In every institution there are different kinds of capital and varying levels of each. Physical capital is the hardware. In schools this would be the buildings, books and equipment. Human capital is the knowledge and skills that exist within people. A successful organisation needs diverse human capital – from subject expertise to policy awareness to how the white board works. Different people know different things but all are important.
Social capital has several definitions but here it refers to the quality of relationships between people. It is where culture lies and is equally important to a thriving school. Low levels of social capital create toxic environments. Ask teachers what a toxic environment means for them and this is what they say: cliques, bad-mouthing and back-stabbing, favouritism, gossip, verbal and non-verbal put-downs, lack of support, low empathy, judgment, rule-bound conversations, inappropriate use of power, bullying and marginalisation. When asked what a toxic environment makes them feel they say unvalued, anxious, isolated, depressed, enervated, demotivated and sick – the opposite of wellbeing.
Schools are ecologies so what happens in one part of the school impacts on what happens elsewhere. A warm and supportive staffroom reduces stress and promotes more positive teacher-pupil interactions. And strong student-teacher relationships are the key to effective learning and positive behaviour. It is a wise leader that pays attention to relational quality in their school.
So how do we develop high social capital? I have written much about the ASPIRE principles (agency, safety, positivity, inclusion, respect and equality) so this time I am having a go at another acronym for the things that you can do in the micro-moments to grow a culture of wellbeing in your school. Let’s go for the WALKIES!
W: Welcome: A sense of belonging is a critical component of wellbeing and resilience – so make people feel their presence matters. Just say hi, good morning, how’s it going? Learn people’s names and use them. This is particularly vital now with new staff arriving. How people begin and end their time in your school gives messages about the way people are valued.
A: Acknowledgement: Just a very simple “I noticed that …” makes a difference. It stops people feeling their efforts are taken for granted. Gratitude makes a difference in a school – just saying thank you to a colleague, a pupil or the person who cleans your classroom. It also means that you have noticed when they’re a bit down and perhaps need some extra support.
L: Listen. Time-poor teachers find it hard to listen, but giving all your attention for 20 seconds may be enough to make someone feel heard rather than dismissed. Listening is more than eye-contact: try asking a question to clarify understanding and perhaps not interrupting with something on your own agenda!
K: Kindness. Random acts of kindness are as beneficial for the giver as the receiver. One school I know had a Kindness Board in the staffroom where people acknowledged what others did for them. A kind word is as easy to say as a sharp one and takes no more time. Develop a culture of sharing to reduce workload for each other.
I: Invitation: Make space for others to join in a conversation, ask for their opinion. Occasional whole staff social functions – that sometimes include friends and families – enable people get to know each other outside their specific role. This can leads to broader conversations and greater collaboration.
E: Enthusiasm. When someone has achieved something, give them the credit with genuine warmth. Active constructive responding has been shown to be one of the major factors of a successful marital relationship – surely we can do this for each other.
S: Smile – even if not reciprocated it will make you feel better. Neuropsychology tells us that we don’t only smile when we feel good, the very act can cheer us up.
And Silence. There are times when we need to bite our lip and not say what it on the tip of our tongue. As a general rule ask yourself ‘will it help’ before you put it into words. If it won’t then don’t say it! You can read more about the micro-moments of silence on this LinkedIn blog: bit.ly/2c4kthG
So as this school year begins raise awareness about social capital and what this means in practice for your wellbeing, your colleagues and your kids.