Ian Vickers says he was compelled to do something back in 2013 because he felt that nobody was talking about the issue of teacher wellbeing. He was watching too many great educators fall out of the profession, and more worryingly, too many soldiering on – to the detriment of their health.

Three years later, this Sancta Maria College teacher has become something of a guru in the field, although he says repeatedly that he’d rather his name wasn’t associated with the work he’s put in. He’s won awards, become something of a media pundit, and presented his insights to schools, unions, and industry here and around the world.

The most important thing though, says Ian, is that schools around the country are realising that teachers can only give their very best in class when their needs are supported, and that teachers are now less afraid to put up their hands to the fact that they’re in danger of burning out.

A productivity proposition

It’s a simple productivity proposition, says Ian. Education is at last catching up with the notion that excellence isn’t achieved by somehow extracting more than teachers can give, it’s delivered by teachers who are rested, enthusiastic, and who feel that they’re part of an organisation that sees employee wellbeing as everyone’s responsibility.

Ian says that definite progress has been made in the five years he’s been chipping away at the issue – to the point that he feels like it’s time to scale back his own involvement. The snowball has well and truly gained momentum, he says.

“Schools should also remember that a great wellness programme becomes a recruitment tool. You will attract quality teachers if those who are passionate about excellence can see that they’re supported to deliver their best.”

One litmus test that serves to illustrate the increasing visibility of the issue is acknowledgement at an administrative level. Ian says that the Education Council has recently devoted a section of its website to wellbeing, which includes blogs, links, and quizzes that teachers can take to establish how adversely affected they are by stress. Ian says it’s a work in progress, but it’s a start.

Good New Habits, the resource that Ian authored back when Donald Trump was just a reality TV star, is also still a work in progress, something he’s continued to tweak as he’s learned more about wellbeing strategy. After the article appeared in Education Gazette (go to www.goo.gl/1StfbA) back in October 2013, Ian was inundated with requests for the resource – to date he estimates he’s sent maybe 7,000 copies.

Demonstrating that the internet does indeed sometimes live up to its promise, Good New Habits has taken on a life of its own – Ian has been surprised to hear from teachers in many other parts of the world, sharing with him what they’ve done with the resource within their education context, which is exactly what Ian intended, hence the Word document format.

That’s meant that Ian, as author of the resource, is in demand as a sort of consultant to schools wanting to follow Sancta Maria’s example. He’s now conducting PLD sessions, speaking at conferences, and presenting to peak bodies both here and overseas.

In term 2 of last year Ian took a funded sabbatical, which he used to produce a refined and improved Good New Habits resource, which he says is of far more worth to teachers than a report that might be the more usual result of such a study award. The finished resource includes much broader content, like posters and links to videos, as well as updated advice for teachers who want to change their work lifestyle.

Acknowledgement speaks volumes

In November 2013 Ian and Sancta Maria College were acknowledged at the annual New Zealand Workplace Wellness Awards, run jointly by the Heart Foundation and HAPINZ, the Health and Productivity Institute of New Zealand. Ian and his team found themselves in heavyweight company, rubbing shoulders with the likes of
Air New Zealand.

Ian believes that the award acknowledges the fact that education is catching up with the idea that ‘work ethic’ no longer means working oneself to death – sometimes literally. It’s now about working toward conditions under which we can give our best, he says, rather than playing along with the piety contest of yesteryear, when demonstrating one’s commitment to the job meant working oneself into the ground.

“NZ Business, in conjunction with Southern Cross Health publish bi-annual reports on the state of workplace wellbeing. All other sectors, including some other government departments, are included in this study – except education,” he says.

“All the data, and all the research, says that if you’ve got a workplace wellness programme set up, the benefits are well documented all around the world. You’ll get higher productivity, less sickness, and employee loyalty and conscientiousness improves.

“Schools should also remember that a great wellness programme becomes a recruitment tool. You will attract quality teachers if those who are passionate about excellence can see that they’re supported to deliver their best.”

Blue chip money not required

It’s an accepted truth in the business world these days, says Ian: blue chip companies spend huge amounts on keeping staff happy and healthy, because they know that they’ll make back their investment and then some, in the form of productivity gains and employee loyalty. Ian wonders why education can’t follow suit, given that the ‘profit’ produced by highly effective schools is improved student outcomes.

There’s plenty that schools can do without having to spend blue chip money, says Ian. The Sancta Maria ‘warrant of fitness’ is a great example.

“We get the local school of nursing to come in and run our warrant of fitness programme for all our staff, over the course of an entire day. The cost is really minimal – we spend a little bit on blood testing kits, and measuring hydration, but it’s absolutely nothing really, compared with the benefits to be gained when everyone knows what sort of condition they’re in. So many teachers just labour on, completely unaware that a simple change could help them cope with their working life so much better, and allow them to feel more energised and therefore able to give their best for the kids.”

Then there’s the Thursday neck and shoulder massage. Sancta Maria staff pay 12 dollars for this service, and the board matches their investment.

Ian says that what he’s really learnt since we last spoke in 2013 is that it’s about the big wellbeing picture, not just drinking enough water or eating enough healthy food. His updated Good New Habits reflects this updated approach, and Sancta Maria College has enthusiastically embraced the change. Ian points to a financial wellness day that the school ran, and a day when staff shared and demonstrated their passions outside of school time.

Ian’s message, which is being taken up at an exponential rate by schools around the country and around the world, is very simple: it’s no longer enough to provide booze and bickies on a Friday afternoon and call it a wellness programme. Maintain your teaching engines and they’ll fly through the year – as will your students.

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