This blog comes from Assistant Headteacher and TeachFirst Ambassador, Michael Nott (@MrNott117)
In the last few years, the teaching profession has made great strides when it comes to wellbeing.
The rise of feedback instead of marking has undoubtedly had a dramatic impact on teacher workload in schools that have adopted it. Likewise, the accepted practice of centralised detentions has ensured teachers don’t spend their every free moment setting and chasing detentions.
But truly, one of the most significant changes has been Ofsted pushing teacher wellbeing to the top of its agenda, suggesting that as a profession we are at least trying to do something to address it. Granted, it is still nowhere near close to perfect, but I certainly think it has improved in the last few years.
However, despite these improvements, I don’t think that the wellbeing of a school’s senior leadership team has been properly considered. Now, I appreciate that there may be many people out there who are unsympathetic to the idea of senior leadership workload.
After all, to many, it is senior leaders who have led on initiatives that have ultimately increased teacher workload. But I don’t think we gain anything from vilifying senior leaders, and creating an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality. I don’t think any senior leader knowingly sets out to create something that leads to an increase in workload.
Nevertheless, I do believe that if school leaders are to set the correct culture in a school then it is imperative that senior leader workload is addressed.
Firstly, if a school’s senior leadership team aren’t being looked after then it is inevitable that this pressure trickles down in the form of increased workload and accountability for middle leaders, which in turn then trickles down further to classroom teachers.
After all, can you really expect the person who is required to stay until 8pm every night for a week to be supervise the school show, the person who does before school, after school and break and lunch duties each day and the person held completely accountable for one area of the whole school as broad as assessment, data, behaviour or teaching and learning, to be able to empathise with workload issues?
Recruitment and Retention Crisis
Equally, in not addressing the workload of senior leaders, are we not creating a culture where great teachers no longer want to become senior leaders? Indeed, the data supports the position that the role of the senior leader is not the prized job it once was.
Recent data indicates that schools are failing to recruit for senior leadership positions with 27% of schools failing to fill senior leader roles.
Furthermore, it is no longer a desirable job for the people actually doing it, with the National Association of Headteachers recent survey revealing that 67% of senior leaders were aware of colleagues leaving the profession early for reasons other than retirement in the last five years. .
A school’s SLT must set the culture for the entire school. Therefore, senior leaders need to set the right example to the rest of the school when it comes to workload. We don’t need the superhero teacher and we don’t need the superhero senior leader either.
It’s a sad indictment of the profession, when you have great teachers ask you if they could ever be a senior leader and have a family, or if they could be a senior leader and work part-time. Of course these things should be possible but for too long this hasn’t been a reality and this is why we are losing many great teachers, and this is why we are struggling to recruit for senior leadership roles.
It is the duty of a senior leader to say no to ideas that are not going to benefit students and to ideas that will ultimately come at a great cost to staff. School leaders shouldn’t be getting to school at 7am and staying until 8-9pm every night. School leaders shouldn’t be working weekends. School leaders shouldn’t be expected to work holidays and support every school trip, every awards evening and every parents evening. How is that sustainable? How is that modelling a good work-life balance to staff?
When we address wellbeing as senior leaders, we must first look at ourselves. Wellbeing doesn’t work when it is a gimmick. It doesn’t work when it’s a random inset day on mindfulness. It doesn’t work when it’s a chocolate bar at the end of term. It works when it is a set of sustainable ideas that allow every member of staff to take care of themselves because when you can’t take care of yourself, everything else suffers.
As a former Headteacher and after having been working with School Leaders for the last decade, it’s become very apparent to me that the reality of School Leadership has to change.
In that time, I’ve seen the damaging impact of public scrutiny and personal accountability has on our great leaders. I’ve witnessed how school leaders are forced to sacrifice their well-being on a daily basis to simply survive in the profession.
I’ve coached Heads on a brink of a nervous breakdown and have witnessed the inhumane treatment of those who have been let down by the system. I believe Something Needs to change.
That’s why in October 2020, we’ll host our 4th “Education for the Soul” conference to help address this issue and explore how leaders can successfully manage and respond to the growing complexities and emotional demands of School Leadership.
This conference will feature a new selection of expert speakers and workshop hosts, who will be sharing their insights into how school leaders can look after their own well-being, lead with authenticity, get the most out of those they lead and above all, deliver the best outcomes for their pupils.
The conference will aim to build on the outcomes of our previous “Education for the Soul” conferences and seek to explore how school leaders and teachers can learn to lead with integrity, depth and purpose.
As part of this, we will look into how individuals can stay connected to their “why” and their deepest values. Above all, “Education for the Soul” 2020 will aim to help school leaders and teachers:
– Foster a deep sense of vocation and purpose amongst all staff
– Increase their understanding of the relationship between school development and personal development
– Keep hope, joy passion, commitment and creativity at the heart of their school and relationships with self and others