Over the last few years working closely with headteachers and school leaders as director and lead coach of Integrity Coaching, I’ve been heartbroken to see growing numbers of heads leaving the profession or being signed-off due to burn-out or other stress-related issues.
Yet amidst the drive towards wellbeing in many schools, it seems the true emotional cost of school leadership today is still rarely reported and left unaddressed.
Despite the new Ofsted framework, which appears to suggest a more humane approach to school inspection, many still fear the fall-out of an unsuccessful inspection. The reality is ‘a football manager culture’ still exists within the profession. The fear of losing your role, based on a poor set of results dominates the collective psyche and it is making school leaders ill.
I’ve witnessed the devastating impact of this culture of fear. I have seen how it impacts individuals’ sense of agency, their motivation, levels of confidence and performance.
Meanwhile, in the worst cases, I have seen or heard the stories of those who have just disappeared. Human collateral for education policies that have shown scant regard for the wellbeing of those at the centre of its reforms.
The Guardian reported in 2016 that English schools may face a shortage of up to 19,000 heads by 2022 and if the education system continues to turn a blind eye to the emotional demands of the role, it is highly likely that this recruitment and retention crisis facing our schools will worsen further.
If this happens, our society will end up paying the cost; a cost that will eventually bankrupt us all and the hopes of a better future for our children if it is not urgently addressed.
Potential solutions to the wellbeing crisis
If this is to be remedied, the emotional and psychological needs of our school leaders can no longer be ignored.
Trustees, governors and policy-makers must ensure that school leader wellbeing is made a key priority sooner rather than later. Active steps must be taken towards changing the profession and supporting our leaders.
School leaders must have access to the same type of supervision and support that social workers and psychologists are given – support that ensures they remain mentally and emotionally well and hence can safely deliver the requirements of their roles.
Through expert keynotes, workshops and talks we will explore what it means to be an authentic school leader today
However, the solution is not one-sided. School leaders themselves need to learn how to properly meet their own wellbeing needs if they are to maintain the high levels of personal performance required of them.
What many leaders have learnt, but others are still yet to see, is that investing in themselves and doing what is necessary to ensure their psychological and emotional needs are met is not selfish, but rather it’s vital for successful and sustainable leadership.
If our leaders are determined to stay in the profession for the long-haul, they must begin to take charge of their wellbeing and develop generative and sustainable ways of leading which will support them in their complex and challenging roles.
From a wider perspective, the profession has to get better at creating meaningful ways for school leaders to maintain their commitment to education, and the vision that they hold for themselves and others.
That’s why on 17 October 2019, we will be hosting our third Education for the Soul conference, for headteachers and school leaders from across the country. The theme for the day will be ‘Inspiring Authentic School Leadership’.
Through expert keynotes, workshops and talks we will explore what it means to be an authentic school leader today. We will consider the obstacles that can prevent leaders from showing up authentically and how individuals can develop leadership practices that will allow them to stay true to themselves.
We will explore why amidst these uncertain times, we now need (perhaps more than ever) school leaders who are able to make their own wellbeing a priority, so that when challenges arise, they are able to lead with courage, authenticity and integrity.
Like our previous conferences, the day is designed to be a collaborative and collegial event where heads can talk openly and honestly about their experiences, share expertise and connect with like-minded colleagues.
Above all, we hope the day will allow leaders to re-connect with what they stand for, what originally brought them into the profession and give them a new appreciation for the unique contributions that they make to our children’s lives.
If you’re interested in learning more about the conference, the speakers and what will be happening on the day, please visit www.integritycoaching.co.uk/conference
If you’re interested in attending, Integrity Coaching (in partnership with Independent Education Today) are now offering an exclusive 10% discount on all ticket purchases to IET readers using the discount code ‘EDU4THESOUL2019’.