The 26th July marked the official launch of Mental Health and Well-Being in the Learning and Teaching Environment – a paradigm-shifting book which draws on expertise from two previously separate disciplines of education and mental health to consider the relationship between mental health and education in an evidence-based and practice-focused way.
As an expert in the field, Integrity Coaching’s very own Viv Grant was asked to contribute a chapter on “Meeting the needs of Headteachers” which explores a number of the challenges school leaders face today. Here’s a brief outline of what Viv discusses in the chapter:
Ever-Changing Role as Head Teacher
With students of all ages having increasingly diverse capabilities and diagnosable mental health disorders; the role of the head teacher has changed significantly. It is now fraught with ambiguity and complexity – head teachers find themselves having to demonstrate expertise as social workers, counsellors, child psychiatrists, politicians and community workers.
Much of the head teacher’s everyday life now involves making sense of a myriad of responsibilities – these can range from dealing with the collective emotional fallout from an OFSTED inspection, to the death of a child. Amidst these constant pressures head teachers are expected to demonstrate and maintain high levels of leadership effectiveness and emotional resilience.
Whilst help for the strategic and operational sides of the roles may not be in short supply, support to enable head teachers to manage these significant challenges is minimal. Left unmanaged and without proper support structures in place, psychological dissonance becomes the default and individuals’ mental health suffers.
The Isolation of School Leadership
Notably, Viv explores the isolating impact of headship. Since Head teachers often carry the bulk of the burden of responsibility for the whole-school picture, this invariably sets head teachers apart and can lead to overwhelming feelings of loneliness and isolation.
As national policy begins to take a hold, Heads find that they have an ever decreasing circle of support; local and specialised knowledge, once provided by Local Authorities is now severely diminished and increased competition between schools has decreased the levels of trust and mutual support that Heads used to experience amongst their peers.
Viv reveals how this level of isolation and loneliness, combined with increased levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability, impacts upon Head’s mental and emotional heath and the relationships that they have with others.
Conflict of Values
Viv also examines how today many head teachers struggle to find alignment between their own values and those of the current education system. Whereas many are driven by values that inspire creativity, awe and wonder in young minds and the education the whole child – those in recent education policy appear to reflect a belief that facts alone are all important. Nothing else matters or will ever be of service to our children. Viv considers the impact this ideology has upon self-efficacy and the development of emotional healthy school leaders.
Inseparability between Commitment and Activity
Viv also examines why Heads have come to see commitment and activity as being entirely inseparable and the damaging effect that this has upon individuals. She argues that there needs to be a paradigm shift in education and that Heads need to be encouraged to separate commitment from activity and to fully explore what ‘reflective practice’ truly looks like in the life of a ‘busy’ school leader.
The man thrust of Viv’s contribution to this book, is that healthy leadership development has to be nurtured and supported in a humane manner. In order to fulfil their key roles in the health of our society, head teachers must be supported emotionally and mentally to manage the intense demands of the operational and strategic sides of their role and the huge range of emotions that leader’s experience. Head teachers must be given the space and support to practice the emotional intelligences of self-awareness, self-management, and self-compassion to avoid being over-absorbed by school life and detached from their own feelings and relationships.
Viv argues that the education system needs to recognise that school improvement is a process. A process that involves organisations becoming something better, something greater. As such it is also a process that involves the same growth, if properly supported, for Head teachers too.
Head teachers themselves must be encouraged to engage in “deliberate practice” or “cultivation of self” to develop a deep understanding and awareness of their personal leadership journey. Habits, thinking processes and behaviours must be critically reflected upon and analysed, their habits and ways of thinking explored, to deepen personal understanding of the self who inhabits the role. Reflection of this nature, will enable individuals to identify which ways of responding to the pressures of school life can be kept, adjusted or thrown away in order for them to experience healthy and meaningful growth in their roles.
To read the official press release about the book – please click here
Alternatively, if you would like to buy the book, please follow the link below: