Chief Executive of Education Support Partnership (ESP), Sinead McBrearty, explains how senior leaders can support their staff but also get the support that they need too, as leaders during a challenging time. ESP is a charity dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of the education workforce.
There are clear connections between workplace stress and poor mental health. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, 55% of school leaders and 49% of teachers reported that their workplace had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing (Education Support Teacher Wellbeing Index 2019). Now, in the midst of COVID-19, creating a positive workplace and looking after our mental health has never been more crucial.
For senior leaders, leading, motivating and supporting staff is a huge challenge. We are seeing the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak across the sector on both personal and professional lives as staff are now coping with a wide range of issues and feelings, such as, fear, anxiousness and vulnerability.
It is important to recognise that everyone, including ourselves, will experience low mood and lack of motivation at some point. And this is a very reasonable emotional response to the current situation.
So now is a time for empathy. We can best support our teachers and education staff by being human first, and managers second. Whether we are responsible for only one colleague or a whole institution, there are a few things senior leaders can do to encourage staff to give their best at this time:
- Trust your staff
We know that people work best when they are trusted to deliver clear objectives. This should be underpinned by open and honest communication. With teams dispersed and working remotely, line managers need to take care to place only modest demands on staff, for example, allowing people to juggle their work with their care duties.
- Nurture relationships
Bring relationships to the heart of the school by facilitating communication across the staff team. Help people to connect with colleagues who will energise them, and encourage them to reach out to others whom they can support. Creating a strong sense of support, beyond natural friendships groups, can help improve resilience across the school.
Positivity and generosity can go a long way. The courage and creativity shown by school staff caring for key workers and those supporting with learning at home leaves us with no shortage of things to celebrate! This is a time to notice the small things your staff are doing, acknowledge them and give positive feedback to encourage them along.
Line managers need to regularly keep in touch with their staff, in which ever way works best for them. Not everyone wants a regular 6pm catch-up, and no-one wants to feel that they are under surveillance. Make time to schedule in debriefing sessions - staff will now have new and different concerns and it’s important to deal with these sooner rather than later.
- Be a role model
Managers need to encourage staff to take care of themselves by modelling this behaviour. Practice good mental health yourself by doing these things:
- Look after yourself - regular exercise, good nutrition, enough sleep and limits on social media use.
- Show gratitude – focus on the positive, celebrate small victories and give praise.
- Accept uncertainty – try to focus on those things that we can control.
- Talk – be open about feelings and accept that feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and grief are all normal.
How we can support you?
Staff health matters at every level. At ESP we believe that better mental health and wellbeing of educators leads to a better education for pupils. We do whatever we can – through counselling, funding and research – to support education staff.
Support is available to anyone working in education, 24/7. This support is free, confidential and provided by qualified and accredited counsellors.
To speak to someone, call 08000 562 561.
We have produced a range of resources to support the education workforce with some of the issues arising during the pandemic, including videos on dealing with anxiety and grief.
For those working in education who are experiencing financial hardship, we provide small grants. You can find more information about the grant here.
Extra support for teacher and pupil mental health and wellbeing
The Department for Education has announced a new £95,000 pilot project with the Education Support Partnership, which will focus on teachers’ and leaders’ mental health, helping to remove stigmas and providing online peer support and telephone supervision from experts to around 250 school leaders.