In Finland, the happiest country in the world, the national curriculum says: Basic education is meant to support student wellbeing. Leena-Maija Niemi, the Principal of Kasavuori School in Kauniainen – the happiest municipality in Finland – highlights well-being as an essential building block of learning.
Teachers’ well-being is also directly linked to student wellbeing, and a happy teacher can better support the growth of students. Bad atmosphere among school’s employees can cause depression and lack of school enthusiasm to emerge among students. According to Principal Niemi school leaders must offer employees the opportunity to shine at work.
Leader provides the possibilities – everyone engages
“Principals don’t have means to pour wellbeing on the school community. Wellbeing leadership must involve and engage everyone”, says Principal Niemi. Leaders are responsible for many managerial duties that make flourishing possible, but all procedures should stem from really knowing your staff and school community.
The Principal of Kasavuori School
Principal Niemi points that school leaders need to be the pillar supporting every member of the staff: “When a teacher comes to seek support from me, I’ll always stop what I’m doing and listen to them. No matter how busy I felt.”
The principal of Kasavuori School values highly her morning rounds in the school. Kasavuori school has an open class door policy. Principal Niemi takes advantage of the policy and tours the school in the mornings. She pops in the classrooms and greets the students:
“I want them to know that I am there for them – not just for administrative duties!”
Support from the leader is one of the most important work resources. Some of the other work resources are e.g. feedback, appreciation, diversity of tasks, and the opportunity to influence own work. In Kasavuori school trust and responsibilities are given to everyone. All teachers of the school are a part of grade level teams and most of the teachers are a part of different units that design and execute e.g. school’s pedagogical development, communal well-being or student participation. Taking part in these units is not mandatory, but most teachers do participate, because they find the work very meaningful.
Culture of appreciation and helping
In Kasavuori School the culture of helping is important. It is mirrored in the lessons too: local curriculum urges every class to study a subject called Student well-being. 8th graders can also choose to study an optional course Increase your happiness in the subject of Doing good.
We know doing good to others also increases the well-being of the one doing the good deeds. That’s the mindset the school wants students to adopt to guide the students towards a balanced life. Some members of the school staff have also had the chance to study to become well-being teachers.
Principal Niemi has led the school to be a part of HyMy-initiative. An initiative for developing school culture of wellbeing and compassion. Through the initiative the teachers and students together form a working group for developing the school culture. The team has already organized a Friendship Week and are currently planning a Well-being festival. Strengthening the wellbeing of the school community is valued – every step of the way!
Students skip school 54 % more likely in schools that have weak trust among teachers.
Kasavuori school is also big on cherishing strengths. Principal Niemi says that to lead a school that is doing well, it’s important that every employee finds their job meaningful and is presented with opportunities to use their strengths. “It’s crucial to provide opportunities to get excited and be appreciated. No amount of money spent on wellbeing can fix it if you don’t feel like your job is meaningful. Or if you don’t feel like you are seen”, Principal Niemi ponders. That’s why she leads her school with her motto: “Kindness is always possible.”
School’s employees have piloted Team Mightifier, a tool for improving workplace well-being and giving strength feedback. “Team Mightifier guides everyone to note all the positive things our co-workers do for others. This is extremely important if you want to build a solid work community”, Principal Niemi states.
Taking charge of your own well-being
No matter how high the workplace wellbeing is, it’s important to take charge of recovering from work outside of office hours. Finding a hobby that quickly detaches you from work helps. For Principal Niemi, the best way to detach from work is through participating in her children’s hobbies: “Being involved with their baseball helps me forget work! I’m the scorer during games and it requires lots of concentration and challenges my brain too”, Principal Niemi laughs. She has also drawn a strict line for her free time and always keeps Saturdays as full days off. Drawing lines for oneself is a part of being a good leader and it sets the pattern for other staff members too.
For Principal Niemi, students are a big resource that boosts her coping with work-related stress. Every single day of school leader’s work is meaningful: “Every day I see what teachers do for student wellbeing – that really inspires and carries me!”