What schools are doing

Schools are sharing their stories about the actions they are taking to address workload and staff wellbeing issues. Here are just a few examples.

Benowa State School

During WWAM, the QTU is celebrating schools and members who are taking active approaches to providing a positive workplace culture and caring for each other’s wellbeing.

At Benowa State School on the Gold Coast, each term a staff meeting is dedicated to wellbeing. We have had many different wellbeing sessions, one of which was a meditation staff meeting with our schools wellness coach Trisha David, who has a background in yoga and meditation, along with so many other talents. Trisha also writes weekly tips in our Benowa Bugle on how to stay mentally and physically well, advice about taking time for yourself and allowing your mind to switch off (which we so often don’t do), tips on how to relax (such as listening to music on the way to work), and also a staff bio, in which she focuses on a staff member and asks them about themselves and “what if a miracle happened?”. Very entertaining while also putting mental health at the forefront of our thinking. 

During other staff meetings we have utilised the local community, including going to the bowls club for an afternoon of barefoot bowls. It’s designed to be an informal event where different teams of teachers interact and people have a chance to speak with each other on another level, which helps to build trust and collaboration in other areas of our school. 

One of our staff members, Tom Connor, thought it would be a great initiative to create a fitness group that trains together to improve wellness, and so began Tom’s Tigers. It’s a light-hearted session with plenty of fun, laughs and a whole lot of sweat.

Lyndall Solomon, our amazing music teacher, also puts on a fantastic musical event once a year in our staff meeting, showcasing the talented students of Benowa. Staff bring nibbles and drinks, tables are all laid out and students celebrate their successes and the staff that have helped them with a private concert. 

Wellbeing is everyone’s business and we all need to make time to put back into the staff that keep the school ticking over. It can be as small or elaborate as you like, but at the centre, if there is genuine sincerity in trying to make the workplace a better place for all, then it’s contributing to the cause of a happy healthy staff who love coming to work.    

Bunker’s Hill State School

We have a “Wicked Wednesday”, where we share a chat and morning tea three times a term. We also attend social outings to celebrate another successful term, have a healthy tuckshop run by one of our parents, a fitness “Boot camp” open to staff and community members in our school hall once a week, and we are considering having a walking session around the school or oval involving staff and students.  

Capricornia School of Distance Education

In 2017, Capricornia School of Distance Education (CSDE) has grown in students and staff at an alarmingly ever-increasing rate. We currently have 97 teaching staff and 890 students, including 100 “eKindy” students across both campuses, Rockhampton and Emerald.

Our principal and deputy principal acknowledge everyone’s efforts and place priority on people, relationships and workloads. Relationships is a core CSDE value, which led to the development of our Wellbeing Action Group (WAG). Our staff are very appreciative of the effort that goes into enhancing and nurturing wellbeing. From the more official WAG Committees to the unofficial Compliment Fridays, CSDE has a range of activities to cater and support staff wellbeing.

  1. Wellbeing Action Group or WAG – created in 2015, teachers nominated themselves to be on the group and chose which sub-committee to work for staff or students. It is designed to cater for staff and students’ wellbeing by creating events and sessions throughout each term.
  2. Gratitude jarat the end of each working week, staff can write a comment on a strip of paper for the gratitude jar on “What am I grateful for?” At the end of the term, the strips of paper are collated into scrapbooks for staff to read over in the staffroom. For example, “I am grateful for working with a supportive staff”, “I am grateful for birthday morning teas” or “I am grateful for Ian’s Compliment Friday.
  3. Gratitude chocolate posters – at the end of each term, our clever Leadership Team makes a poster from chocolates and other yummy treats, only we’re not allowed to eat them until the last day of term. Yes… it’s hard!
  4. Compliment Friday – Created by a past employee of CSDE, Ian Belz. Ian’s motto was to compliment any staff member on a Friday to make that staff member feel good.
  5. Walk and talks – the school working day can be very stressful, and for distance education teachers we do a lot of… sitting. Why not put on your runners, stretch the legs and have a “walk and talk” chat with your head of department?
  6. Crazy hat staff breakfast – raising money for mental health research, staff donated money towards a cooked breakfast, complete with bacon and eggs! BYO crazy hat!
  7. Dress as a Pirate Day – teachers dressed up as pirates and gave a gold coin donation to a charity
  8. Gifts from heads of departmentletters, notes of appreciation, small gifts, etc.
  9. Social events – outside of school, get-togethers, eg Caulfield Cup Races, Christmas parties, dinner when the two campuses get together, birthday morning teas once a month.

