This blog comes from Headteacher of Brundall Primary School, Rick Stuart-Sheppard.
Having been in education for several decades now, I’ve had plenty of chance to witness what leadership at its very best looks like in our schools.
In that time, I’ve observed how great leadership often comes when individuals feel empowered from the inside out, are able to take decisions that are right for their own settings and on a personal level, they are emotionally and psychologically ok.
However, I’ve also seen how the circumstances of our education system in the last few years has begun to hinder this, such as the undercurrent of fear that now exists within our profession resulting from an accountability system – that at times, has seemed to be more punitive than supportive.
Meanwhile, there has also been rising stress levels amongst Heads, who are increasingly expected to manage change that is driven by external forces and in a direction that many feel is the wrong one, such as the imposed Curriculum a few years ago and enforced academisation more recently.
The ‘symptoms’ of stress, over-work, external judgments and demands can end up taking up so much space, that it is easy to forget to look at the aspects of life that can help us build resilience, persistence and capacity for learning and growth.
This inevitably has had an impact on our schools as after all, ‘When the Head sneezes, the whole school catches a cold’ as one education guru remarked.
I can’t remember which leader said it, but I think it really crystallises the impact of how the Head conducts him or herself about the school as, if the head is stressed, that stress flows from the Head throughout the veins of the school and circulates.
Equally, a Head attending to their own well being communicates that sense of okay-ness as they move through the school, and everyone moves a little further up the scale of being able to make a positive contribution to the school community and learning.
I believe if we are to ensure that the latter is the case for our leaders and in turn, our schools, we need to focus on two aspects of well-being and mental health that sometimes get overlooked: purpose and community.
There is considerable evidence such as from The Ministry of Social Development in New Zealand, that our connectedness with social groupings helps people to feel happier and more able to take charge of their lives and find solutions to the problems they are facing.
Meanwhile research from Stanford University, showed that there were very real health benefits to our social connectedness, with their research showing that it can help people live longer, recover from disease faster and protect against illness.
Moreover, their studies also showed that those who feel more connected to others, tended to have lower levels of anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem and greater empathy and trust for others.
As Helen Keller is quoted as seeing in the recent book “Deep Learning” by Michael Fullan, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much more’.
There is nothing we do in school that stands in isolation, and so the quality of every single relationship in the school matters. Crucially, this should also include the head’s own relationship to self and whether they are looking after themselves to a sufficient degree, so that they can create and enable positive, constructive relationships.
I certainly know from my own experience that the more I can connect with my (moral) purpose, that education is a force for good and for helping ourselves and the world get better, the more empowered, creative and alive I feel.
This, in turn is strengthened by my connectedness to others-my relationship with Governors, my relationship with the leadership team and staff, as well as groups I belong to outside of school.
That’s why I also think programmes like Integrity Coaching’s Developing Headspace programme is so vital in helping Heads to not just rekindle their purpose, and reflect on their own contexts, but also to provide them a chance to connect with fellow heads.
A Chance to Reflect
In the frenetic life of a school leader time and space are increasingly rare commodities. With a constant flow of meetings to be held, problems to solve and fires to put out – it can be very hard for leaders to find the time and space to be still and think.
However, without this chance to stop and consider what’s working and what isn’t – many leaders find themselves repeatedly making the same mistakes or simply leading on “autopilot”.This lack of space also means many have very few avenues for exploring and talking through the emotional aspects of the role, the challenges it poses and the impact is having upon them, mentally, emotionally and physically.
In turn, this can (without doubt) increase the risk of emotional ‘burn out’. When this begins to happen, not only do we experience extreme levels of mental and emotional exhaustion that can be debilitating to our ability to lead others, our health and our overall well-being. Having been a Head myself, I know all too well what this feels like but equally what must be done to prevent it!
That’s why we’re now are offering a “Developing Headspace” Programme, consisting of a 2 Day “Transforming Leadership” Residential in Suffolk, Group Nurture Meals, coaching calls and a half day “Review and a Reflect” session, all designed to support and enhance Headteachers’ capacity for authentic, inspiring and sustainable leadership.
The programme hopes to offer a space for reflection and active, informed listening, for Heads to renew perspective, think strategically, build lasting networks of support and refresh the vitality of their core purpose.
Spread across three school terms, the programme includes a range of activities designed to provide on-going care, support and encouragement for Heads across the school year.
Above all, it is our aim to ensure that the programme supports school leaders in 5 key areas…
Vision: Central to all aspects of the programme are processes and ways of working individually and collectively that keep individuals anchored to their vision.
Values: Heads are supported to identify ways of being that increase alignment with themselves and their key values.
Resilience: As Heads develop a deeper understanding of how they respond to the stresses of the role, individuals are supported to develop greater degrees of emotional, psychological and vocational resilience.
A Values Network: The programme design facilitates the development of new supportive and collaborative relationships with like-minded peers.
Confidence: As individuals experience a growth in self-awareness and appreciation of their core strengths, they also experience a growth in personal conviction and increased confidence in their own abilities.
If you’d like to find out more about the programme, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…