It’s interesting to see the difference an ‘e’ can make when added to ‘moral’, it can change pronunciation, change emphasis and create a whole dimension of leadership studies – the importance of the emotional well-being of staff. The last twelve months or so in particular have been filled with tales of teacher morale being at an all time low and sometimes a dip into Twitter of an evening confirms that. Tired teachers at the end of a frustrating day, questioning whether it is worth continuing with the profession that they once loved with a passion. Often the answer is to raise a shaking fist to whatever happens to be the latest political clanger. A favourite of mine was the Tory Peer, Lord Nash, oh so thoughtfully suggesting that lesson planning was a waste of time, so helpful! However, political changes, ridiculous initiatives will always be with us, does this mean that morale is something beyond our control? Far from it.
Within business much has been made of the correlation between how content employees feel with the productivity of the company. Perhaps it might be worth thinking more about the correlation between teacher morale and higher grades – spending the extra couple of hundred on that fancy coffee machine might then seem like a good investment! So who should be thinking about staff morale. Perhaps we are spending too much time shaking our fists at the wrong people? Perhaps Senior Leadership Teams should be making this a priority in their planning with opportunities for change available at every level. So how can SLTs make a difference to staff morale in tangible ways?
- Take time to find out what staff are actually doing. It’s important to really listen, observe and read what is happening in terms of subject content. How is the working experience of teachers changing year to year and is this making assessment harder? Are your demands for increasingly frequent assessments actually reasonable or are you making it harder for staff to actually get through their subject content.
- Think about everyone’s experiences when you are doing the timetable. I’ve been involved in timetabling for well over ten years and I’m amazed how many educational ideals go out of the window when timetables are put together. It’s so important to think about the quality of each member of staff’s day, as well as the experience of each student. Compromises are often made just to make things fit without thinking about the week in, week out realities that someone has to live with. It’s hard work to do it, but not impossible. Sadly as far as I know existing training in ‘how to do timetabling’ never seems to cover this.
- Environment matters. It makes such a difference to your working experience if you have space to work and that someone has thought about you when your workspace was planned. Too often teachers are surrounded by piles of debris that they never have the time or opportunity to tackle. We are busy shouting to the world at large that we are professionals, but staff sometimes have to mark or eat with piles of books or plates perched precariously on knees in crowded staff rooms.
- Genuinely celebrate your staff. As schools we are used to celebrating our pupils’ achievements, but do we shout as loudly about staff achievements? I’ve still got the personal letters I’ve received from leaders, who have taken the time to recognise my work, in a genuinely meaningful way.
- Give staff a voice. I’ve always thought it’s really important for staff to be able to meet without Senior Management present in order for them to discuss matters that can then be brought forward and presented in a neutral way. This is very different to the valuable work that unions do in schools, it’s about being able to deal with local matters swiftly so that staff are truly listened to and matters can be addressed. This relies upon the next point happening too.
- Listen to staff. I’ve written before about the need for leaders to be accessible. It’s so easy to be trapped in meetings in your office. I remember very well feeling guilty if an overstuffed calendar meant that I was not talking enough with staff. It’s not always possible to have that door wedged open physically, but metaphorically it always has to be open. Staff have got to feel that they have access, not just to deputies, but to Heads as well. I was lucky to work with outstanding PAs and their professionalism is essential to ensure that teachers never feel like they are being turned away.
- Teachers are people too. It’s sometimes easy to be so caught up in performance, grades and appraisals that we forget that every member of staff is a unique individual with their own lives beyond school. There are mixed opinions about this, but I think there are times when, if it helps, leaders should be prepared to be there to support staff through personal crises. Some feel it’s not professional to bring this into your work place, but we are only human and sometimes we need others to help us when we don’t feel strong. For me I’ve only thought of leaders as being more impressive when this happens.
- Invest in your team. Even when budget strings are being pulled tighter and tighter it is so important to invest in the development of teachers. Of course this refers to professional development, investing in good training. As a trainer you can instantly see those leadership teams that are genuinely wanting to invest in their staff – teachers, teaching support staff and admin teams. Investment goes beyond training, to time allocations for responsibility posts, and to creating a happy, productive working environment.
Ultimately it’s all about respecting other members of the staff community. So what has chocolate got to do with this? You could rightly think it’s about supplying the staff room with the obligatory chocolate boxes at the end of a hard term, but actually there is more to be learned here. I’m thinking in particular of the lessons that could be learned from the history of Cadbury’s. Many people are aware of the Quaker history of the Cadbury’s company, but this had huge implications for their care for the workforce.
The Cadbury family were pioneers when it comes to staff morale and staff welfare. They brought in many new initiatives concerned with the welfare of their staff, for example, they were one of the first companies to close on Bank Holidays. In the nineteenth century they introduced incentive schemes for employees, invested in further education for their staff and created excellent facilities including,
“properly heated dressing rooms; kitchens for heating food; separate gardens for men and women as well as extensive sports fields and women’s and men’s swimming pools. Sports facilities included football, hockey and cricket pitches, tennis and squash racquet courts and a bowling green.” (The Story of Cadbury)
Perhaps most impressive was their emphasis on social welfare by purchasing 120 acres, creating Bournville, to build housing for their employees. They built housing in line with the Garden City Movement so that it was a clean living environment for staff, many of the cottages with their own apple trees. Sometimes teachers are lucky if they get an apple at work! The Cadburys did care about their staff as people, about their lives whilst they worked in the factory and how they lived outside of work hours.
It was the Quaker belief system that lay behind the Cadbury family’s decisions to care for the staff so that everyone benefits from the happy workforce. They had a vision which they communicated to their staff and was evident from the actions they carried out to look after their staff. The same goes for mission statements of schools, do they work for the best of every member of the school community?
You might have strategies in place to raise standards, to improve teaching and learning, and to maximise your pastoral care, but how central is your planning for improving staff morale? Is it even part of your strategic plan? And if you don’t think it’s your job, whose is it?
Dr. Bethany Kelly
Director of Programmes, Faculty of Education, University of Buckingham
See also: https://www.cadbury.co.uk/our-story