Recently I started a Facebook group encouraging support and guidance for staff who work in schools. In the guidelines for the group I stressed the importance of not using personal or school names because it is not meant to be a venue for critics and negativity. Twice in a week two people have shared their view that we must not blame the leadership of our schools they are under pressure too.
This is a view I whole heartedly and completely agree with. The leaders of our school experience pressure and stress like their staff. They have targets and expectations that have to be met. Parents, stakeholders, governors, teachers and other staff to keep happy. I once thought I would like a leadership role. I’m not sure anymore. Do I really want their pressures?
As wellbeing of Staff begins to creep up the agenda of schools we should remember not to turn it into a blame culture. I think the majority of leaders want to improve wellbeing but perhaps part of the problem is a lack of knowledge as to how rather than a lack of interest or care for their employees.
Twice in my current school I have become seriously unwell with depression. My experiences of how others have supported me have been mixed.
I have had some awful experiences and comments from people who you would think would know better. I have been pushed deeper into depression by well meaning colleagues. Mental health is a hidden illness which is so hard to handle correctly.
But where leadership is involved there has always been a great sense of wanting to do the right thing. Caring greatly. Trying to help. The support hasn’t always been perfect but that isn’t down to a lack of care or interest.
I think we need to remember that employers perhaps don’t know much about mental health. Unless they have suffered themselves or had experience of a close family member who has. How are they to know how best to support their staff? When their personal experience is limited, this isn’t something they had training in. We can’t suddenly expect them to be experts just because they became a leader of a school. This is a different set of skills. Mental health perhaps requires its own training and education for everyone.
So let’s stop judging leadership so harshly. Let us instead change the culture of our workplaces to mutual support. Let us encourage our leaders to attend and open up training on mental health for all of their staff. Let us develop wellbeing ideas that we can share with them.
Yes they are the leaders of our school. They set policy. They set the rules. They set the culture. They set everything that teachers and pupils sign up for. But they have not necessarily had training in mental health. So perhaps we need to work with them to ensure staff wellbeing is protected. Perhaps those of us with personal experiences need to share. Perhaps forums like my new support group can help develop ideas for wellbeing that we can share with our leaders. Perhaps it is about mutual support of colleagues rather than expecting it all to come from the top.