Case study

Mental wellbeing lessons from Dr Challoner’s Grammar School

Carole Black
Carole Black

Assistant Headteacher Student Development,
Dr Challoner's Grammar School

6 mins

While every job has its ups and downs, there are few with as many highs and lows as that of a teacher. Long hours, stress, and emotional labour are business as usual, and school staff often find themselves having to go above and beyond to help their students grow into young adults.

Perhaps as a result, the Education Support Partnership estimates that 75% of all education staff have faced physical or mental health issues in the last two years because of their work, with almost one in five (19%) reporting panic attacks, and 56% suffering from insomnia and difficulties sleeping.

Creating a culture where people can talk openly about their mental health is really important.

However, at Dr Challoner’s Grammar School in Chelsted, staff can be assured that their employer is working hard to keep their mental health at the top of the agenda.

“School staff are some of the most stressed according to numerous surveys and this is reflected in our school as much as anywhere else,” says Carole Black, Assistant Headteacher Student Development at Dr Challoner’s. “So, creating a culture where people can talk openly about their mental health and share when they are struggling is really important.”

The almost 400-year old school is a selective grammar for boys and a co-educational sixth form, with over 1,300 students and 150 members of staff. Carole explains that of their methods used to get employees thinking about mental wellbeing and resilience was actually first a lesson for students.

When you’re teaching it, you start to use it yourself too.

“We use the 5 steps to mental wellbeing​5 steps to mental wellbeing Website Evidence suggests there are 5 steps we can all take to improve our mental wellbeing. If you give them a try, you may feel happier and more positive.Free By: NHS View resource,” she says. “But we’ve found that when you’re teaching it, you start to use it yourself too.”

The resource, as published on the NHS’s website, suggests simple ways to build your own resilience:

  • Connect – connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships.
  • Be active – you don’t have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling or play a game of football. Find an activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your life.
  • Keep learning – learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence. So why not sign up for that cooking course, start learning to play a musical instrument, or figure out how to fix your bike?
  • Give to others – even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks.
  • Be mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”. It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.

“We tell the children it’s like making sure you eat your five fruit and vegetables a day – that’s an easy way to explain it!” Carole laughs. “But the teachers also find it works for them.”

Dr Chanoller's staff enjoying some physical activity
We’ve always been keen to give staff options on how to get support.

The school also has two Mental Health First Aiders​Implementing Mental Health First Aiders: a guide for employers PDF The only effective, sustainable approach to employee wellbeing involves the whole organisation. This guide explains how to recruit, train, and assess your Mental Health First Aiders.Free By: Mental Health First Aid England View resource, who are trained to look out for signs and symptoms of a range of mental health conditions, as well as providing support and guidance to staff looking for help.“One of our first aiders is someone people would go to for a chat anyway, so that seemed like a natural choice,” Carole says. “The other perhaps chose to take part in the training because of her own experiences. We’ve always been keen to give staff options on how to get support.”Events are another crucial way that Dr Challoner’s keeps the mental health conversation alive. The run regular yoga and football sessions, annual tennis and badminton events, a book club, and a monthly cake baking event, giving everyone the chance to get involved.They’ve also signed the Time to Change pledge, and focus on mental wellbeing with on Time to Talk day each year. “We use a lot of the Time of Change material – like their posters, for example,” Carole says. “It helps us to really show staff that we’re in their corner. Of course, it’s not perfect – there will always be rubbish days at work – but you can help people to deal with them better.”

Different activities give all staff the chance to be involved.
Don't be afraid of what you might hear and don't be defensive if there are things you hear you don't like.

As a result of their hard work, the team were recognised with a Gold Award in this year’s Workplace Wellbeing Index​Mind’s workplace wellbeing index Web page Mind's Workplace Wellbeing Index is a benchmark of best practice and policy. It will highlight what your organisation is doing well, how you compare to others, and how you could improve in your approach to mental health at work.Paid for By: Mind View resource from Mind. “It doesn’t mean we stop here,” Carole adds. “But it’s nice to receive praise and know we’re doing the right thing.”

She says that the key mantra that organisations must remember is that a successful mental wellbeing strategy isn’t just one policy or pledge – it’s a series of small, careful steps that help everyone to be included. “Start small, by talking to staff and understanding the issues in your organsation – don’t be afraid of what you might hear and don’t be defensive if there are things you hear you don’t like,” she explains. “Make changes slowly and carefully – don’t make it an initiative – and build whole school and personable responsibility as everyone has to play their part and contribute.”

Carole Black

Carole Black
Assistant Headteacher Student Development,
Dr Challoner's Grammar School

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