CfESEND blog: Weston College on the health, wellbeing and morale of staff

Blog by Sam Mayhew, Dean of Faculty at Weston College, for the Centres for Excellence in SEND programme.

Hands up who is missing their friends and colleagues?! As we moved to a virtual education landscape, the opportunities to share our experiences, connect with colleagues for support and just have fun have reduced too. Humans are sociable animals by nature and the current restrictions are eating away at our mental well-being. All this combined is impacting staff morale who are working from home and in isolation. The lack of contact reduces self-esteem because we don’t have the opportunity to talk through issues which would allow us to explore solutions in a safe environment and build confidence.

Everyday interactions with others from our own department, different departments and specialties whether it be at the photocopier; in the bistro; sharing effective practice in the offices; listening to another staff’s tutorial to share experiences or to be that listening ear and provide reassurance when a staff member is struggling with a challenging situation; are no longer available and are very much missed.

Image of a calendar with wellbeing activities under datesWithin Weston College we have taken steps to provide some substitute opportunities to interact casually. We have devised a timetable of activities to promote interactions with our colleagues whilst not talking or thinking about work, the pandemic or the next pressure point in our already full schedules. These activities include mindfulness sessions; a ‘Bake off’; quizzes; craft sessions; a choir and a book club. There are also other activities whereby you don’t have to be glued to a screen but can enjoy some down time with your colleagues, utilise the skills and interests of the staff and encourage conversation. Now we can get together at the end of a day for some fun activities and the staff have reported how effective this has been in creating connectivity, increased motivation and team spirit during this third lockdown period. Following the success, this has now been more widely adopted across the whole college to benefit all staff at a time when this is needed more than ever. 

In addition, here at Weston College we are lucky to have a wealth of support available to us through our ‘Let’s Chat’ initiative working collaboratively with our colleagues at Somerset Counselling Centre and Gateshead College. Let’s Chat is the result of our DfE’ College Collaboration Fund project and we hope to use the learning from this approach to inform future support to the FE sector. Do check out the site and tell us what you think through our short survey. Let’s chat provides staff with the skills and expertise to manage their own wellbeing and be able to adapt their learning to enhance their learners’ well-being and outcomes. Staff can access ’MOTs’, which allow individual staff members to focus on their own well-being to consider ways of improving this through the identification of strategies and support networks and providing a listening ear. Staff also have access to a wide range CPD and training opportunities in Mental Health First Aid, Emotional Literacy as well as a series of workshops which look at the four pillars of wellbeing i.e. relax, move, eat and sleep. 

Secretary of State Gavin Williamson highlighted the importance of this approach to wellbeing being adopting across the sector in his keynote speech at Association of Colleges (AoC) Annual Conference in February 2021.

Connections Across the Sector

Our Supported Internship learners and staff have formed an encouraging connection with Portsmouth College. In times when communication and social interaction is more difficult for students with SEND, this ambitious new way of working with others, has allowed new learner friendships to develop outside of their peer groups. These virtual connections occur through online meetings, emails between learners enabling them to practice their digital and communication skills whilst their work placements are on hold. This has been of huge benefit and the learners have developed professional relationships, supported those from different areas of the country by sharing their experiences, and brought a different dynamic to their timetable. Sarah from Portsmouth College said, “Meeting with your learners was definitely the highlight of our lesson yesterday, the learners cannot wait for the next one.” This innovative idea is something that we highly recommend and if any other colleges want to be involved in this please contact us through CfESEND@weston.ac.uk.

“I loved meeting new people and sharing ideas with each other.” Meg

“I liked chatting to a new college and talking about what they wanted to do for jobs and placements.” Sophie

“I enjoyed speaking to the students, hearing about their projects and how they are all doing.” Millie

Please get in touch if you would like to find out more about the work of our CfE in SEND (People). We’re keen to hear from anyone who would like to work collaboratively with the CfE, so please do get in touch with your suggestions and ideas via CfESEND@weston.ac.uk.

For further details of webinar recordings, resources and toolkits can be found on the ETF Centres for Excellence in SEND

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