Engaging staff in program planning

Engaging staff in program planning
Designed with input from staff gathered during focus group discussions and other channels, St Mary's Primary School's mental health initiatives focus on the connection between work and home lives. 

About the initiatives

St Mary’s Primary School is a small coeducational Catholic primary school in the semi-rural town of Hastings on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. The school enrolment is 140 students with 20 full and part time staff. The school services local families in the area from early years to grade six.

St Mary’s held a two-day staff conference in 2012 which focused on staff members’ work and home life, acknowledging the strong connection between the two. Participants were encouraged to identify their values and gauge the extent to which they were living according to them, and then identify the barriers and challenges.

One of the conference's central themes was mental health and wellbeing. The intention was to build understanding, knowledge and confidence to influence better outcomes in the areas of mental health and wellbeing. Staff were given skills to identify when others may be at risk or struggling and taught ways to support their workmates. They discussed these learnings as a group and created individual action plans to achieve their own health and wellbeing goals.


How the initiatives came about

Discussions about the staff conference were initially triggered by the Independent Education Union, which invited a number of schools to participate in a pilot project. The mental health component of the conference was carried out in collaboration with the school’s industry superannuation fund via the nationwide mental health program, SuperFriend.

The program was designed with input from staff gathered during focus group discussions and other channels. Information gathering aimed to discover how staff felt and what their needs were in regard to health, including mental, physical and emotional health.


Benefits and outcomes

Several benefits of the conference were identified, including:

  • staff discovered the reality of mental health issues around their workplace and within the local community
  • staff were quipped with a set of tools to help deal with their own and colleagues' mental health concerns
  • staff meetings have been established to reinforce learnings from the conference and monitor the achievement of goals
  • the conference received positive feedback - particularly in regard to changing attitudes to mental health and wellbeing, its significance and prevalence. Staff members expressed that they felt better informed on how to take care of themselves and provide support to others int he workplace.
  • the conference brought staff closer and improved general feelings of trust, support and cohesiveness
  • as a result of the program and at the suggestion of staff, management is planning to introduce a focus on mental health matters in annual staff reviews.


Recommendations, considerations and lessons learned

Challenge: Commitment to mental health


  • Staff leader must demonstrate, using open and clear communication, their belief in the importance of mental health and wellbeing and their commitment to addressing it.

Challenge: Overcoming stigma


  • Engage a qualified, experience facilitator
  • Ensure confidentiality
  • Encourage trust and respect among participants
  • Promise adequate ongoing support for staff

Challenge: Encourage attendance


  • Obtain leadership support of attendees' participation
  • Provide adequate and timely communication to assist with planning and scheduling

Challenge: Financial constraints


  • Prioritise budgets to support mental health and wellbeing programs
  • Schedule the program biannually (instead of annually) to ensure staff retain the strategies learnt and that the program is meeting workforce needs
  • Implement cost-saving measures (e.g. self-catering, in-house printing of conference materials)

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