This blog comes from Integrity Coaching Associate Coach, Steve Russell.
Much is being talked about currently of the need to make staff wellbeing a priority as schools extend their doors to more pupils – and rightly so. COVID-19 has impacted on colleagues’ emotional and psychological health significantly.
No one person’s experience has been the same – ‘we are in the same storm, but we are in different boats’. Nonetheless, every colleague will have been impacted in some shape or form and either need and/or benefit from being supported.
To consider how best to tend to staff wellbeing, I’d like to introduce you to a model called the Cycles of Development. This offers a perspective on how the trauma of COVID might impact upon individuals from a developmental perspective.
Crucially, the suggestions that arise out of this model a) do not require you to be a psychologist or psychotherapist, yet is informed from sound psychological theory and b) can be framed as supporting post-traumatic growth, rather than a medical, and perhaps more deficit based, approach.
The central premise behind the Cycles theory is that as humans we move through distinct stages of development, each stage having its own set of developmental tasks or growing up jobs that need attending to.
Having visited each stage at specific chronological points in our childhood and adolescence, we then revisit these at various points in our adult lives. In particular, times of change, including traumatic events, trigger certain developmental needs within us that connected with these stages.
Below is an outline of some of the developmental stages, together with suggestions as to how people can be supported in revisiting them…
1) The Being Stage: Establishing contact, relationships and trust
This stage is first visited when the baby comes out of the safety, warmth and familiarity of the mum’s womb and into the big, wide world. As I write that sentence, I can’t help but think of how strongly this resonates as more and more people leave the security of their homes and increasing their contact with the wider world. The hunger driving this stage is for contact, a hunger which for many has not been fully satisfied during lockdown.
Key questions that are stirred during the Being stage include:
– Who can I trust?
– Can I trust you?
– Who will be attuned to my needs – and respond in a timely and appropriate way to them?
As staff return to school, these questions will be being stirred, to a greater or lesser extent according to the individual. You will pick up on signals related to Being stage related needs – eg colleagues who are particularly needing of reassurance, who spend a lot of time seeking others out in order to establish connection etc.
This is not rocket science – and it’s what you do, day in day out. But perhaps this will help you focus on acknowledging on what you’re already doing – and stimulate thoughts as to what else could help re-establish connection and belonging amongst your staff. To support staff move into the “being stage”, it can be useful to:
– Give people time to reconnect. Consider ways in which this can be facilitated.
– Give them to settle back into routine. Allow for time for people to reacclimatise to non-online contact – and to negotiate their way doing so.
– Affirm people for who they are. This is just as important as praising staff for what they do.
– Check in with colleagues. Make sure that you touch base with your staff at regular intervals and see how they are doing.
– Gauge the emotions. Expect there to be moments when some staff might feel emotional overwhelm and consider how they might be supported during such times. (Crucially, this doesn’t have to be down to you!)
2) The Doing Stage: The need for stimulus and to explore and experiment
We first visit this stage between the ages of 6-18 months when, as a very young toddler, we start to get out and about in the world using our senses to explore it. Crucially, this exploration is dependent upon how securely attached we feel to our primary carer(s). The more confident we are that our secure base is still there for us, the greater our confidence in exploring and trying things out.
You might have noticed there’s a clear link here with the Being stage. So, if you notice that a colleague seems to be holding back in their day to day work, it might be worth considering if underlying this is an anxiety, an uncertainty about their sense of belonging and/or safety.
Key questions are stirred during the Doing stage such as
– “Is it safe for me to explore?“
– “Can I trust my intuition?”
– “Am I allowed to do things as many times as I need to?“
To support staff move into the “doing stage”, it can be useful to:
– Give people time. Some staff may need to reorient themselves to the revamped physical environment of the school.
– Recognise there may be anxiety. Allow for anxiety levels to be higher than usual as the social distancing measures put in place remind people of the ever present threat of COVID-19.
– Allow for mistakes to be made. When things return to normality, people may need to do things several times before they get them right. This includes even the most routine of things, tasks they will have previously done blindfolded.
3) The Thinking Stage: Checking out boundaries and expressing individuality
The easiest way to grasp what this stage is about is to think of what it’s like with a toddler around the house. How quickly do they learn that little but oh so powerful two letter word – ‘No!’? Rather than being seen to be an expression of defiance, the Cycles of Development theory suggests this is how a little person is first able to express their own sense of individuality, – their needs, wants, desires and wishes.
During this time of considerable change and the accompanying stress, you might find some colleagues reacting in ways something akin to a toddler tantrum. And just as with a 2 ½ yr old, the hunger to be satisfied here is for structure.
Clarity of negotiables and non-negotiables is what is needed, together with empathy as we communicate we understand something of the frustrations etc the other person is experiencing. Monitoring your internal state here as a leader will help enormously. Is this a battle to be had? And if so, does it have to be sorted now, or would a bit of time out help?
Key questions that are stirred during the Thinking stage include:
– Can I push the boundaries and still be accepted for who I am?
– Is it ok for me to feel angry, sad, confused, fearful, happy?
– Can I do things in the ways I want to do them? What are the parameters?
To support staff move into the “thinking stage”, it can be useful to:
– Be clear about negotiables and non-negotiables. Be careful not to assume that people know what’s expected of them. These are very different times and so what was perhaps straight forward around working hours, even dress codes, might be different now. And if not, do staff know they are just the same? Remember – the moment I assume I make an ass out of you and me – ass-u-me.
– What reasonable adjustments are needed. Do you have any changes in mind for specific contextual needs eg staff who are in school but are shielding family members in their home?
– Keep a watchful eye on individuals – or indeed whole staff teams – being overly dependent upon you. Encourage them to be thinking alongside feeling, providing additional time for them to come up with their own solutions to challenges.
The focus on the stages above has been upon on how they might illuminate the wellbeing related needs of your staff. However, it is important to reflect on yourself and which of these tips may benefit you during these times.
After all, it is important to remember in the words of Parker J Palmer:
“Self-care is never a selfish act. It is only good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on this earth to have to offer others”
Support in times of Challenge
When you become a Headteacher, almost immediately you become the person others rely on to fix whatever problem they are facing. Even on the best of days, carrying this weight of expectation and responsibility can be testing and tiring.
And we know that this has weight has been made heavier as a result of the complexity of challenge that has arisen as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Whilst Heads are doing an amazing job in the most tricky of circumstances, we also know that enforced adaptations to school life have caused a significant amount of disruption and uncertainty. This in turn, has served to increase levels of anxiety and place a great deal of additional stress on our Headteachers.
As our schools seeks to find a way forward, we recognise just how important it is for our leaders to be provided with proper emotional and psychological support.
Without such support, we know that many school leaders will run the risk of burnout.
We don’t want that to be the case for anyone leading our schools. For this reason, we’re now offering free 1:1 Coaching calls to help support school leaders through this difficult period.
If you are interested in having a free coaching call, please follow the link below…