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Implementing Guarding Minds @ Work at Foothills School Division

by Megan Pharo ASEBP | May 11 2021

One of the best parts of my job as an ASEBP Workplace Wellness Consultant (WWC) is working directly with school divisions and hearing about their efforts to support employee well-being. These days, supporting staff mental health and well-being is particularly important as we’re all feeling pandemic fatigue and strain from the continued uncertainty of this past year.

For this post, I reached out to Cynthia Glaciar, Director of Staff & Wellness Learnings, from Foothills School Division, to learn more about their use of the Guarding Minds @ Work (GM@W) survey in the 2020/21 school year and the success they’ve had in embedding it into their work on improving employee psychological health and safety.

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Megan: It’s certainly been an unprecedented year. Foothills has continued to keep employee well-being at the forefront of its planning, even in 2020/21. Tell us a little about why you chose to roll out the GM@W survey.

Cynthia: We’ve pivoted in ways that we never would have expected! At Foothills, our Staff Advisory Committee brings together employees from all stakeholder groups (e.g. board members, executive team members, transportation, technology services, teachers, maintenance, school-based support staff, divisional support staff, and directors) to promote our division’s wellness initiatives. Each month, we meet with our administrators to share our learnings so they can hear about the committee’s work and align our efforts on wellness so school leaders are consistently supported across all our sites.

Initially, we learned of the GM@W survey through our work with the College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS). It’s one of the resources highlighted in the Workplace Wellness for Alberta School Authorities: A Planning and Implementation Guide. We decided to roll out this voluntary survey in November 2020, so we could understand the experience of employees across the district during this challenging school year, pinpoint concerns, and identify solutions to address them.

M: CASS’ planning and implementation guide is a great tool! So how did you approach the GM@W process?

C: First, we consulted widely with our employees and employee groups, and raised awareness of what the survey is intended for and how we intended to use it within our school division. This helped build a deeper understanding and achieve a very high response rate. The survey was open for just over one month, and we sent out periodic reminders about the importance of sharing feedback.

Once we obtained the results, we shared it broadly within our organization and met with each stakeholder group (including our board of trustees, union reps, administrators, and Staff Advisory Committee) to talk about what it meant at a grassroots level.

From these conversations, our division office wellness leads drafted a wellness plan that targeted employee needs. For us, it was important to use this opportunity to build capacity for the system-level, school, and staff leaders across our division.

Another important piece of our implementation involved collaborating with our partners, including ASEBP and Alberta Health Services. We shared aggregate survey results with them and gathered their expert input and perspectives, which has been helpful in connecting employees to supports, whether online or in their communities.

M: That’s a great point, it’s so important to engage employees early in the process and as you continue through this work. How have you actioned some of the findings you learned in the GM@W process?

C: Based on the survey findings, we chose to focus on the priority needs in our system—work/life balance, burnout, and connection. To do so, we developed a series of playlists and choice boards, which include video, website, reflection ideas, and other resources for school teams. All our school and wellness leaders lean on these resources, using the ideas for health breaks, staff connection and learning opportunities, as well as to help staff create and maintain work-life balance. As a result of the survey, we’ve also revised our Harassment – Prevention, Investigation and Reporting Administrative Procedure, in consultation with our Occupational Health & Safety Committee.

M: Some great action items! Reflecting on the GM@W survey, how has it helped boost staff wellness and psychological health and safety within your district?

C: To start, it’s elevated the overall awareness of staff mental health and well-being and enabled us to have some deep conversations about the mutual and shared responsibility of workplace wellness. And on a day-to-day level, we’ve implemented guidelines for e-communication boundaries, planned team connection activities and acts of kindness, as well as heard how leaders across the division are modeling healthy activities and providing professional development wellness opportunities for their teams. As a result of talking more about staff wellness, we’re also seeing an increased trend in staff accessing ASEBP benefits and Employee and Family Assistance resources.

M: That’s wonderful you’ve been able to explore a variety of strategies to meet the diverse needs of employees. Workplace wellness is certainly not a one size fits all! What piece of advice would you give another school division thinking about implementing GM@W?

C: If you are considering this tool make sure you have support of senior leadership, engage widely with all stakeholder groups in advance to help understand the purpose of the survey and build trust, and communicate consistently and frequently throughout the process. GM@W comes with many resources—ensure you review, evaluate and engage in the organizational review process recommended by GM@W prior to launching the survey tool.

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Thank you, Cynthia, for sharing your division’s experience with GM@W and some great advice to help others who may be thinking of venturing down a similar path.

ASEBP WWCs are certified Psychological Health and Safety Advisors and are available to help school divisions explore the GM@W process, as well as plan, implement and assess strategies for employee wellness. For more employee mental heath resources, check out Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace or reach out to discuss how we can support your team.

Megan Pharo

A former dancer (and current klutz), Megan’s an ASEBP workplace wellness consultant with a passion for mental health and wellness. This self-professed 'dessert enthusiast' has many talents, including the ability to look at you with only one eye at a time. Sadly, she can’t seem to keep a proper eye on her office plants—they just keep dying! Maybe someday she’ll find her green thumb. Eye on the prize, Megs!