These are all examples, but the biggest part of wellbeing in our school culture are the little day-to-day things, eg:

  • one-to-one personalised touch-base meetings with a leadership team member, to give support and mentoring
  • daily inspirational quotes
  • smiles and laughter heard around the school
  • staff who smile and say hello and take the time to talk to each other.

It is a school where you do not feel alone because there is always someone you can rely on to trust and turn to if you need to debrief.

We also celebrate success, e.g. heads of department put out weekly newsletters for their team and acknowledge the great work happening. 

Collinsville State High School

As a school, we are cognisant that research has identified that a significant number of teachers leave the profession within the first five years, for reasons mainly related to health and wellbeing. Our school employs a large proportion of beginning teachers and we are conscious that the time they spend at this school may determine if they remain in education or not. We are committed to improving staff health and wellbeing by incorporating a range of physical activities to promote individual health and social activities and a sense of belonging and team spirit. 

We have collaborated with Collinsville State School and Scottville State School this year to facilitate the NESLI Teacher Wellbeing Toolkit as part of our professional learning agendas. This program is assisting staff in understanding what wellbeing is, identifying factors that may influence their personal wellbeing, either positively or negatively, and learning how to effectively manage their wellbeing. This program has provided a collaborative and supportive framework to explore what are often sensitive topics and overcome some of the challenges associated with operating in the contemporary school environment.

In addition to this professional development, we have hosted a range of afternoon and weekend activities for staff to promote an active and healthy lifestyle and build team spirit. These events have included bushwalking, cricket, paddle boarding, swimming and yoga.

We have also hosted a range of social events for all three schools in the community to promote a sense of belonging. These events have included a Welcome Back BBQ at the start of every term, staff morning teas and a Happy Holidays dinner at the end of every term. These events are a great way for staff to catch up before the busyness of the first day of term hits and to debrief and wind down before going on holidays. Other social activities include a Christmas in July progressive dinner.

As a staff, we also promote and encourage active participation in sporting and social community events. This year, this has included the Collinsville Community Triathlon, Mercantile Swimming Relay, Collinsville State School Colour Run, Chicks for Charity Masquerade Ball and Scottville State School Car Rally.

Oakey State School

QTU members at Oakey State School have been active in trying to celebrate and recognise the great things that teachers and their colleagues do. 

Adopting a strategy often used to recognise and reward positive student behaviours, the staff have adopted a staff shout-out strategy, where over a fortnight people fill in a form and celebrate the little things they do to make life that little bit easier. Whether it's cleaning out the sports shed, stepping in to help out in setting up a room, or always starting the day with a positive approach, members add it to the board and celebrate at the staff meeting once a month.  This helps remind everyone that every little thing they do counts for someone.

They also have made sure the QTU poster reminding everyone that domestic violence is a workplace issue is accessible to all members and other employees.

Merrimac State High School

Wellbeing is a complex concept that has many influencing factors. The World Health Organisation (WHO) (2016) defined wellbeing as a state in which every individual realises his or own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

Teacher wellbeing is the next most influential factor in building student wellbeing after social connectedness (www.learningcurve.com.au, 2017).

Personally, as the chair of the staff wellbeing committee, this statement inspired me to begin the implementation of the DET Staff Wellbeing framework. Merrimac State High School started our staff wellbeing journey at the beginning of this year. Our rationale was that staff wellbeing was a developmental priority for 2017. We also wanted to align and create common language between student and staff wellbeing programs and apply to become a healthy workplace where workers and managers collaborate to continually improve the health, safety and wellbeing of all workers (WHO, 2010).

The DET Staff Wellbeing Framework provided us with a multidimensional and holistic approach to wellbeing. The framework was based on a wellbeing model that involved five interdependent dimensions, which take into account many other influential factors and included physical wellbeing, psychological wellbeing, financial/personal resources, occupational wellbeing and social and community engagement.

