professional Learning, the Mentally Healthy Communities domain is really helpful for this because it's those foundational conversations of how do we all think and feel about wellbeing and what are we doing well right now? What are the risk and protective factors we have at our school or service currently?
Chantel FathersYeah, that's great. Thank you. As you've just heard, there is a lot of support Be You can offer and we'll come back to that in just a minute.
We would really encourage you today, as the session is coming to a close, to think about what your next steps might be for educator wellbeing. Is there something that you might like to start doing to support yourself or perhaps one of your colleagues, or maybe you have some ideas you can discuss with your Action Team or leaders in your learning community about how you can improve wellbeing in your early learning service or school? If you already know what your next step is, please share it with us in the chat. But if not think about who you can pick up the conversation within your learning community or network.
If your learning community isn't yet implementing the Be You whole learning community approach, we encourage you to register online and get started with support from a Be You Consultant. There's a link in the chat to join Be You now, and if you haven't reached out to your consultant for a while but you'd like some support, please do so. They're great and they're very happy to help you.
If you're looking for resources to support you with educator wellbeing, visit our resources pages, where there are seven web pages dedicated to educator wellbeing tools, videos, fact sheets, other event recordings and more. You can keep up to date with Be You resources, events, tools, and tips on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
And finally, if you're interested in being part of the development of the educator wellbeing resources, make sure to register with Education Voices to get invites to those opportunities. Currently, members are invited to complete a survey that will be used to inform an educator wellbeing guide for learning communities. The link is in the chat if you would like to complete it and it will be open until midnight tomorrow. But surveys are not the only opportunities we have. Nik and I have worked with educators in workshops, and we've got some focus groups coming up as well.
So on behalf of Nikki, Rachel, Andrea and myself, I would like to say thank you for attending today. We know how precious your time is, but we really appreciate you dedicating some of it to your wellbeing. We hope that many of you will be joining Sonia and Sara for their session, Empowerment is a partnership: Connecting and engaging with families and communities to build capacity next.
But for now, thank you and goodbye.
End of transcript.
Building educator wellbeing through mentally healthy learning communities
Last updated: July, 2022