Ben Levinson is headteacher of Kensington Primary School in east London. Here he explains how he’s been coping with the challenges COVID-19 has brought to his school community.
The two weeks leading up to Friday 27 March were the most challenging of my career. I cried when we told parents the school would be closed indefinitely to the vast majority of pupils, and there have been a few more tearful moments since. My worries have been innumerable - for my school community, my pupils, the parents, colleagues. Alongside worries for my own family and friends - my two young daughters, my vulnerable parents and in-laws, my friends with businesses on the line.
As we move towards a new phase in our response to the outbreak, it's good to acknowledge that this has been and continues to be incredibly tough. But we all need to make our wellbeing a priority. It’s important to realise that this period isn’t easy for anyone, and in the middle of a challenging time we need to be looking after ourselves so that we can look out for each other. Everyone will have slightly different ways of approaching this, but here are some of the things that work for me.
- Deal with life as it is now
I have tried, as much as possible, to live in the present. Yes, I have to do some forward planning but the best thing I have found for my own mental health is to focus on ‘what now’ and ‘what next’.
- Control what is controllable
Was there ever a time when so much was out of our control? I try and focus as much as possible on what I can do, rather than everything I would like to do or influence but can’t.
- Use my network
One of our strategic goals at Kensington is ‘all in this together’. This has really come to the fore. The whole team has really stepped up and so many people are looking out for me and checking in. My chief executive has been a massive support as have the other headteachers in the Trust. I rely hugely on my immediate family and friends, all of whom are incredible.
- Focus on the essentials
Receiving huge amounts of information can be difficult to process. Our chief executive has taken on sifting this, analysing it, and boiling it down to the essentials. This has been transformative to my wellbeing.
- Be thankful
I am in an incredibly fortunate position for so many reasons. Regularly listing what I have to be thankful for gives me perspective.
Whenever I hit a low, the best way to get out of it is to break a sweat.
How we look after our own wellbeing is deeply personal, but I hope some of this may resonate. There is much more: from meditation to taking time away to getting outdoors (with all the caveats). I hope you are keeping well. Prioritise looking after yourself. If you don’t, it could undermine your ability to be strong when everyone needs you the most.
Need more support?
The NHS campaign Every Mind Matters offers expert advice and practical tips to help you look after your mental health and wellbeing.