Wellbeing: How to look after yourself as a headteacher

Written by: Kate Smith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Whether you are an experienced headteacher or new to the job, Kate Smith shares some strategies and ideas to help you protect your wellbeing in the months ahead


Headship is the best job in the world. Each day is filled with new challenges, joy, opportunities to thrive and grow; to develop your pupils, staff and enable those within your community to thrive and grow too.

Headship is unique in its complexity of challenges – a rollercoaster ride of incredible highs and sometimes tragic lows. One thing is for certain, to be able to fulfil the role to the best of your ability, your own wellbeing must remain a priority.


Boundaries

Consciously appreciating your own personal and professional boundaries can help to support your wellbeing from day one. This requires a deep understanding of your personal and professional needs and expectations; knowing what serves you well in order that you can thrive in the role. Master the ability to communicate your boundaries clearly to others, and regularly reiterate them to yourself. What are your boundaries when it comes to professional relationships? To workload? In responding to the expectations of the professionals that you work with?

Boundaries can be articulated in staff meetings, policies and in conversations with your colleagues. Essentially, setting yourself boundaries is a way of actively respecting your own wellbeing and keeping you safe, so get familiar with them and bring them to life.


Connecting

Despite having hundreds of interactions each day, headship is often described as a lonely or isolating job. Sadly, this often stems from the fear of an accountability system which inhibits leaders from asking for help when they truly need it.

The truth is, everyone needs help at some point, and headteachers do not always have all the answers. Finding a safe space where you can connect with other like-minded folk and to be your authentic self, will allow you to share your vulnerabilities around the job without fear of judgement.

Look to join a peer support group (such as HeadsUp4HTs) where you can prioritise a time for you to share not only your challenges, but also to celebrate all the wonderful aspects of your role, which are often forgotten or dismissed amid the rapid pace of school life.

From time-to-time, headteachers find they lose their sense of identity and disconnect with the leader that they initially set out to be. Taking time to reflect, to slow down and to reconnect with your core purpose as a headteacher brings an enormous boost to your wellbeing and reaffirms your clarity of direction.

Connecting with others who “get it” helps you to realise that you are never alone. Attending regular peer support groups and coaching circles not only keeps you grounded in your vision and mission for your school, but it helps keeps that emotional connection to your own core values alive, focusing on who you really are and what drives you to do the job.

Talking about and sharing what you love about the job recharges you – and in turn your family, colleagues and pupils get to experience you at your best, most present version of yourself: there is courage in being vulnerable.


Coaching

Coaching is a dedication to your own wellbeing through regular, structured sessions with a professional, but is often put on the back burner because headteachers habitually prioritise the wellbeing of others over their own. If you, like many, struggle with dedicating the time and resources to yourself, then you need to reframe.

Prioritising time for your own wellbeing through coaching will put you in a far better position to lead and care for others, because your own needs are being met. Coaching keeps you attuned to who you are holistically and professionally and provides another safe space to be vulnerable and grow.

The benefits of coaching are countless and diverse, but in essence sessions enable a heightened self-awareness and ability to deal with the inevitable challenges of the role through improved self-confidence in your own ability as a leader.

If financing one-to-one coaching is not possible, then look to join a peer coaching support group or coaching circle. HeadsUp4HTs facilitate regular peer support groups nationally for free. Coaching in a group is another fantastic way to grow your own support network and to use your own experiences, good and bad, to support and inspire others.


Creating balance

Headteachers are incredibly creative and resilient when dealing with setbacks and dilemmas. It can feel like there isn’t a day that goes by without another crisis arising. But functioning in a crisis zone is exhausting, unsustainable and damaging to your own wellbeing, and you need strategies to bring you back into the equilibrium where you can thrive in. A resilient leader knows what takes them from pressure and into stress, but also how to rebalance in times of chaos and crisis.

Be aware of what triggers you into a stress zone. How can you avoid, embrace or address these triggers?

Balance allows you to lead a fulfilled life, and those already in headship will know that the job can become all-consuming, impacting on other areas of your life such as family, relationships, and mental health. Being respectful and grateful for your life beyond headship can help keep things in perspective. Take time to celebrate your life holistically, and gently remind yourself that your identity is more than just your job title.

Do you see yourself as a role model for good work/life balance to staff? Or do they see you refusing to work from home, prioritising your pupils over your own family, and working late each day? Be intentional about creating balance through dedicating time to yourself, the things and the people that you love and bring you joy. And remember, show yourself some selfless self-compassion


Supervision

You may know of supervision through contact with social workers or those in the health profession. You may be providing it for your safeguarding team, but you may think it is not relevant or appropriate for you as a headteacher.

However, as the leader of a complex community, supervision can play a vital role in protecting your long-term mental health and emotional wellbeing. Supervision is more specific than coaching and needs to be with a facilitator who has specific supervision training.

In essence, supervision unpacks a particular issue, difficulty or block that you are facing. It enables you to work through the problem safely and meaningfully, developing potential ways to solve it and enabling you to put it away safely so that it doesn’t leak into your personal life or other areas of your professional life.

It is a sharing of what may become a burden in a safe, confidential structured way that is not therapy, but can feel quite therapeutic as you find a way through an issue or problem.

  • Kate Smith is former headteacher who is now network project leader of HeadsUp4HTs. HeadsUp4HTs provide free support to headteachers across the UK, including coaching, crisis calls, and peer support coaching sessions. Visit www.headsup4hts.co.uk


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