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Staff Wellness in Complex Times

by Lorna Muise Alberta Health Services | December 12 2019

Connection really does go a long way. Did you know that school culture improves when staff members are cohesive and collaborative? Employees are more effective when they’re part of a team that’s connected and strong. With so many uncertainties and changes looming over us, we need to double down our efforts to ensure that we—and those around us—stay well.

With this in mind, I’m inspired by the wellness supports that already exist in schools and jurisdictions around Alberta. I’d like to share some practical ideas, insights and observations I’ve pulled from our education partners in central Alberta over the past year to help you foster wellness in your workplace. If you’d like a more detailed list, take a peek at this resource.

Systems Level Support

School jurisdictions can provide supports and expectations that value wellness by:

  • Including wellness as a district priority, identifying and building strategies to support staff wellness.
  • Ensuring there’s a jurisdiction-level position that oversees wellness throughout the district.
  • Encouraging a network of health champions and wellness leaders in every school.

Administrators Set the Tone

Through their words and actions, principals can support and strengthen staff by:

  • Participating in a book club. One school jurisdiction read and discussed the book Workplace Wellness that Works by Laura Putnam. The administrators worked in smaller groupings to examine elements of the book, share their journeys and support one another as they strive to build a culture of workplace wellness in their respective schools.
  • Knowing and sharing your why. Many educators are connected in their purpose (their why). Have a conversation with a colleague and share your why with others. Check out the Michael Jr video to see this statement brought to life. With this video as inspiration, Red Deer Catholic Schools created their own video, What’s Your Why? When you know your why, your what becomes more powerful.
  • Coordinating prep periods so staff members have time to plan and work together.
  • Ensuring wellness-related activities are a part of your staff meeting agendas. Search “10-minute wellness activities” in The Sandbox’s resources to find a handful to use right away.
  • Connecting with your Employee and Family Assistance Program, like Homewood Health, for great tips and supports for workplace leaders, like the Key Person Advice Line.

Wellness is Everyone’s Responsibility

Any staff member can take a lead in small or big ways to strengthen connections by:

  • Creating a ‘Sunshine Crew’ to coordinate supports, such as meals, for life events like births and bereavements, as well as provide a bit of sunshine to those on medical leaves, returning to work, etc.
  • Sprucing up the staff room by cleaning and de-cluttering, adding a splash of colour to the walls or posting some inspirational quotes on the bulletin boards.
  • Inviting staff to wear a specific colour or type of clothing to school on a certain day to see if the students notice.
  • Coordinating a high five challenge. How many high fives can you get in a single day? A week?
  • Creating a song contest. Staff submit a favourite song, then they're played over the intercom at lunch. Staff and students are invited to guess whose favourite song it is—busting out some dance moves is highly encouraged!
  • Create a ‘Guess Who?’ game. Invite staff to bring in a baby/toddler picture of themselves and have staff guess who is who.
  • Incorporating Jody Carrington’s (Re)Connection Challenge is a great way to engage staff and students throughout the day.

More Food for Thought

Are you looking for more supports, strategies and tools to strengthen workplace culture? Here are a few additional connections to dive into:

  • Alberta Health Services (AHS). School jurisdictions can access AHS Health Promotion Facilitators (HPF) and the AHS Healthier Together Workplaces Program. Did you know that every school jurisdiction in Alberta has an assigned HPF to support wellness initiatives? It’s true!
  • EdCan. This infographic provides tips for schools on how to better support staff well-being by taking a whole-school approach and putting well-being at the centre of a schools’ values and priorities.

As my friend Joyce says, “If you don’t take time for your wellness, you’ll be forced to take time for your illness,” and I wholeheartedly agree! I’d love to hear your ideas for promoting wellness. Please share them in the comments below. 

Lorna Muise

As a school health promotion coordinator with Alberta Health Services and a long term passion for health promotion, Lorna is one of Alberta’s central zone superheroes! Her superpower? Lorna can mimic the sound of a water drop. We’ve yet to determine the benefits of this talent but are sure they are widespread and amazing.