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Ask Andy – Blog 11

Where Wellbeing Meets Schools – Ensuring You Take Care of You

“Wellbeing is a well-worn phrase but essentially its about building in factors to our lives that allow us to flourish and thrive and to be the best version of ourselves personally and professionally.”

I hope that you managed to get a break over the half term holiday, which will now seem a distant memory. As we run into the beginning of December without a half term break to recharge batteries, it is vital that you take every opportunity over the weekend to look after yourself. We know that Christmas is a busy time under normal circumstances but the uncertainty around bubbles and how the Christmas period will play out both from a professional but also personal perspective is something that will make this year very different.

Over the course of this term the profession has come up with innovative ways to solve challenges to things like Open Evening, Parents Evening and no doubt plans are afoot for streamed Christmas nativities. I’d just like to take a moment to recognise the way that schools have created new solutions to overcome the challenges they see in front of them the likes of which we’ve never experienced before. History will record the fact that when schools were presented with new and previously unforeseen challenges, they met the challenge head on and created their own solutions to ensure that pupils and parents were continuously engaged in the life of the school.

National recognition of this has been slow to arrive but I wanted to recognise the unique way that this generation of staff in schools have met and solved this challenge. At SAS, we stand ready to support you in whatever way we can.

When I was a headteacher I think, like most heads, you are fitted with an inbuilt imposter syndrome mechanism where you question yourself and your ability constantly and I think that comes from the fact that you care. Schools are about not just about educating but caring for pupils, some of whom really depend on schools for care and sustenance. Compounded by this is the national narrative which is that your previous best isn’t good enough and that you strive for the next incremental improvement step in school. What this does though is add to the imposter syndrome. We even have sayings to back it up.

“Whatever it takes” is the classic. What this says is that whatever it takes to make that next step, is worth it. For a while that meant extra discretionary effort. However, we now are working 60+ hours per week, up to 30+ hours discretionary work a week and the effort of schools have almost become predicated on this extra discretionary workload. For a while this extra workload reaps some benefit in terms of school improvement, but it reaches a point where the impact of all those extra hours reduces the effectiveness of that extra work. This is typified by the last two hours of the school day being virtually ineffective because we have simply run out of fuel in the best case scenario but in the worst case scenario we have the growth in mental illness and the consequential physical ill health. You’ve heard me speak about Cortisol depletion and the impact that this can have, and if you haven’t it is in my earlier blog posts.

As we enter the run in to Christmas, please remember this is not school as we know it. We are living through a global pandemic which means that you have permission to do things differently, reduce the demands to place on yourself and others and be kind. In the none too distant future we will have a vaccine and we need to pace ourselves as we approach this phase of the pandemic.

I saw a lovely quote on Twitter this week which said:

“Friendly reminder, “doing your best” does not mean working yourself to the point of mental breakdown.”

We also have reiterated to school leaders that in order to help others you need to put your own oxygen mask on first. Whilst that is pertinent to school leaders, it is also pertinent to every other member of staff in school too. As we approach the Christmas period, we will all need support from each other and to best support others we need to make sure that we are looking after ourselves. I make no apologies for reiterating the four key pillars of personal wellbeing. To look after yourself you need to build in:

  • Time to relax and do whatever you need to do to clear your mind
  • Time to exercise even if it is just a walk each day
  • A proper sleep regime where your body can recharge and renew
  • Eating properly and well to help build your body’s capacity to fight infection and renew and repair.

At SAS, we stand ready to support you with all of these things and in the last month we have built in opportunities for schools to build their own wellbeing programmes with our support in the following ways.

Wellbeing clinics – I have met with a number of teachers and school leaders to help schools plan their way forward with a thought through and effective whole school wellbeing strategy to support staff and pupil wellbeing. Do you know where to start? Would you appreciate a conversation with someone who can help to make this start for your school with you? All the feedback that we have had is that they are extremely useful.

#WellbeingMeets – Three weeks ago we asked the partners within our National Wellbeing Partnership to tell us in no more than 15 minutes, how they can help schools develop their whole school wellbeing culture. We now have held 3 of these sessions which are recorded to be watched later if you missed them. You can watch them here: https://schooladvice.co.uk/webinar/

If you’d like to join us for future sessions, then you can also register for free at the same page.

We continue to support our client schools and invest in their wellbeing proactively to try to prevent staff absence but if you have any ideas about how we could improve things for schools still further then please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Ask Andy

If you have questions about wellbeing practice, would like to suggest future content for Andy's blogs or if you are having success with wellbeing culture in your school and would like to share your story, please complete the form below.