Headteacher well-being is something that I have thought about a fair bit recently. There are times when being a Headteacher can be an exceptionally lonely experience, when I asked if anyone also felt the same and would like to join a WhatsApp group, I had a fair amount of interest and the group currently has 43 members. But why is Headteacher well-being an issue?
My favourite book is Catch 22, anyone who spends any amount of time with me will hear me quote it at some point. I sometimes liken being a Headteacher to Chaplain Shipman from the book. The Chaplain lives a very comfortable life, in a tent in the woods, he has everything he needs and should therefore be happy. Except that he feels a sense of disconnect, that his role makes others feel uncomfortable. To quote the book loosely, he felt that whoever he was talking to was patiently waiting for him to go and talk to someone else. Yet, he feels his responsibility as Chaplain keenly and tries to guard against doing things which he feels might be insincere or simply wrong.
As a Headteacher there is much pressure to get it right as I am yet to meet anyone who purposely sets out to get it wrong. You are charged with the welfare of the students in your care, your staff and sometimes parents. At any given point someone may place a problem that has been vexing them into your lap and feel lighter and brighter for doing so. Added to which you have the constant changing tides and ever decreasing budget to contend with. Who enjoyed the clear lead offered by the DFE over GDPR? Those centrally produced customisable policy templates that reduced workload and stress? No? Me neither.
So what is needed? Well first foremost Heads need to feel less isolated. They need to feel that there is someone who is wrangling with the same issues they are. Who is on the end of a phone or a WhatsApp and is happy to help and may have the very thing you needed just two clicks away, or is happy to be a listen as you vent your latest frustration.
There needs to be an acknowledgement that Heads are under real pressure, research into what these pressures are and then serious commitment to do something about it followed by action. I used GDPR as an example but it is a case in point, it caused a lot of worry and it didn’t need to have done so. Schools found themselves paradoxically with less money yet with greater need to seek advice, which costs.
What I have never found helpful, though maybe others do, are events in which “Inspirational” speakers talk of climbing mountains or achievements in high jump with two broken legs. Their stories are interesting and can act as a tonic, invigorating but ultimately you leave with no new answers but some helpful suggestions for mountain climbing.
If there could recognition of the need for Headteacher well-being and a commitment to connect and support colleagues before there is a problem rather than after. Often support is offered to pick up the proverbial pieces. As someone said recently, it is rather like fitting a gas mask to a deceased miner’s canary.
If you would like to join the Headteacher well-being WhatsApp group, please contact me via twitter @chrismcd53 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org