The last year has seen staff adapt to new ways of working, but what has been the impact on staff and student wellbeing?
During Jisc’s wellbeing campaign, between January and March 2021, colleagues across FE have given us some telling insights. The Strategies and tactics for improving the wellbeing of staff and learners roundtable and Supporting wellbeing through inclusive use of technology and inclusive digital pedagogy events, have highlighted more than ever the need to address wellbeing issues.
This post provides a source of ideas to help you plan support and kickstart conversations around wellbeing at your own institution.
Developing an inclusive digital strategy
Wellbeing is a recurring thread through many institutional policies and they play a significant role in clarifying where staff and students can go to seek further support if needed. The mental health of staff came under the spotlight due to increased workload, particularly related to the pressures of the pandemic.
Examples of policies discussed in the online events included:-
A variety of leave policies for staff, such as annual leave assistance, adoption leave, bereavement leave, maternity, etc.
Stress management policies for staff to support those struggling and to signpost further support.
Flexible working hours policies (including when and where staff are allowed to work).
Organisational culture and modelling by senior managers also has a role to play in improving staff wellbeing.
Charlotte Judd, digital coach and autism practitioner for the faculty of inclusive practice at Weston College shared how their Inclusive Digital strategy enabled them to respond to COVID, with #MyVirtualCollege. Regular communications kept staff connected and allowed for the creation of a range of activities and blended approaches – identifying which are best virtual and which are best in college. This approach has facilitated more one to one scaffolded support for learners who need it most.
Celebrating staff successes
Celebrating staff successes in a meaningful way that shares stories across the college can have a powerful and enabling effect too. The following examples were raised:
Publicise a virtual “Gratitude wall for staff members” where staff are recognised for their achievements.
Develop digital triage flowcharts covering key aspects of wellbeing issues.
Share regular posts on the college intranet about mental health support.
Encourage staff to get involved in embedding wellbeing and support them to get skills
Kate Lister from the Open University, emphasised the importance of a community of interested staff who can network, co-ordinate and champion wellbeing across their own areas. There is a working group to ensure it is considered in all aspects of course design and quality assurance. Staff receive training and guidance and can access helpful resources based on action research. i.e Narratives shared by students and tutors in interviews have been turned into 10 anonymous vignettes that can be used for staff training or to inform course design.
Embedding wellbeing into the curriculum
Replicating face-to-face classes with the same scheduling of live online sessions was impacting on the wellbeing of staff. Delivering learning in online contexts requires a change in thinking and the time students spend learning online needs to be structured differently from face-to-face sessions. This is highlighted by Amy Hollier at the Heart of Worcestershire college below:
For example, what might make up a two-hour class could be split up into different sections with activities throughout the day, or even week, when learning takes place remotely. Digital technology allows us to rethink the traditional lesson mindset and design learning in such a way that is more flexible and manageable for learners to access.
Asynchronous activities can provide opportunities for learners to consolidate their learning through a range of means; for example, independent study through videos, podcasts, course work, shared documents, assignments and assessment. Scott Hayden at BCOT advocates the use of chat spaces before, during and after sessions as a backchannel that enriches the teaching and learning.
Building in opportunities for students to work at a time that suits them reduces many of the other pressures they may face when trying to study from home, such as managing childcare, accessing quiet study spaces and using the home broadband at times when it’s not in demand from other family members.
Wellbeing events and extension activities
Besides specific examples embedded within programmes of study there are also many extension activities available to both staff and students. These range from pre-planned events linked to specific calendar events, such as Mental Health Awareness Week, to more ad hoc and informal events for staff and students to take part in at their leisure.
The following are suggestions for wellbeing events or extension activities to consider:-
Run virtual ‘Healthy Fayres’ that include local services where possible with a programme of wellbeing themed activities.
Share wellbeing-themed podcasts on the dedicated wellbeing intranet pages/internal comms. Examples are available on the Jisc website.
Utilise the Five Ways to Wellbeing Postcards to stimulate internal discussions with managers to explore new initiatives.
Staff/student drop-in Yoga, Tai Chi, etc, sessions available over Zoom.
Bereavement drop-in sessions with the counselling team.
Raise awareness and provide training opportunities
“We are about to carry out the suicide awareness training as a compulsory measure for all staff. The Zero Suicide Alliance, made up of a number National Health Service trusts, charities and businesses, provide training to help someone who is struggling, whether that be through social isolation or suicidal thoughts.”
Member response in roundtable session
The Education Training Foundation’s Enhance platform provides the FE sector with modular learning linked to the Digital Teaching Professional Framework. There are accredited lessons on personal wellbeing, teaching digital wellbeing and building the digital skills needed to feel confident online.
A variety of other training programmes were also surfaced for staff relating to wellbeing. Staff development options fell into two categories: those which upskilled staff to support students and those which targeted staff to help them manage their own wellbeing.
Both ranged from short courses to raise awareness on key issues to accredited programmes of study, including:-
The Mental Health First Aid course was popular in many colleges, both for frontline teaching staff and support staff.
A range of counselling courses were highlighted by FE staff, such as ‘The Accidental Counsellor” course for those who aren’t trained counsellors but often found themselves in a pastoral role supporting students.
Specific training for managers to support them to lead by example.
A number of suggested services and resources to support staff throughout the academic year also included:
Staff Welfare group providing a central point of contact for all staff to raise awareness around wellbeing and coordinate resources
Dedicated wellbeing intranet site for staff to showcase a range of resources, such as:
Free resources and tips from the Mental Health Foundation
The CiC offer a range of free helpsheets, ranging from preventing burnout to relaxation techniques and dealing with stress and anxiety
Links to free mental health training from Mind
Similarly, the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust also offers dedicated training packages for educators
Designated unstructured time and opportunities for staff to socialise in online drop-ins
Find out more
If you would like to get involved you can also join the Jisc Accessibility Community in Teams where we have a dedicated digital inclusion and wellbeing channel. It’s a great way of finding out what others are doing across the sector to support staff and student wellbeing.