This week, whilst it remains open to question as to whether the five tests for easing lockdown have been met, schools have begun to re-admit pupils for certain year groups.
Understandably, against this backdrop there is a high degree of stress and anxiety. Pupils, parents and teachers alike will carry their own set of fears and worries about what a return to school might look like.
Pupils might worry about who they can play with and why it is that they can no-longer proudly carry pieces of work home to show their parents; parents in turn might worry about how well their children will adjust to the changes and teachers may worry about the limitations of social distancing on the child/teacher relationship.
And… there will be many, many more worries that will surface over the coming weeks and months.
As these worries surface, the individual who will be expected to shoulder all of these anxieties and find solutions, will be you, the Headteacher. Prior to the Covid outbreak, you already knew the heaviness of the emotional weight of the role.
You had probably become accustomed to its weight and had developed a pair of broad shoulders as a result! But.. this is different. The levels of stress and anxiety are coming at you from all angles and even though you have never experienced anything like this before, people are still expecting you to have all of the answers.
It’s at times like these that self-awareness and self-management come into their own as key survival skills. Many members of your school community may be so consumed by their own stress and anxiety, that it might be difficult for them to demonstrate the level of self-awareness needed to bring them back to a state of equilibrium, but it doesn’t need to be the same for you.
There will be those who are caught in spiral of ‘faulty thinking’ where their negative/fearful perception of events, becomes self-perpetuating and makes difficult situations worse. If you can spot these faulty ways of thinking in your staff (and perhaps in yourself too), it will help you to develop a more robust mindset and a new set of psychological muscles for coping with the stress of school re-openings.
Do any of these faulty ways of thinking resonate for you?
1. Catastrophising – Predicting the worst possible outcome. If something goes wrong it will be a complete disaster. “If I make a mistake that will be the end for me.”
2. Overgeneralising – Assuming that because something happened once, it will always happen. “They always forget to do the things I ask.”
3. Exaggerating – Giving negative events more importance than they deserve and giving positive events less importance. “This letter of complaint means all parents are going to start complaining.”
4. Discounting the positive – Rejecting good things as if they did not count (or using a negative filter). “When they said that, they didn’t really mean it. I know that they really thought that I am no good at my job.”
5. Mind Reading – Believing that you know what others are thinking. “They know I am finding this difficult. I am sure that they are thinking that I am incompetent.”
6. Black-and-White Thinking – Switching from one extreme to another. “If I can’t get this right, I might as well give up altogether.”
7. Taking things personally – When someone asks you to do something differently. “You’re criticising me.”
8. Emotional Reasoning – Mistaking feelings for facts. “I’m so worried; I know something is going to go wrong.”
Faulty inner dialogue hampers our ability to think clearly and to search for meaningful and positive solutions. When no immediate solution seems possible, we can unconsciously resort to worry and rumination. These responses might feel normal and appropriate, but they rarely are. More often than not they only serve to fuel any underlying neurosis or anxiety that already exists.
If over these next few weeks and months, you are able to be present enough to notice when these faulty ways of thinking show up (for yourself and others) you’ll be much better equipped to cope with the stresses of this new frontier.
We know that as a result of this pandemic, schools are unlikely to ever be the same again. We also know too, that it is the highly self-aware, the emotionally intelligent school leaders who will survive these times; The leaders who are able to model self-understanding and self-compassion, so that in times of acute stress, empathy (not fear) becomes the glue that binds whole school communities together and helps them to rise above the perils of the unknown.
Support in times of Challenge
When you become a Headteacher, almost immediately you become the person who rely on and trust to fix whatever the problem is facing your school. Even on the best of days, carrying this weight of expectation and responsibility can be testing and tiring.
But this has been particularly challenging given the complex and challenging problems posed by the recent outbreak of coronavirus.
Whilst Heads are doing an amazing job in the most tricky of circumstances, we also know that this has caused a significant amount of disruption, uncertainty and change. This in turn, has served to increase levels of anxiety and place a great deal of additional stress on our Headteachers.
Amidst these rising challenges, we believe more than ever it is crucial that our leaders are provided the proper emotional and psychological support.
Without such support, we know that this crisis could prove to be both overwhelming and isolating for those who lead our schools.
We don’t want that to be the case, that’s why we’re now offering free 1:1 Coaching calls to help support school leaders through this difficult period.
If you would be interested in having a free coaching call, please follow the link below…