This blog is from one of COBIS' Supporting Associates.
Written by Stephen Rogers, co-founder of 49 Thirty Two Education and was until this summer, the Executive Headmaster of the International School of Milan, Italy.
The best way out is always through
I was talking to a teacher the other day and the discussion settled upon the issue of mental health, which is something that regrettably we have all probably spent too little time considering in the past, but ‘thanks’ to Covid, it has undoubtedly focused our collective minds on something that has proven to be of fundamental importance to so many. However, after a few minutes exploring the very real ways in which senior leaders needed to ensure that staff and students were properly supported, I asked the teacher if there was anything schools might do to support the mental health of the senior staff themselves. After all, if they were busy leading the school as well as ensuring everyone else was OK, was there a mechanism that looked out for them as well? Strangely, my colleague wasn’t sure, saying they’d never thought of senior leaders needing that support and I suspect strongly that this is true for you as well and that many of you do not have that safety net of support for yourselves. Of course, if you have a supportive Board/Owner/Director who arranges this for you then kudos to your school (and you can probably stop reading!) but I know for a fact that many don’t. Your mental health is of singular importance not only for yourselves and your families but also your colleagues and students.
Schools need to think seriously about ensuring that amongst all the valuable and essential work done supporting students and staff that senior leadership colleagues are not left out in the cold. I am sure you are aware of many of the tried and trusted strategies to combat stress and other mental health issues (deep breathing, switching off the computer, physical activity etc.) but there are more. The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) recent updates to their regular guidance on mental health in the workplace is a very good place to start if you haven’t as yet reflected on this professionally or personally. In particular, the six management standards are excellent in not only ensuring you help create a supportive environment for your colleagues and students but also that you do so for yourself. Be honest and ask whether what you have in place supports your mental health mapped against these standards and if they don’t, why not spend some time thinking how you might change things for the better?
I promised myself in writing this, that I would assiduously avoid any attempt to engage in cod psychology in analysing the issue and leave behaviourist and cognitive approaches to those actually trained in them. I have simply been a head and it is from this perspective and experience that I write, knowing the demands that you and your colleagues are constantly under due to your role. Whether school leaders are naturally predisposed to throw themselves under the proverbial bus by not attending to their own needs or not, it is surely often the pressures of the leadership role that demands compliance in ensuring everyone else is safe in the lifeboats first. However, the irony is that in most cases the ship isn’t sinking and you’re all still together for the rest of the voyage and if the captain is going to avoid being deemed certifiable by the ship’s doctor, they need to take care of themselves a little better….
Whatever it is that you ultimately decide to do however, do try to actually do it as you owe it to your staff, your students and most of all to yourself to administer a little self-care. The temptation to ensure that you expend all your energies on the welfare of others does you credit but surely the best strategic leadership would ensure that everyone is supported and that means you as well.
And the bit from Robert Frost at the beginning? It may seem a little incongruous but ‘going through’ an issue is often the way to ensure we really understand the challenge and that we do it right…….
Below are some links to some very useful resources that might help: