Wellbeing – the importance of professional development

Mike Armiger works within many areas but particularly; young people affected by trauma and emotional distress, care experienced children, suicide prevention and sport. Mike is a former Head of Educational Provisions specifically for young people affected by trauma, care-experienced children and children with SEND and mental health needs. He also works with universities on models and approaches to student wellbeing. One of his main roles is as a specialist adviser in relation to trauma and mental health.

Upon being asked to think about whole school approaches to promoting wellbeing, I realise that  for some of the colleagues, young people, parents and other professionals I have met they haven’t always had a positive experience. When I say it isn’t their experience, I don’t lay any blame at their door. Quite often the reason it is not their experience is because there’s been a broken model of implementing such approaches. This has led to it just not working. Sometimes even causing damage to systems, staff, the school community and sometimes even students. This can rightly challenge people’s faith in the merits of such an approach. This isn’t exclusive to the area of wellbeing. It can be evident in many other things that schools have tried to implement. Quite often in my work I come across educational provisions who are wary of going down the route of whole school approaches to wellbeing because of these experiences. For me this experience often starts with the training…

I have always said that we need to rethink the way we commission training in educational settings. I advise many of my schools to think about a wider training impact. If we are going to embark on whole school approaches and training is our first step, here’s some things I ask those schools to do differently.

  1. Identify what we want to talk away from the training – What are we likely to implement?
  2. Understand how we are going to sequence that change – Where are we in relation to these proposed outcomes? What existing focuses, development plans or practices, already support this?
  3. Use part of our training budget to free staff up for a day’s planning on implementing the training – This is KEY. Often, we have a training day, then we go away and try our best to roll it out knowing we have maybe a few hours a week, at the end of the school day when we are all shattered, to discuss and plan. Freeing staff members up to help plan the implementation is a key training consideration. It is worth budgeting for.
  4. Where will reminders of the training be visible? – Reinforcing the messages to support emerging practice.

Often provisions tell me that when they have tried to implement the whole school approaches, it is maybe evident in parts of their setting, but rarely is it interwoven throughout their practice, policies, timetables and staffing models. The reality of whole school approaches is this…It’s hard to do. It’s a long-term game. It is of course completely worth doing. It can be transformational. But it needs working at.

Questions I often ask…

  1. Does the staffing model reflect this approach?
  2. Do staff have the time and capacity to do this work?
  3. How does pupil support planning, policy, curriculum, timetables, interventions, logistics, building design and other systems support this whole school approach?

These are necessary but difficult questions to contemplate. And often the ideal model is a destination into the future, not the next stop on the journey. But these are the questions we need to ask ourselves. Too often we expect the world from staff members with specific skillsets who in reality have little capacity, don’t have the opportunity to cascade their practice and influence into other areas of our provisions and are often seen as being the face of wellbeing. This is why we must do something different in how we propose to implement whole school approaches to wellbeing. The questions above help us to shift towards a more sustainable model. One that helps policy emerge through practice instead of policy dictating practice. There is a real difference in sustainability.

Whole school approaches to wellbeing are desperately needed. I often equate it to a multi-sensory experiences. Amongst other things, when done properly, this approach can be seen, heard and felt. It is evident for all stakeholders to see. But if we are going to convince others with previous negative experiences to embark on this approach, we must make the case for it to be done differently.

Recently a school I have been supporting have made some real progress in this area. After a training phase they moved to; coaching and support for practitioners in multiple areas of the whole school approach to wellbeing, reshaping their interventions, cross theming the approach through their curriculum, rethinking their staffing models, new timetabling and most importantly, gave staff the reflective practice spaces to help them achieve the desired outcomes. I keep saying it but I will say it once more… Student and staff wellbeing are deeply intertwined. We cannot embark upon these journeys without ensuring we provide the space, environment, capacity and human infrastructure, for staff to work their magic. They are our most precious resource.

Written by Mike Armiger

This blog is part of a series looking at the importance of student wellbeing and successful strategies for a whole school approach. In our previous blog, Could student wellbeing be linked to academic achievement?’, we looked at the evaluation findings from an Evidence analysis impact study exploring any potential links between wellbeing and student outcomes. On our wellbeing page you will also find a range of practical resources and guidance on wellbeing for parents and teachers, developed by experts.