Practical Strategies for Improving Staff Wellness

Head Start programs are built to serve. As a vital component of the care economy, we not only provide care and education to pregnant women and children birth-to-five, we also serve as the resource hub for families, connecting them to vital services. Our staff are trained to anticipate and meet our families where they are, and to walk with them in a supporting, partnering role. We also work diligently to stay connected to our communities, making sure we are staying current and knowledgeable about all resources that families can leverage to improve their situation. From food insecurity to homelessness to early detection of disabilities, Head Start and Early Head Start are always on the job, working as swiftly and efficiently as possible to help families find solid footing.

So Head Start and Early Head Start, who is taking care of you?

We are all familiar with the adage “before you can care for someone else, you have to take care of yourself.” But it is so much easier said than done, especially when there is so much work to do! And wellness is such a vague term -do you need more yoga? More vegetables? More sleep? The list can get long fast, and soon wellness becomes just another long and exhausting to-do list.

So instead of tackling wellness as a whole, let’s break it down and think of it as a wheel with eight spokes. Each spoke needs to be strong in order for the wheel to function properly, so it’s important to check in on each spoke on a regular basis. Using the wellness wheel, you can assess your overall wellness more accurately, and quickly see which spokes are most in need of a little (or a lot) of maintenance.

Below are some statements (by no means an exhaustive list) to help you assess each spoke of the wheel from the National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning. We have also included resources that could help you strengthen that spoke of the wheel, should you need it.

staff wellness wheel 2

SOURCE: National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning’s Wellness Wheel


Physical Wellness

  • I eat a balanced nutritional diet.

  • I exercise at least three times per week.

  • I am generally free from illness.

  • I have a reasonable weight for my height.


RESOURCE: Check out our library of NHSA in the Classroom music and movement sessions. These will get you and your students moving!


Finance/Occupational Wellness

  • I have a solid balance between saving for the future and spending for the present.

  • My beliefs/values surrounding money are harmonious with my behavior.

  • What I am doing with work/school has a purpose.

  • I have financial plans for the future.


RESOURCE: Learn how to make meaningful progress with your finances in The Academy’s Financial Wellness Basics course. Or get all of your colleagues on the path to financial wellness in Financial Wellness Essentials, which includes a live Visual Financial Planning workshop.


Intellectual Wellness

  • I have specific intellectual goals, such as learning a new skill.

  • I pursue mentally stimulating interests or hobbies.

  • I am generally satisfied with my education plan/vocation.

  • I have positive thoughts (a low degree of negativity and cynicism).

  • I would describe myself as a life-long learner.

  • I commit time and energy to professional and self-development.


RESOURCE: The Academy at NHSA is Head Start and Early Head Start’s home for professional learning. No matter what your skill level or interests, we have professional development opportunities that will spur your curiosity and increase your knowledge, skills, and abilities – and you’ll have the badges in your digital wallet to prove it.


Emotional Wellness

  • I have a sense of fun and laughter.

  • I am able to recognize and label my feelings.

  • I express my feelings appropriately.

  • I have a sense of control in my life and I am able to adapt to change.

  • I am able to comfort or console myself when I am troubled.

  • Others would describe me as emotionally stable.


RESOURCE: Learn how to ease your stress, worry, and anxiety with NHSA’s mental health partner, Starling Minds. Make Mental Fitness Mondays and Wellness Wednesdays part of your wellness routine!


Social Wellness

  • I am able to resolve conflicts in all areas of my life.

  • I have at least three people with whom I have a close trusting relationship.

  • I have satisfying social interactions with others.

  • I have a sense of belonging/not being isolated.


RESOURCE: You belong to the Head Start and Early Head Start community, and we love to come together! Take a look at our conference calendar and make plans now to join us.


Spiritual Wellness

  • I have a general sense of serenity.

  • I have a sense of meaning and purpose in my life.

  • I trust others and am able to forgive others and myself and let go.

  • Principles/ethics/morals provide guides for my life.


RESOURCE: Head Start has been guided by its founding principles for nearly 60 years. Check out the Academy’s Head Start History course for a quick and inspiring overview of this incredible program’s history.

Was this tool helpful? Be sure to share it with your Head Start/Early Head Start colleagues so they can get on the path to wellness, too!

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