It is my belief that a truly compassionate and humane education system would recognise that every school leader is on a journey towards, what the American Psychologist Abraham Maslow termed, ‘Self Actualisation’.
An education system rooted in this belief would understand that if school leader are to fulfil their potential they need support that helps them to process the deep philosophical and psychological questions that often arise as they deal with the daily onslaught of challenges that their role brings.
Not recognising this, simply puts at risk the mental health of our nation’s school leaders and the health and happiness of those they lead and manage.
A system that truly cared for the mental health and well-being of its school leaders would not only dictate that Heads put in place well-being policies for their staff, it would also ensure that Governors, Trustees etc. put in place well-being polices for the Head.
These polices would not be perfunctory and put in place just as a matter of duty. They would be substantial. They would help school leaders to understand that there is inner work that must be done if their experience of school leadership is to be meaningful, fulfilling and If they are to remain mentally and emotionally well.
What should be the hallmarks of a Well-Being Policy for Heads?
The hallmarks of a well-being policy for Heads would enable them to:
– Talk about what they want as individuals
– Explore and challenge issues related to their own identity and sense of self
– Discuss issues related to the fulfilment of their own potential
– Reflect on the different stages of their own leadership journey
– Increase their capacity to become more mindful of themselves, their responses, their reactions, moment by moment
When head teachers have these support systems as part of their leadership life then their experience of school leadership takes on a different tone. The frenetic nature of the role does not go away, but the way in which they respond changes significantly.
No longer are they driven by unconscious emotions and patterns of behaviour. Instead, they show up differently, more centred, more grounded with a deep connection to who they are and what they stand for. Their mental health is protected, their capacity to draw from a deeper well of knowledge, insight and wisdom is maximised and everyone benefits!
If our head teachers are to succeed in fulfilling their visions for both themselves and their schools, then the correct support structures and systems need to be in place. Leading a school, getting others to buy into the vision, transforming the life opportunities of young people is a cognitive and emotional process that demands care and attention.
Cultivating a ‘Deliberate Practice’
Peter Hamill, the author of ‘Embodied Leadership’ points out that:
“One can have years of experience and not engaged in significant deliberate practice.”
What our school system should be seeking to do is to enable our head teachers to grow wiser and stronger as the year’s progress. This can only happen when they are engaged in ‘deliberate practice’. Deliberate practice which is concerned with the ‘cultivation of self’. This ‘cultivation of self’ involves developing a deep understanding and awareness of the personal journey that must be undertaken.
A deliberate practice would include regular ‘conscious’ moments in the head teacher’s life, when they are supported to stop, pause and reflect. The ‘conscious moments would include ‘conscious dialogues’’.
Through such dialogues, Heads could explore how to make sense of and bring deeper meaning, into their leadership life. These conversations would bring a higher level of maturity and wisdom to the thinking process and a deeper connection with the individuals own intrinsic motivators.
When Head teachers are supported in this way they:
– Feel a greater sense of control with regard to their leadership life and circumstances
– Identify how to access their own internal resources to bring about personal change
– Understand the actions they can take to move towards their desired future
– Know that they are valued for who they are and what they bring as an individual to the Head teacher role
Trust: The Headteacher’s Foundation Stone
To foster this type of development, Heads need relationships that are built on trust. When trust has been degraded, people do not show up as their best selves. They behave differently and weaken their ability to communicate openly and build relationships that support personal growth.
When trust is present, individuals feels a safety and security in the relationship. A non-judgemental space is created where they can learn to be more reflective and express their vulnerabilities. In developing such deliberate practices and ways of being, they discover how to bring a deeper more grounded approach to their own leadership practice.
They also develop an all-round healthier attitude to the challenges their role brings. They are more personally robust in taking measures to protect their own mental health and well-being. They consciously make the connection between their levels of resilience, mental health and well –being and that of their staff.
This way of being with another person involves accepting their experience of the world is unique and is to be valued and respected. No comparisons with other people or judgements are made. The relationship is solely about how they experience life and what it means for them to be human. It is a journey of self-discovery or, as mentioned earlier, a journey towards ‘self-actualisation’.
Our School Leaders play a key role in society. They are the guardians of our children’s futures. To succeed in their roles, it is imperative that they are given the emotional and mental support that they need thrive. When schools are led by grounded, confident, emotionally healthy individuals, they create the environments in which there is a joy and love of learning and children thrive too. For those involved in supporting School Leaders, this should be our ultimate goal.
Yet heartbreakingly, school leaders remain endemically under-supported and, as a result, many leaders are left without anyone to turn to when they are in need of support, clarity, guidance or even just some simple encouragement to keep going.
This isn’t how things should be. That’s why I offer free School Leader support calls to all those who may benefit from a confidential space where they can…
– Talk through the challenges they’re facing
– Get support in locating next steps and finding solutions
– Reflect on recent events and the impact that these have had on them as a leader and as a person
– Gain clarity around their thoughts
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!