This Blog comes from an ex-secondary Headteacher, trainee therapist and Integrity Coaching Associate, Tim Small.
Many things can cause a crisis in a School, more often than not – they result from a set of circumstances which are often caused by things entirely out of one’s control as a school leader. For example, I remember once suffering from a combination of a flu’ epidemic, a shortage of supply teachers and three long-term sickness cases on my staff all happening in the space of a week and it can catch you completely off-guard.
When this pressure is combined with a shift in your personal circumstances, a bereavement, a family sickness, even something as ordinary as a home maintenance crisis can cause serious psychological upheaval, if you allow it do so.
But how can you avoid this happening and what should you do if you find yourself in a situation threatened by a crisis that feels out of control?
Well I believe there’s three three things every School Leader should do if they want to survive a crisis like this unscathed….
1. Remember Your Oxygen Mask
Firstly, I have learned that how you feel is more to do with your inner state than what’s going on out there. When I’ve slept well and feel physically and mentally OK, I somehow feel ‘bigger’ and problems seem ‘smaller’. They even seem to matter less, although I am still driven to solve them as best I can. The difference is that I have some energy to do so. Fatigue, on the other hand, makes us turn in on ourselves and it becomes even harder to face the world.
The first piece of advice, then, is a bit of a cliché: it is about remembering ‘to put your own oxygen mask on first, before trying to help anyone else with theirs’.
However difficult it becomes, the discipline of maintaining your own healthy patterns of sleeping and eating, including time to relax and unwind before bedtime, is part of the responsibility of leadership, not a luxury that you can no longer afford!
2. Recognise our own vulnerability
The second piece of advice is to be open, from the start (and it’s never too late to start), about your own vulnerability and ‘belong to the same community of human beings that you feel so responsible for’.
If your leadership cultivates independence and interdependence, so that your colleagues become leaders in their own right, who gladly cover for your moments of weakness as you cover for theirs, the crisis becomes navigable.
This does not equate to you becoming dependent on them! You are giving permission to be human. People will be more inspired by your modelling of humanity than by your failed attempt at being superhuman.
Of course, a Head does still need to be able to step back and be able hold colleagues to account. It is important that your sense of belonging does not depend on your role and life at school. Maintaining other sources of wellbeing and involvement may be difficult when school takes up so much time, but they might be a lifeline when things get tough.
Some find this personal support network in social contexts, some in their spiritual life, many in their families. Like a spider, you attach your web of support securely around 360 degrees, in both your personal relationships and your professional community. If one fails, others hold firm.
3. Find Support
Above all, if things seem overwhelming it is essential to talk. Finding someone to talk to close by is difficult, since you are aware that people employed within the system are judging you and have their own agendas. It may be, for instance, that someone designated to support you is also reporting on your performance – and your coping levels – to the authority for which you work.
Rather than feeling like support, this may feel as if it is simply increasing the pressure. You may have a partner who listens well, but you want to avoid loading too much work stuff on your personal relationship and your partner may not be aware of all the professional implications.
My last piece of advice, then, is to find your own external, non-judging and professionally informed support, so there is always someone to talk to who understands what you are coping with, who helps you to maintain perspective and look after your own wellbeing.
As an authentic leader, your sense of identity and belonging becomes portable, adaptable and available to others, even in a crisis. You are an inspiration, not a fantasy hero!
Are You Ready to Ask for Help….?
Becoming a Head teacher invariably means that whatever the problem, people trust and believe that you can fix it! Very often it can feel as though you are carrying the full weight of everyone’s expectations on your shoulders. No matter how diverse their expectations might be, from parents to politicians, you are expected to shoulder everything.
On top of this, you have a myriad of responsibilities, that require you to demonstrate additional expertise as a social worker, child psychiatrist, politician and community worker, all within the space of a day – even though you’ve never been trained in these areas.
Amidst these challenges of Headship, I believe it’s vital that our leaders are properly supported; strategically, operationally and emotionally to ensure they can keep going.
Social workers have supervision to help them process their toughest cases, and corporate executives have space for “lessons learned” and continuous improvement between projects.
Yet school leaders remain woefully under-supported and as a result, many are left without anyone to turn to when they are in need of support, clarity, guidance or even just some encouragement to keep going after a difficult period.
That’s why I am now offering free “Coaching for The Soul” support calls to ensure that no School Leader finds themselves in the same situation as I was in as a Head.
These calls provide a safe, confidential space for school leaders to:
– Talk through the challenges they are currently facing
– Get support in locating next steps and solutions to help overcome problems
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they are having
– Gain clarity around how best to move forward
Places are limited – so if you are determined to take charge of your own well-being, book today to avoid disappointment.