Staff wellbeing: Showing your vulnerability

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
Julian Stanley, CEO, Education Support Partnership

Julian Stanley talks about the importance of schools leaders showing vulnerability and the positive impact this can have on staff

It is vital that headteachers and senior leaders keep a close eye on their own stress levels and wellbeing. Doing so is not self-indulgent or a sign of weakness. It is actually demonstrative of leading from the front, putting yourself out there for the world and colleagues to see. This can lead to the normalisation of school staff seeking support.

School leaders who demonstrate through their actions the importance of being transparent when seeking help are in fact sending a message to colleagues that true strength lies not in keeping things “bottled up”, but in sharing our problems and seeking help or support.

Leading from the front when it comes to sharing stories and experiences of times you sought advice or help to prevent an “issue” from descending into a “crisis” can inspire colleagues and senior leaders to follow suit.

Highlighting aspects of one’s own vulnerably as a senior leader reminds staff that they are not simply automatons whose sole function is to educate those in their charge by following a formulaic approach. Leading by example empowers educators at every level to access support as and when they feel they need it. A top-down approach starting with governors is essential to disseminate good wellbeing working practices across an organisation.

One thing that I continually raise with influencers and decision-makers at a policy level is the need to remind ourselves that human input and interaction often lies at the heart of the way in which every school functions. While managing budgets, extrapolating data and preparing students for milestone events such as exams will continue to be extremely important, it is equally important that support mechanisms are put in place to engage with and assist staff.

Social interaction is critical in an era of continual technological change. It is equally important to ensure that support mechanisms are in place to give staff and pupils the skills to become emotionally resilient and literate. This can also send an important message – everyone is valued. A collegiate approach can lead to greater staff autonomy and motivation which in turn will help prevent recruitment and retention challenges.

Developing a transparent and open face-to-face culture is central to the way in which our charity engages with schools. We provide staff with the opportunity to tell us the truth confidentially. From this starting point, we then share our survey results with all staff and senior leaders in an open and communal way. While the results can highlight both the positive experiences and negative challenges in a particular educational establishment, it is always rewarding to work with staff and senior leaders and subsequently see the vast improvements in trust, transparency and working relationships that can develop.

Senior leaders that openly discuss specific challenges to wellbeing or related issues, and who are seen to implement practical solutions to support staff, can create a working culture that welcomes shared ownership and responsibility. This can lead to a greater sense of harmony among colleagues at every level. Being a leader is about being courageous and this could mean showing your vulnerability. Leadership requires empathy, emotional awareness and engagement. It is about recognising the challenges that all educators face and putting in place strategies that align personal and professional wellbeing so that this sits at the heart of everything a school does – for its pupils and for its staff.

  • Julian Stanley is CEO of the Education Support Partnership.

Further information

For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit And if you are a school that would like a staff wellbeing consultant to visit your workplace, see

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