The work of school leaders is never done. How many times have you started your working day early and finished it late? The pressure is on in schools across board – and mental health and wellbeing are suffering.
We caught up with Stephanie Cox of The Shaw Mind Foundation to see what you can do to alleviate the pressure on teachers, students and, importantly, yourself
For so long mental health was cast into the shadows and laden with taboo; it’s a breath of fresh air to see it become a point of focus and understood as an important part of our general health. However, silenced for so long, it has become difficult to talk about and, while it’s now a part of the government’s agenda – especially for secondary schools – there is little funding available to truly implement mental health support in schools.
School leaders occupy a unique position and potentially hold the key to unlocking support mechanisms in schools – be that be offering peer-to-peer support, a listening ear for students, implementing management schemes to alleviate workloads or finding a way of providing training to staff. Using three simple questions, Stephanie Cox of The Shaw Mind Foundation takes a look at the role that school leaders can play in the wellbeing of teachers, students – and themselves.
When it comes to the bustle of school-time, how can school leaders support their teachers?
Teachers are under enormous pressure on a day-to-day basis and numerous research papers and independent reports have proved, time and time again, that this can have a detrimental effect on their mental health. Your primary concern should be communicating to your teaching staff that you understand and support their mental health needs and that the school will not judge them if they begin to struggle.
You cannot effectively create a mentally healthy staff force or student body without looking after yourself
You can do this by openly declaring your school as a ‘mental health open zone’, encouraging honesty and helping to eradicate any teacher embarrassment or guilt. Assuring teaching staff that they won’t be punished or discriminated against has a far bigger impact than you might realise. Identifying a senior member of staff as a go-to mental health advisor will also make teachers feel they can speak to someone in confidence if they are uncomfortable with more than one person knowing about their mental health issues.
On a more indirect basis, working with headteachers and other school policy makers to implement changes that alleviate stress, lessen heavy workloads where possible, limit overtime and remove unnecessary pressure will help combat the numbers of teaching staff having to take leave due to stress or mental illness. Asking your teaching staff for feedback on how you can help them in their day-to-day roles is a good way of identifying any changes you need to make.
At the heart of every school are the students; are there ways that school leaders can support their mental health and thus enhance their learning (experience)?
As they have a different relationship with students, school leaders may be able to provide a sounding board for students who might need to talk, signposting them to the appropriate member of staff who can help and support them, as well as affecting real administrative change that will help promote a culture of acceptance and positive action. School leaders are in a good position to work closely with headteachers in implementing basic mental health awareness and knowledge within schools.
Remember, you cannot effectively support a mentally healthy staff force or student body without looking after yourself
Organising mental health awareness days, talks, presentations and other activities within schools, in conjunction with The Shaw Mind Foundation or other such charities, is one way of reaching out to students. Many charities have staff who would be happy to come into schools to discuss mental health, to encourage pupils and teachers to speak out and to help them understand their own minds.
School leaders can also work closely with charities to keep abreast of relevant information and resources that will help them support their staff and students. For instance, in the near future, The Shaw Mind Foundation will be launching a children and young people’s mental health phone-line (Skeet-Line). A close working relationship with charities will provide school leaders with information about similar available resources, which can then be disseminated to pupils and their families (including books and other literature on the subject).
They also have the option – budget permitting – to train their teaching staff through mental health first aid courses. There are a number of organisations that provide this training, in-house or externally. Theresa May has also pledged that, by 2020, mental health first aid training will be available to all secondary schools in the UK.
How can school leaders look after themselves and their own mental health?
Remember, you cannot effectively support a mentally healthy staff force or student body without looking after yourself. Remember, too, that everything that applies above also applies to you. Along with the obvious tips that encourage you to talk to family, friends, colleagues and medical professionals, if you feel you are struggling, you should ensure that your working environment also promotes a healthy work/life balance and doesn’t place so much stress on you that you can’t cope.
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