Leadership: Finding time for yourself

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
HeadSpace: School leader Martin Lumb has worked with the Education Support Partnership to give himself and his team time to reflect and discuss the pressures of the job

As a primary school leader you will face constant pressures, but making time for your wellbeing and to reflect is crucial. Julian Stanley advises

As we embark on a new calendar year and as winter’s cold, dark days continue, let us remind ourselves of the heartening recent findings on education in the latest British Social Attitudes Survey.

Commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), the research has been carried out annually for the last 30 years. It is a reliable insight into what the British public thinks on a vast range of issues.

And as the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, pointed out on seeing the latest findings, these results give anyone working in education “a fair bit to celebrate”.

The vast majority (80 per cent) of respondents expressed confidence in the British school system. In difficult times when it may feel like respect for any expertise or any institution may be waning, it is heartening to read that teachers command a level of respect which puts the profession third in the league, behind doctors and members of the armed forces.

More than half of respondents to the survey (53 per cent) said they had a great deal of respect for teachers with a further 39 per cent saying they have some respect for teachers.

Yet with constant pressures, primary school leaders need clear strategies to remain at their best, not least so that they can adequately support and enable their staff to do the same. More than ever before, heads need time and space to sustain their own resilience and bolster their wellbeing and that of their staff.

A “one-size-fits-all” approach is never appropriate but by reflecting on your own experience and looking to others to share theirs, there are strategies that may help you survive and thrive.

Dr Emma Kell, a teacher and doctor of education, advocate and regular blogger for Education Support Partnership, reminds us of advice she once had from an Ofsted inspector to “keep the main thing the main thing” – and the main thing should usually be student learning.

Another key piece of advice is to “pace yourself”. “It is never,” she says, “just about the hours.”
Creating time for reflection and thinking has proven potential to improve performance. Last spring, a piece in the Harvard Business Review noted that “reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations and create meaning”.

Entitled Why you should make time for self-reflection (even if you hate doing it), the article points to a study of UK commuters which found that those who were prompted to use their commute to think about and plan for their day were happier, more productive and less burned out than those who didn’t.

Martin Lumb is headteacher of Hunslett Carr Primary School in Leeds and recently made a film with Education Support Partnership about his and his leadership team’s experience and participation in our long-standing HeadSpace and Yourspace programmes for schools.

Now in his third year of involvement, he describes Headspace for anyone thinking about taking part as “a safe space to discuss what’s going on in their schools (and) where they are with the pressures of the job”.
He continues: “It’s an opportunity to step off the treadmill and to think differently. The great thing is that there will be somebody in the room going through the same thing as you, or who has been through it, and it is really good to hear that you can come out on the other side.”

Under the programme, small groups of school leaders in local areas are brought together with a skilled facilitator to explore and share ideas, knowledge and experience.

For those taking part in “Yourspace”, a similar safe and confidential programme for deputy and assistant heads, it is an opportunity to work through challenges and experiences as well as “work out what will take them to the next level”.

As Martin concludes: “Since we’ve started this work, I think the school is a happier place. You can see children smiling more, a feeling that they have leaders who believe in them.” 

  • Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Education Support Partnership. For help or advice contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 and for details of other support services, including the Headspace and Yourspace leadership support programmes, visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk

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