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What every Head should be told before they're appointed

Viv Grant, Founder of Integrity Coaching, reveals her personal experience of being a headteacher and its impact on emotional wellbeing

Posted by Lucinda Reid | September 29, 2017 | Health & wellbeing

Before I was appointed to my first post as a headteacher around 17 years ago, I read and believed that I fully understood the job description and person spec. I wrote an application form that demonstrated my leadership skills, knowledge and experience.

I performed so well at interview that I convinced the panel, I could do what the job was asking of me on paper and take the school out of special measures… however, I quickly learned that headship in practice is an entirely different matter.

There are emotional demands to being a headteacher, which are rarely discussed but that present a very real challenge to every school leader, if they aren’t managed effectively.

For one, when you become a headteacher, you now carry the burden of responsibility for delivering the whole school vision and for meeting the needs of a community that believes and trusts that whatever the problem, you can fix it!

From that moment forth, it can feel as though you are carrying the full weight of everyone’s expectations on your shoulders, from parents to politicians. What’s more, you will have to be able to shoulder ultimate responsibility for school performance and everything that takes place within the school community.

Meanwhile, due to these high levels of personal culpability, as a headteacher – it is likely you’ll now have far less job security than you had as a teacher or deputy. 

Many headteachers find themselves increasingly spending their Monday to Wednesday feeling on a knife’s edge, awaiting the dreaded Ofsted call.

Meanwhile, as the year drags on – leaders live in fear of the day which A-levels, GCSE and SATs results come out, in the knowledge that a disappointing set of results could put them out of a job (and perhaps even, end their career).

In the face of these new challenges, it’s also likely that you’ll now have fewer people to turn to for support.

When you’re a teacher, no matter what kind of challenges you were facing, you were still surrounded by a group of people in your school, who were going through similar challenges, but as a headteacher, it can feel likely you’re completely on your own!

As a headteacher, all of these demands can have a major impact on your mental health and your emotional well-being.

Back when I was a headteacher, even though I had turned around a failing school, I’d received accolades from Ofsted and the local authority and yet - at the end of each school week, I felt isolated, afraid and full of self-doubt.

Rather than reaching out for support or taking the time to look after my own wellbeing, I had the mindset that, “There wasn’t enough time or money to focus on me. I should be spending all of my time and resource available to me focussing on school improvement, because that’s what I’m here to do – to focus on the children and teachers, not me.”

What I’ve learned since then is that this thinking couldn’t be more harmful – so I want to tell you something that every headteacher should be told before they’re appointed but no-one said to me…

“You matter! Your emotional wellbeing and mental health matter!”

Amidst this growing emotional cost of leading, the complexity of the role and heightened pressure of being a school leader, attending to and doing what is necessary to meet your own psychological and emotional needs is not selfish – it’s vital for successful leadership.

If our leaders want to overcome the harsh demands of the role and sustain high levels of personal performance, our leaders need to make their own well-being a priority.

They need to devote care, time and resource into nurturing and supporting themselves, so that they have the passion, the tools, the energy and the right frame of mind to lead and inspire their schools.

Failing to do so, puts at risk both their own mental health and that which they work so hard for – the success and futures of their pupils.

Finding new ways to lead

If you want to learn how you can begin to make your wellbeing a priority, on 19th October, Integrity Coaching and I will be hosting the inaugural “Education for the Soul” Conference designed to put school leader wellbeing, resilience and flourishing firmly at the top of the agenda.

The conference, which will take place in Euston, will explore the cost of leading today and locate new ways of leading and thinking that better support our great headteachers and senior leaders in their roles.

To properly delve into the big issues, it will feature talks and workshops from some of the foremost experts in wellbeing and leadership.

If you’re interested in learning more about the conference, the speakers and what will be happening on the day, please visit: www.integritycoaching.co.uk/conference

If you’re interested in attending, Integrity Coaching in partnership with Independent Education Today are now offering an exclusive 10% discount on all ticket purchases to IET readers using the discount code “EDU4THESOUL”.

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