In January, educators, students, researchers and health promotion professionals descended upon Lake Louise to take part in the Shaping the Future conference. This annual pilgrimage is a rite of passage for many who seek to advance their knowledge, skills and networks around comprehensive school health. Together with my coworkers from the Alberta Health Services School Health & Wellness Promotion team and our colleagues from the Alberta Healthy School Community Wellness Fund, we hosted the annual pre-conference session known as “Wisdom is in the Room.” Nearly 50 stakeholders from school jurisdictions and organizations across Alberta (and beyond!) joined us to discuss, share and learn about a variety of school health and wellness topics including school employee wellness.
As participants shared their wisdom, four themes emerged that anyone who supports school employee wellness in Alberta can learn from:
- Make it matter. Staff wellness isn’t just ‘nice to do’—for many, it's a pre-condition for teaching. School employees told us that when they feel cared for and supported, they are more engaged in their roles and better prepared to care for and teach others. But if you don’t believe me, just ask students. Kids are perceptive to the adults around them and many model their attitudes and behaviours. Who knew that setting students up for success starts with taking care of yourself first? Make it matter at your school by posting a list of ‘staff wellness favourites’ in the staff room or infusing a 10-minute wellness activity from The Sandbox into your next staff meeting.
- Find keys to success. Create a vision for wellness where people at all levels see themselves reflected. Do senior leaders make time to intentionally model wellness? Do administrators support new ideas and feel supported themselves? Do school employees feel cared for and model that feeling to their students? This is the key to success—when all layers of the system are functioning together toward a shared vision and common goal. Adopting a broad and flexible vision of wellness helps people to get on board, and who doesn’t want more allies? A flexible vision that allows people to define wellness for themselves might just be the key to success that your school community is looking for. Find more keys to success by visiting the Alberta Health Services Comprehensive School Health website to find tools for creating a shared vision of wellness that reflects all layers of your school community.
- Take action. Some say getting started is the hardest part. Fortunately, the wise delegates at Shaping the Future came up with some great ideas for taking action on school employee wellness so that you don’t have to. Start taking action at your school by showing you care. Small acts of kindness pave the way for larger successes, so try opening doors for others, leaving coffee and snacks in the staff room or simply keeping your door open to create a welcoming environment. Take it a step further by planning social activities for staff, celebrating monthly themes, starting new staff challenges or creating opportunities for others to share their skills and get involved in meaningful ways.
- Keep learning and improving. Let’s not forget that school employee wellness is a cultural shift that takes time and practice to get right. Not everyone will be supportive from the start, so take the path of least resistance, work with the people who are already on your team and strive for improvement. Create opportunities to learn and improve at your school by aligning staff and student wellness initiatives, maintaining the momentum of time-limited events and investing energy in shifting perspectives of the few that believe school employee wellness is a ‘waste of time.’ Don’t forget to monitor and track progress, reflect and make adjustments and always celebrate how far you’ve come. Visit the Comprehensive School Health website to find tools that will help improve your school employee wellness strategies.
While Shaping the Future has come and gone for another year, I’m grateful to the participants who shared their wisdom around school employee wellness. Keep the conversation going by sharing your thoughts and ideas in the comment box below or on the forum.