Notes on a pandemic: Wellbeing for school leaders
Our Achievement Partners (APs) work directly with school leaders to support their development. AP Lorraine shares why leader wellbeing is a big priority.
During such unprecedented times, I have been in awe of the resilience of school leaders. They manage to maintain a positive outlook and model the leadership characteristics that most educational researchers would be proud of: bringing integrity, courage, a sense of moral purpose, but most of all humour, to their schools. Underneath this facade, I know they are exhausted - yet their perseverance shines through.
Putting psychological research into practice
As an Achievement Partner working with school leaders, I have been able to use research and educational pedagogy to enhance leaders’ knowledge and understanding of their own wellbeing and resilience. Managing the personal and professional challenges we all face can be complex at the best of times, but this is magnified during a global pandemic.
By making practical applications of the research I study, I'm able to encourage leaders to build in regular recovery time for themselves, recognise the signals when they go into overdrive and how this can threaten their energy levels. As a result, leaders have become more aware of their own wellbeing needs and are more adept at managing coping strategies.
For example, the work of psychologist Paul Gilbert was a big influence in my approach, helping me support leaders to better understand their emotional regulation systems. In one instance, a middle leader I worked with used this research to informally check in with his direct reports, ensuring that they were managing recovery time to balance the threat and drive they were experiencing in their role and responsibilities.
Leading with wellbeing in mind
I have also observed the actions headteachers are taking to ensure that they effectively manage their teams when operating virtually, placing value on staff wellbeing at this time. One headteacher I work with has shown remarkable ingenuity in this respect. Not only has their school like many others, had to adapt from a 'paper-based' home learning offer to remote offer, but staff have had to quickly change and adapt to new ways of learning. To keep everyone motivated during this time of change, she was innovative in her thinking:
“I was able to provide, on top of planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time, an additional 2 days 'rest day' covered either within the team itself or by a member of SLT. This allowed everyone the break they deserved.”
The headteacher has introduced a morning briefing to keep staff informed about what was going on that day. This provides staff with an opportunity to meet informally first - normally sharing a joke or anecdote, which helped boost morale and camaraderie. At the start of lockdown, the school also initiated a further afternoon briefing to iron out any recurring issues, which was warmly received by staff:
“To make the briefings more 'fun' and engaging, we have a weekly 'battle of the backgrounds' when I choose the best background based on a theme, with a prize being a bottle of fizz at the end of each week. I also have a member of staff who organises the 'staff social' and 'we have a staff night out but in' planned for the end of half term.”
This headteacher had really thought about her staff and wellbeing, implementing some excellent strategies to protect energy levels and build resilience. She believes that the best gift you can give staff is time, allowing them to re-charge and feel more energised for things to come.
Now is the time to invest in wellbeing activity
As a result of the initiative she has undertaken, this headteacher has had no staff sickness, and staff have been willing to do those 'extras' such as COVID-19 testing training, getting out in the community delivering work packs and rewards and just helping wherever and whenever required. Her team, because of the whole staff briefings and 'comings together', feel included and involved. There is also a wider impact on the school’s culture, now being more collegiate.
Looking after each other is critical to sustaining success, especially during such an unprecedented time. However, with so many priorities and demands on school leaders, it is difficult to find opportunity to invest in wellbeing activity. These leaders have shown a range of ways to protect the wellbeing and workload of their team and they will be taking this thinking forward as we return to more in-person delivery. They are the small actions proven to make a big difference – and I hope you may take away useful ideas to improve your own school’s wellbeing strategy.
Great leaders drive successful schools. Our world-class training gives those eager to step up and build a fairer education system, the tools and networks to do it.