We began DET’s five-stage process and formed a staff wellbeing committee, consisting of teachers, support staff, guidance officer, school nurse, deputy principal and HODs. I then presented all of my initial ideas to the principal, Chris Tobin, to gain management support and commitment. Our overall aim was improve staff wellbeing and morale at MSHS by implementing the DET Staff Wellbeing framework by the end of 2017. We were already doing some great things, but there are always areas for improvement.

We created the 3 R’s of staff wellbeing for Merrimac SHS, which were to Restore the overall wellbeing of staff, Revitalise health and vitality, and Reconnect the amazing staff at our school to each other, the students and the wider community. I then presented all of my ideas to each and every staff member (teaching staff, support staff and grounds/cleaning staff) of our school in three separate meetings to ensure everyone was included and made aware of our intentions. We knew that the positives of becoming a healthy workplace by using a cohesive, structured, “in-house”, and research-based strategy, which focuses on specific needs of the staff at MSHS, would increase productivity, decrease absenteeism, as well as improve staff morale and work engagement.

Our wellness planning involved defining the role of the staff wellbeing committee and connecting with other schools to see what are already doing. We participated in two wellbeing cluster meetings and met with the regional Mental Health Coach to make sure we were on the right track.

The next step was to assess the needs and interests of staff and to identify existing and potential opportunities to support staff wellbeing. The staff completed an initial survey on wellbeing called the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale. This was used to determine the current state of staff wellbeing, and it will be measured again towards the end of the year to see how far we have travelled. I also conducted focus groups with each faculty/department to assess needs and collect qualitative data. I also looked at previous data from 2016 opinion surveys, data collection from 2016 SFD, and workplace wellbeing weekly surveys.

Once the data was collected, we began writing and implementing the framework for the staff wellbeing program at MSHS, as well as developing an action plan based on school/workplace priorities and staff needs and interests.

Based on the quantitative and qualitative data that was collected, we started to implement numerous strategies to improve staff wellbeing. We started to create a staff wellness area, aligned the term focus of student and staff wellbeing (T2 mindfulness, T3 healthy relationships, T4 mental health issues), finished writing the staff wellbeing framework, two staff members participated in the organising of the SE regional Positive Practices for Wellbeing workshop on 11 October, we organised mindful activities for the staff and wheel of wellbeing activities (making Japanese Kokedama ball plants, which the entire staff loved!) on two consecutive twilight sessions, as well as a “manage your energy, not your time” workshop on the SFD on 16 October. We also have begun to celebrate the small contributions that staff make to our school by doing “staff shout outs” that are announced every Friday at the staff morning teas (they also receive a coffee voucher!). We continue to meet with the staff wellbeing committee monthly to keep conversations happening with staff about their needs.

We have also created a staff wellbeing folder on our intranet that has numerous resources on mental health and wellbeing from Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute, and this continues to grow. We held a webinar for staff in the library on teacher resilience to upskill staff in ways to increase their repertoire of coping strategies and their ability to bounce back in the face of adversity. I also organised the staff to dress up in yellow for R U OK day, where we aimed to raise awareness of suicide in the community. On a lighter note, we also had a week of themed dress-up days for the staff at Merrimac SHS as a way to use humour to increase staff wellbeing. The three staff with the best outfits for the week all won a prize.

We hope to collect some more data this term on what the specific causes of stress and workload are for the staff at Merrimac SHS, so we can plan accordingly for workshops in the near future.  

Pacific Pines State High School

Earlier this year, Pacific Pines State High recognised that acknowledging work-life balance was very important and that it wanted to focus on supporting staff and their wellbeing through cost effective wellbeing activities.

It was determined that the week 8 staff meeting of each term would see individual staff members volunteer to offer an activity for enjoyment that you wouldn’t normally do or find the time to do yourself. Some of the activities include:

  • pilates
  • reading
  • art
  • running/walking
  • colouring
  • soccer
  • Auslan (sign language)
  • karate
  • golf.

Next term, we are adding volunteering at the Animal Welfare League.

