A rural school division in Northwest Saskatchewan is not immune to the rising trend of burnout and mental health issues in educators. In response to this growing concern, Northwest School Division (NWSD) administration created a team to support and promote staff wellness that included teachers and school support staff, as well as a division councillor and members of the senior administration. Understanding that wellness can mean different things to different people, the team took a holistic approach in encouraging staff members to be well. While we recognized that many of the systemic issues that lead to burnout would not be solved through individual efforts, there was an opportunity to support the personal wellness of staff and build a sense of community around well-being.
The Live Well campaign was launched in December 2018, with a mission of “promoting and supporting physical, mental and spiritual wellness for all members of #teamNWSD.”
A symbol: To kickstart the program, each staff member was given a blue NWSD Live Well bracelet: a symbolic reminder of both their goals and the support within the division to accomplish those goals. Our belief structure established that “to Live Well can mean something different to each person, as we are all on different wellness journeys.” The bracelet highlighted the fact that, in a variety of ways, individuals are making wellness a priority in their lives.
Live Well Journal: In addition to the bracelets, each staff member was provided with a Live Well journal to chart their progress, collect their thoughts and highlight their successes. The journal served as a concrete tool to share information about the challenges and help staff to plan their personal journeys. The outline of the year for the Live Well campaign was colourfully articulated and information about each monthly theme was presented. Having a vibrant journal that employees could have in their hands and easily take with them underscored the idea that wellness is something that you can personally interact with on a daily basis. Our Live Well team knew we were on the right track with this concept when we could spot the dog-eared journals on staff desks in buildings all across our division.
My Wellness Goals: The first Live Well activity was titled “My Wellness Goals.” Each employee was encouraged create three personal wellness goals for the year. The goals did not need to be shared publicly and staff could consider physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions. Participants, with the aim of further committing to Live Well, had the opportunity to share with the team that they did create three personal wellness goals. The goals served as the foundation of a personal journey throughout the year.
As the year unfolded, staff members had the opportunity to be involved in a number of challenges that coincided with monthly themes. Each month of the school year had a designated theme and challenge, and a fitting prize as an extra incentive for individuals and staffs to join in the fun. The month of September, for example, started with the theme of “Get Moving” and included a step challenge as well as a virtual run. There was a buzz in the air as people set their own goal and guessed at what the winning step total might be. Mini staff competitions cropped up, and groups started coordinating their lunch hours around getting in their daily steps. We started to see staff connections and camaraderie building around the Live Well program.
December’s theme was “Stress Management,” and in addition to encouraging employees to reflect on how they planned to manage stress, we held three wellness fairs throughout the division at which employees could enjoy massage, yoga, meditation and healthy snacks. The fairs were a welcome reprieve at a stressful time when there were many school events to wrap up before the holiday break. They also served as an opportunity to both support and thank staff members for their commitment to students. In January, the “Active Living” theme was highlighted with the Wellness BINGO. The challenge was done on an individual and staff level, with participants having the opportunity to complete tasks in the squares to fill in their BINGO card. This contest was the ultimate team challenge and created an exciting energy as people encouraged their colleagues to fill in squares and worked to stay ahead of schools and offices down the road.
Our team purposefully tried to keep the barrier to entry low and create challenges that focused on different areas of wellness to engage a variety of different staff members. Staff that may not have connected with the virtual run might have a good book or healthy recipe to recommend, or a hobby they found stress relief in. Each month we have been able to engage different groups of people.
Energy and connection
A critical goal of the Live Well campaign was to bring staff members together. In our rural Saskatchewan context, togetherness is accomplished in creative ways. As such, each challenge included a requirement or encouragement to share individual or team accomplishments on social media. The school division’s Twitter feed was filled throughout the year with examples of people being well. In addition to the entertainment that comes with seeing what colleagues were up to, the presence on social media also reinforced the idea that “If my friends and colleagues can be well, I can too.” Our communities started to take notice and it was clear they saw the value in promoting staff wellness. Many local organizations and businesses reached out and asked how they could support us. A surprise benefit for the leadership team was the stories from staff who felt inspired by the activities we were doing and used that as the impetus for creating their own staff and school challenges. The small seed we planted grew far beyond what we ever could have expected.
We recognize the diversity and complexity of individual wellness for staff members in the field of education, and the reality that a challenge-based approach to staff wellness is only one of a multitude of factors that contribute to individual wellness. Still, we are encouraged that the Live Well campaign has allowed us to make some difference. Through the Live Well campaign, the school division has had the opportunity to communicate clearly that staff wellness matters. Live Well allows people to try new things that they may not have otherwise chosen to do. Perhaps most of all, the Live Well campaign supports the feeling that if we are going to be truly well, we will do it by being well together.
All Photos: courtesy of the authors
First published in Education Canada, September 2020