• Our actions can influence our own wellbeing positively.
• Wellbeing is subjective, everyone will have their own gauge of how well they are feeling.
Once you have accepted support to help yourself, you are in a better place to offer support to your colleagues. The normal stresses of life have altered immeasurably during the COVID-19 pandemic. Normal routines have changed and what were simple things, like entering a workplace or a classroom, have become anxiety-invoking activities. Stress has changed because we are faced with the unknown, threats are lurking, and we have to deal with a tsunami of information and guidance some of which is conflicting and contradictory.
There are some things we can control in our lives and wellbeing is one of them. Whilst there will always be external factors that impact on us, we can take control. Our direct actions can influence our own wellbeing positively, we can share our approaches with others so that they can also experience more positive wellbeing.
How are you?
Having worked with a multitude of leaders over the years, I would urge you to follow this advice for yourself first. Start with Form – Supporting my own wellbeing.
It is not about being selfish, it is more the case of making sure your mask is on before trying to help everyone else put their mask on. You really do need to make sure that you are okay before you start trying to make sure everyone else is.
What is wellbeing?
The World Health Organisation states the following about wellbeing:
‘Mental health is defined as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’
See here for more detail on this definition: https://bit.ly/2HaE6tH..
Wellbeing is subjective, everyone will have their own gauge of how well they are feeling: physically, emotionally, psychologically. We can follow some simple steps to help.
Try the power of possible, positive thinking. What good things might happen if we take a particular action? Try to envision success and all the benefits it will bring rather than thinking any plans are doomed to failure. Think about how you will feel when you do complete a task that you may have been putting off.
Embrace your imperfections, nobody is perfect, acknowledge your shortcomings and set a plan to help overcome some of them. If you are not happy, then take steps to change. You might think about the words you use when you are setting out to make a change in your life. Consider ‘could’ instead of ‘should’. Could gives you options and helps you to consider why you may not have made as much progress as you might have wanted to. Should adds pressure and guilt, there is less unpicking of why and it is more accusational. Think could rather than should, but don’t make excuses, change needs positive actions.
Mistakes are going to happen, you didn’t make them on purpose so don’t beat yourself up, try to work on reducing the frequency with which they occur and make sure you don’t make the same mistake over and over. Think through what happened, where things went wrong and what you can do to avoid them happening again.
What would your best friend say about the situation? Try to look at things from someone else’s perspective, who might be more positive and upbeat. Better still, speak to your friend so you can get a different perspective on the situation.
Reduce your distance
Step away from the email and pick up the phone. Rather than drawn out email exchanges where you don’t know the tone in which the message is intended, pick up the phone and speak to the person.
Acknowledge success and when progress has been made, even when it is by small steps. These small steps will lead to bigger steps and improve your chances of overall success as well as helping maintain your engagement and levels of enthusiasm.
Take a break during the day and do not talk or even think about work. There is sometimes pressure to be seen to be working or be busy, but you cannot work all day without a break (at least, it is not good over a prolonged period of time). You need to create headspace so you can give quality focus on tasks later in the day so find somewhere you can go where you can have time for you.
This then might extend to leaving the workplace at a sensible time, get away from the classroom or office so you have time for yourself. Do not play the car park game! Does it matter if you are the first car in the car park in the morning and the last one there in the evening? Just because you are doing long hours in school does it actually mean you are being effective?
Be the change
If you are in a better place as an individual, then you are going to be in a better place to support others and offer genuine guidance in relation to wellbeing. This is a really important point, if you look sad or miserable then, realistically, who is going to take your advice seriously, it falls into the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ category! It is therefore important to consider how you present in front of your colleagues. How are you ‘showing up’ when you enter a room or interact with colleagues?
Support, advise and give guidance
Once you have taken some action to help yourself, you are in a better place to offer support to your colleagues. Following the same steps, they can take some positive actions to address their own wellbeing.
Remember, you can support, advise and give guidance but ultimately it is up to individuals to take action to address their own wellbeing. Make sure you do not become drawn into a drama, effectively counselling individuals and taking on their burdens, which then impacts on your own wellbeing.
This is not a case of being selfish or lacking compassion. Some individuals may need more specialist support than you can offer. Linking this back to leadership, you can coach and mentor colleagues but if someone is stuck on a certain point or event that took place in their life then they may need counselling, it is at that point you seek out a qualified individual.
Most schools will have access to some kind of employee support service, you can direct staff to this as an option. Alternatively, if staff are wary of accessing this service, then there may be other services on offer within the LA which can be searched for using the Local Offer website.
Give positive feedback and let colleagues know when they have done well. There is a danger that, in a heavily scrutinised profession, we come to accept criticism or negative feedback. Make the effort to give positive feedback, reinforce what went well so that colleagues get credit when they do their job well.
Create events where colleagues can engage in an activity where they can relax or unwind and not think about work. This might be yoga, some sporting activity or an interest that staff have in common. These events then help support the social wellbeing of staff so there are opportunities to associate work with smiles and happiness rather than stress and woes.
Consider healthy treats in the staffroom. Wellbeing is also impacted on by our physical health, so it is important we take care of our bodies. Settings celebrate with cakes and other naughty goodies but consider offering healthier alternatives.
Have breaks from social media. Twitter is awash with perfect tales of excellence. Whilst great, this can add further pressure. Give yourself a break, leave social media alone so you can have some time for your own thoughts.
Purpose and mission
Reinforce your purpose and mission but really make it clear that it is we, us, together. There are always going to be challenging times but remember your purpose and what you are doing in education in the first place. We face challenges together, but we are improving the life chances of current and future generations.
We can control our own wellbeing and we need to feel empowered to do so. Work is going to be challenging and there are hurdles we are inevitably going to face, but we can control our wellbeing if we choose to do so. It is something we need to continually focus on so that we maintain a healthy balance in our lives.
Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice:
About the author
Kenny Wheeler has over a decade’s experience as a secondary SENCo and senior leader. He works for the Driver Youth Trust (@DriverTrust) as a senior consultant. He is also a consultant for SEN, Inclusion and Leadership. You can contact him on Twitter @KennyInclusion