The last few years have seen schools place a growing emphasis on pupil well-being.
This has in part been due to increasing numbers of teachers and School Leaders beginning to recognise that investing in the well-being of our pupils can help secure a positive return on their attainment and, in turn, school performance.
This has been supported by numerous studies – not least by Public Health England in a 2014 report, which found that “pupils with better emotional well-being at age seven had a value-added key stage 2 score 2.46 points higher (equivalent to more than one term’s progress) than pupils with poorer emotional well-being”.
Meanwhile, successfully attaining GCSEs (five or more A*-C) was shown to be strongly correlated with higher levels of life satisfaction amongst young people.
However, whilst the findings of such reports have been widely accepted by schools, I can’t help but wonder why the fundamentals of well-being are so rarely considered when it comes to those who are responsible for leading our schools.
To put it another way, why has the duty of care that we show towards our children not been extended as comprehensively as it should be towards our School Leaders?
After all, we all have emotional and psychological needs in our role. We all have the need to feel safe and secure, the need for friendship and a sense of belonging, the need for what is physiologically necessary (e.g. sleep, food, water etc.) and a need to feel valued. It is only when these basic needs are met that we are more able to perform at our best.
This may ring true to you, if you’ve ever experienced the reverse, for example, how hard it is to perform at your best when you’ve not had enough sleep or the difficulty of remaining motivated when you feel unwanted or undervalued in your role.
Yet amidst the drive towards well-being in many schools, School leadership has remained largely a 60+ hour job and endemically under-supported, at the expense of personal lives and welfare of those who lead our schools.
Meanwhile, OFSTED, League tables and increased public scrutiny have helped created to a “football manager culture” in which Heads find themselves in the impossible position of trying to create an environment that’s great for learning whilst having to constantly fear for their jobs.
The emotional cost of the leading in our schools is rarely reported but can no longer be ignored with growing numbers of School leaders leaving the profession or being signed off due to burn-out or other stress-related issues.
If nothing is done, the recruitment and retention crisis facing our schools is likely to worsen significantly, with recent reports now suggesting that English Schools may face a shortage of up to 19,000 Heads by 2022.
Working with School Leaders on a personal level, I’ve certainly witnessed the devastating impact that this emotional cost can have on the motivation, performance and leadership of our Headteachers and senior leaders – and in turn, how this can directly affect their schools.
If this is to be remedied, the harsh emotional cost of the leading in our schools today must no longer be ignored and trustees, Governors and policy makers must ensure that School Leader well-being is made a key priority sooner rather than later. Active steps must be taken towards changing the profession to ensure that supports our leaders as they seek to deliver the best outcomes for their pupils.
Meanwhile, for their part, our leaders themselves need to recognise that if they are to maintain the high levels of personal performance required of them – they must be aware of the need and rigorously encouraged to, devote the care, time and resource into nurturing and supporting themselves.
What many leaders have learnt but others are still yet to see is that investing in themselves and doing what is necessary to ensure their psychological and emotional needs are met is not selfish, but rather it’s vital for successful and sustainable leadership.
Above all, if our leaders are determined to stay in the profession for the long-haul, they must begin to take charge of their well-being and develop generative and sustainable ways of leading which will support them in their complex and challenging roles.
Rising to the Challenges of Headship
From managing excessive workloads, the impact of budget cuts and high levels of personal accountability and public scrutiny – over the years, the role of Headship has always been fraught with challenges and pressures.
However, since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic back in March 2020, sadly we’ve seen the intense demands on our School Leaders grow yet further.
Not only have leaders had to rapidly adapt to quickly changing government advice and establish new practices and protocols for virtual learning and health and safety monitoring, they’ve also been expected to provide support to their communities and inspiring leadership throughout these difficult times.
Having to manage months of relentless challenge and crisis management (alongside the emotional and psychological impact of the pandemic has taken on all of us) has proven to be extremely challenging even for the most experienced and resilient Heads.
And it is now perhaps no surprise that many School Leaders who are reporting feeling battle weary, beleaguered and burnt out. As a result, an NAHT poll back in November 2020 found that almost half of Headteachers plan to leave prematurely – and 70% say job satisfaction has fallen in the past year.
With this, in mind – I believe there’s never been a stronger case for the need to ensure that our School Leaders are properly supported; strategically, operationally and emotionally to ensure they not only survive in the headship role, but also thrive in their attempts to deliver the best outcomes for our children.
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 still, many Heads remain endemically under-supported, without spaces the need to off-load and encouragement they need as they manage the burden of the weight that they have been forced to carry.
Friends and family might offer a listening ear, but again it isn’t easy. Unless they have walked in your shoes, it can feel like no-one really fully understands what you are going through.
However, I know from my own experience as a Headteacher and now as an Executive coach that personalised support is vital, if leaders are to keep their hope alive and stay connected to their vision, passion and purpose.
That’s why I’m now offering free 1:1 Coaching calls to give senior leaders a chance to:
– Talk through and get support with the challenges they’re currently facing
– Reflect on events and the impact they’re having
– Gain clarity about their current situation and plan a way forward
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!