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Wellbeing approaches within the PLL team

As we make our way through this persistent pandemic, heading towards an uncertain winter, a word that keeps popping up is 'wellbeing'.

As someone who had to shield during the lockdown period, I actively looked for ways to support my wellbeing, and enjoyed colleagues sharing their strategies on camera at the ES staff conference. The unusually warm and sunny spring certainly helped me to lift up my head and look beyond the screen and the same four walls. Early morning runs in the park and lunch in the garden broke up the day and maintained my sense of perspective. But as the months wore on, how would I find support for my own health and wellbeing in the shorter, darker days?

When I reflected on this, I realised that beyond the individual choices we make to support our wellbeing as we work from home; beyond the HR wellbeing call and beyond our one-to-one conversations with line managers, the way we work with others supports our wellbeing.

As part of the Professional Learning and Leadership team, our ways of working together have proved to be a great support through challenging times. As a team, we have each had our own personal pandemic challenges to negotiate and the response to Covid has brought increasing professional demands. In spite of that, we seem to be doing okay and have worked hard to keep a positive and proactive outlook. So, what is it about our way of working that has kept us going, and what it is about the team that supports me as an individual in challenging times?

We have recently been looking at the work of Kathryn McEwen, an Australian organisational psychologist and her work on resilience. She defines resilience as being about 'strengthening future performance rather than coping better', and 'supporting the working well…  to manage and thrive in the everyday challenges.'

She identifies seven characteristics of a resilient team: robust, resourceful, perseverance, self-care, capability, connected and alignment.

Kathryn goes on to define team resilience as:

'The collective capacity to perform optimally while maintaining wellbeing, adapting to change and setback and positioning for sustainable success in challenging work.'

This sounds like the PLL team, and we have reflected recently on what that looks like day-to-day, what characterises PLL as a resilient team and what behaviours and actions contribute to that.

Robust and resourceful

‘Resilient teams know and share in their purpose’ and have ‘regular discussion on what to prioritise and where to direct collective energy’.

The PLL team members come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and work on a wide range of PL programmes and activities, but as a team, we talk a lot about our core purpose, our ‘Why?’. We have regular team planning days where we have genuine and meaningful dialogue about our planning and outcomes, and reflect on what works and what needs to change. These are deep and engaged conversations, where everyone has the opportunity to have their voice heard and knows their individual role. As proponents of facilitation techniques that support adult learning, we certainly role-model within our team whenever we can and experiment with new ideas. These regular opportunities connect back to our ’Why?’ and make sure that our weekly team meetings are strongly linked with our core purpose.

Perseverance and capability

As recovery planning has re-focused our core purpose, we have worked together to add to and change our offers to the system, each contributing in our unique way. We have reached out further and developed wider networks within and outside of Education Scotland, bringing back knowledge and skills to generate new ways of working.

Self-care, connected and alignment

Respectful and trusting relationships are a hallmark of our working and we understand and work with our professional values and shared and individual strengths. The team strives to be responsive to colleagues’ needs across the organisation but tries hard too to balance this with its priorities. We are able to have honest conversations with ourselves and know that it’s okay to admit we might need help. Our team meetings usually feature discussions about the wider work of the team and give opportunities to share successes and also where we are finding barriers. With this in mind, we are always ready to step in to support a colleague and, likewise, know who our 'go-to' colleagues are, who will be there for us when we need them. Our team meetings often feature conversations about self-care, about the routines and work practices that are contributing to our wellbeing. The regular Friday coffee chat is an end-of-week check-in that’s not about work and we have an active WhatsApp group, sometimes professional, sometimes not, often hilarious and always supportive.

Wellbeing protocols

But it’s not all plain sailing – as a team we are solution-focussed and are very good at generating work. We sometimes get carried along with our enthusiasm and don’t always stop and take the time for self-care. We recognise that we have good intentions around our actions to support our wellbeing but we absolutely need to continually review what we are doing and make sure that we follow through. As we reflected on our behaviours and actions, we could easily see them reflected in the characteristics of resilient teams, but we recognised the need to consciously remember to stop and consider how our actions are contributing to a resilient team and individual wellbeing.

To summarise, here are some of the positive actions that we recognise build our sense of wellbeing and maintain a forward-thinking approach. In our current circumstances, we don’t always manage to get there, but we would consider these to be our ‘Wellbeing protocols':

  • Knowing our purpose
  • Planning meaningful team development days
  • Having shared expectations of ways of working
  • Supporting each other’s work
  • Planning that supports individual wellbeing
  • Supporting team members and picking up work where needed
  • Describing and modelling to new colleagues ‘how we work’ without written rules
  • Ensuring regular opportunities to plan working and workload
  • Establishing supportive but practical and sustainable norms, such as lunch-time arrangements
  • Considering non-negotiables, eg not eating lunch at desk!
  • Working in partnerships – shared leadership of activities and events.

So I look ahead to the winter months with positivity. I know my role within our work, my priorities for the months ahead, and who will be supporting me, or who I can ask for support, with respect to the workload of others. I will confidently find diary time to walk or run during daylight, know that will be encouraged and will encourage others to do so.

As I write, we are planning a virtual Christmas Market as our team ‘Christmas night-in’. I have no idea what it might entail, but do know that it will bring light and laughter. Watch this space!