To start the process, a staff member who is interested in running a session emails our deputy for approval. One week prior to the meeting, a sign-on sheet is made available which staff also sign on the day when they attend their chosen activity. Since we started the program, the activities offered have changed to meet the interests of staff. Various sports are on offer and run dependent on numbers and weather.

The program has grown to include a far wider range of activities and has allowed staff who normally wouldn’t volunteer to run a professional development session and share their expertise and skills to support others. This program isn’t limited to just teaching staff - all staff in our school are encouraged to participate, which is helping to strengthen relationships between teaching, management and auxiliary staff.

We have also recently organised for a masseuse to visit the school. Staff were able to sign up to receive a massage at school, for the low cost of $10 for 10 minutes. This initiative was very popular and will become a regular event.

Other strategies aimed at improving morale within staffrooms include the MVP Staffroom Award. The trophy, or “MVP Man” as he is affectionately called, is an action figure which was painted gold and glued to a base. He is awarded each fortnight to the staff member who receives the most votes at Friday afternoon drinks and nibbles. Over a two week period, staff put nominations in a box to say thanks, recognise and show appreciation, especially for the little things that we do for one another. For example: “Thanks to Jay for copying me a set of worksheets”, or “Thanks to Cass for getting her class to help mine put away the markers after netball”. As MVP Man doesn’t have a plaque area to add recipients’ names, each winner adds something to the trophy to personalise it.

Other staffrooms build morale by running fortnightly lunchtime BBQs and awarding playground duty vouchers, where admin cover a playground duty of the teacher’s choosing. The initiative is exceptionally well received by staff who appreciate the time they gain back.

Queens Beach State School

Here are some of the things happening at Queens Beach SS regarding workplace wellbeing and workload.

Workload reduction

  • less collection of data (data that is not really purposeful or used for informing)
  • weekly collaborative year level planning sessions to reduce individual teacher planning demands
  • use of a school-based staff member to release teachers at various times to plan/complete Probe/ PM reading records/ do “know and do” tables
  • use of extra teacher-aides through I4S funding, to assist in larger oversized classes.

Staff wellbeing

  • beginning of the year "get to know you" activities organised by the guidance officer
  • "Shout outs" in the staffroom - where teachers write nice things about staff members on sticky notes on staff wall
  • end of term events/celebrations for staff
  • monthly morning teas for staff birthdays of that month
  • fortnightly after-school Friday drinks and debriefing session
  • buddy system - staff nominate if they want to have a buddy and give some details about themselves, then during the year, buddies do nice things for each other such as small gifts/a helping hand etc.
  • incidental wellbeing activities set up in the staffroom by the guidance officer, e.g. wheel of friendship.
Warwick Central State School

After the staff experienced a very high rate of absence due to illness in 2016, it was decided that a health and wellbeing officer would be a useful position to help to try to promote healthy habits and to hopefully lessen illness.

We needed to know more about the staff and their health. Most of the staff underwent a survey, which showed what areas of wellness we needed to target. Action from the survey included:

  • Monday walking group (some for fitness, some for distressing) - dogs are welcome too
  • Wednesday yoga group.
  • Wellness Wednesday morning tea (replacing Fat Friday), where we have a roster to bring healthy food to share - foods range through slices, dips , salads, soup and curries, and it has proved to be so popular that recipes are being collected to make a recipe book for the end of the year
  • coffee debriefs, which are available on and off campus
  • most classes doing mindfulness in their classrooms
  • advice on exercise programs
  • advice on stopping smoking
  • advice on diet
  • a group of staff members undertaking an ‘I Quit Sugar’ program, supporting each other during the 8 weeks.

Once things were up and running, we saw the need to form a health and wellbeing committee so people with interests and skills in different areas could put forward ideas and be involved. We then teamed our health and wellbeing with our social club. We have a weekly raffle (staff take turns to donate the prize for the week). Monies raised go towards the Melbourne Cup luncheon, a Christmas party, presents for staff etc. Social events are more organised, with Friday drinks, coffee afternoons, and fundraisers like “Girls Night In”. Our walking group has continued throughout the year. We hope to hold a pedometer challenge to keep people motivated.

Overall, the focus on our health and wellbeing has made a positive impact on our staff as a whole. They are more motivated to share what they are doing. They are also more willing to be involved in different ventures and are conscious of how important their health is.