During the year, our teachers have been working on a well-being inquiry as part of their local Kahui Ako focus. It’s been great watching the team think about and then re-think about their roles with well-being the driver.

I was excited about the staff talking about well-being at school as it’s such an interest of mine personally. But there are a few “mmmmms”, and “aha moments” that have risen as a result of the inquiry. 

None of which I was fully prepared to hear.

Recently I found myself sitting in on a group of teachers who were working on a well-being survey to send around the staff. There was obviously a lot of discussion going into the wording of the survey, and plenty of thinking going into what should be asked. For me as the principal, each of the questions also had an underlying implication. For example, there was a question about meetings …”how many meetings this week have you attended?”, and a question about hours, “how many hours did you spend at school last week?”

The implications being, if we cut down on meetings, how do we preserve a sense of togetherness in our decision making, and if we cut down our hours, then how do we preserve what we currently offer our students? This made for an interesting conversation to listen in on as my teachers debated the pros and cons. All very healthy stuff. It felt empowering.

The next week I received an email with the draft questions that were to be asked. 

And there it was –  the biggie that affected me. “How have you found the principal this week?” Hold on! What?

What does that even mean? How have they found me? What sort of question was that?

The survey even gave the question a 1-10 scale.

Don’t get me wrong, my teachers are a great bunch, but I was struck at the insensitivity of the question. Put the question aside (after all this is what you can expect to receive in an appraisal like situation), it was the wording that blew me away, especially the two words “the principal”. This was a well-being survey, not an appraisal one, and I actually felt that with those two words my place as a person on the staff was taken away. I was  just “the principal”. And in that single line I was reminded of how isolated and vulnerable we are in our principal roles. 

I guess this is a problem with surveys, and yes it would’ve been equally bad had the wording been “Steve”, but at least that would’ve made me human. Obviously the words “the principal” were an attempt to remove me personally from the question and address the issue (whatever that was!) professionally. Given this was a well-being survey, it found a weak spot in my sensitive soul and pushed it hard. I felt that my well-being had been completely ignored. Where was my collective right?

I made them change it. I wasn’t going to have that. And I told them – take the whole bloody question out. What does that have to do with well-being?

Of course the point of this isn’t that Steve’s a sensitive soul and needs protecting. No, it’s that if we are serious about talking about well-being in our schools, then everyone needs to realise that this includes, and involves everyone. There are no exceptions. We are all humans irrespective of our roles. Surely that’s the super power of it all.

And at that point I had a lightbulb moment. You, the reader, may have realised this all along! Well-being can and should be a personal thing (make it a goal if you want) that we all work on. It’s individualised and runs appropriately alongside the needs of the individual.

But when it comes to workplace, well-being works even better when it becomes a collective.

In our schools, if we fail to see well-being as a collective, then we run the risk of people opting in and out of a whole host of things using their individual “well-being” as an excuse. Well-being shouldn’t be used as a tool to shirk on your responsibilities, instead it should be used to enhance them.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about increasing workload or hours, it’s about building a team and sharing the load. It’s about building a collective understanding that there will be times when we all need support and it doesn’t matter whether you are a teacher aide, a teacher or an isolated principal. The school will look after you because you are a well-being school all on the same page. In a well-being school that “isolation” word should vanish!

If we use the Mental Health Foundation “Five Ways To Well Being” strategies we can see the power of what this means if adopted as a group. For example MHF recommend the following with the accompanying by-lines.

Be Active

Do what you can, Enjoy what you do, Move your mood

Take Notice

Remember the simple things that give you joy


Talk and Listen, Be there, Feel connected


Your time, your words, your presence

Keep Learning

Embrace new experiences, See opportunities, Surprise yourself

Imagine using Be Active, Take Notice, Connect, Give, and Keep Learning as a collective keystone for the way in which your staff, (and you), run the business of the school.

Imagine the collective power of a school that expects everyone to talk and listen (Connect); to surprise themselves by embracing new experiences (Keep Learning); to appreciate all those things that are going well in the school (Take Notice); to know how to move their mood (Be Active) and; to understanding the need to give time, words and presence (Give). 

It sounds remarkably like an old fashion code of conduct I guess. But it’s been given a new shine. (Although I’d certainly hate to see this used as an appraisal goal – imagine the irony in that!)

Of course, you can use any well-being model. The Mental Health Foundation example is just one. You could be bold and make your own. Just remember that at your work place, the power of a collective understanding about what well-being looks and feels like is so much more valuable than pockets of it here and there




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