Unplug your phone and recharge - your staff will thank you
Headteachers need to take care of their emotional health, in order to be the leaders they need to be, writes Mark Leppard
As a school leader I feel I have never been as challenged as I am now through this pandemic. The challenges are on multiple levels from looking after students, leading staff, managing parent expectations as well as ensuring my own emotional health is in good shape. I am a firm believer in people not being able to give from an empty cup so looking after yourself is far from selfish. In fact, by doing this it enables you as a leader to have the energy to support others.
Like many other school leaders, at the best of times the role is hugely varied on a day-to-day basis, yet we are required to think strategically. This is always a challenge as we can easily get sucked into the daily requirements and lose sight of the planned journey.
Therefore, during these unprecedented times caring for your stakeholders who need support now whilst keeping an eye on the future is very complicated. Imagine being the captain of a ship at sea and a fire breaks out down below. You cannot allow it to burn uncontrollably, but at the same time you cannot leave the ship bridge to put out the fire to have the ship hit the iceberg.
"How do we do we look after our emotional health without feeling guilty?"
One eye on the present and one eye on the future is the balance school leaders must manage and the only way to do that is by trusting those around you. This trust is built up by mutual respect, looking after your team and empowering them to deliver.
The days of the autocratic school are gone in successful schools, but the stakeholders still want that figurehead there to see. It is a comfort blanket for the school community, but the successful leader will stand on that pedestal but have a great team working together to ensure the “plates are kept spinning”.
Going back to the leader looking after their emotional health: This is key to supporting your team to deliver on all the requirements thrown at the school whilst having the energy to “keep the ship on course”. How do we do this without feeling guilty?
It isn’t easy as we are conscious of stakeholder perceptions of us as leaders, but there are a variety of small things that have a big impact.
"Manage your diary and create thinking time."
Create an email curfew culture preventing emails being sent outside of set parameters. Our official school hours are 07.30- 14.35 plus co-curricular, so our email curfew is 17.30- 06.30am. No email from staff can be sent during this period.
Manage your diary and create thinking time. I try and keep the last day of the week clear to catch up on things that have slipped, but more importantly to just walk around school seeing students and staff. It gives me a presence but also a mental break.
Avoid taking paperwork home. This creates an emotional barrier between school and home so that you are focused upon you and family, allowing the emotional cup to be replenished.
Have a hobby or interest and put time aside. I run, cycle, swim and kayak. All are without my phone so that I can recharge and mentally escape.
"A one night break without distraction feels like days away."
Grab a night or weekend away between holidays. It doesn’t have to be a 5-star hotel, in fact I love heading somewhere remote to camp, but a one night break without distraction feels like days away.
Use the “do not disturb” feature on your phone that can be set up to filter calls after hours. Use “out of office” frequently when not in work to manage expectations of your availability. Turn off notifications on your phone so you do not get the hypnotic and somewhat addictive numbers sitting over your phone, SMS or social media icons drawing you to use it.
Just a few ideas to manage your own emotional health because if you do not look after yours, you are not in the best place to look after others.
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