By Alex Griffiths
It has been a crazy 6 months as Headteacher of a primary school. I’m sure there are people who would say in whatever job they do that it has been a crazy few months. At times, it has really felt like operating on adrenaline: I need to balance staff wellbeing, with pupil wellbeing, with parent and community wellbeing, with school improvement, with… and hope I haven’t forgotten anything or anyone. But, in this big list of tasks and responsibilities, there is one that I feel is the first to be put aside in a time of crisis: headteacher wellbeing.
Well, what a surprise. Too often as Headteachers, we forget about ourselves.
What is wellbeing?
Wellbeing: Definition – noun – the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy.
As headteacher at my school for 2 and a half years, I have become comfortable. Arriving at school each morning feels comfortable, I know my staff, I know all of the pupils and their families, I know the routines. So we’ll tick comfortable off.
I try to look after my health. I run, eat well, smile and laugh. So, I can probably just about tick healthy off.
Honestly, I enjoy my job. The challenges, the smiles that the work brings. Also, I enjoy my time at home with my wife and children. I feel that the school I run is in a really good place, and that is down to my leadership. I’ll tick happy off too.
So that must be wellbeing sorted then.
What can we do?
Almost every headteacher I have spoken to in the term so far has raised the issue of wellbeing. So many are on the lookout for their staff and their pupils, but feel that their own is being missed.
I have had interactions this week with people in the local authority who have spoken about the need to ensure headteacher wellbeing. I have every faith in the local authority doing this as soon as possible.
Many, many headteachers do not feel comfortable, happy or healthy.
For what it is worth, I thought I’d share what I am doing right now to safeguard my personal comfort, happiness and health. There are many solutions to this, and as with staff and pupil wellbeing, it is of course not a one-size-fits-all approach. But if it supports just one headteacher colleague to feel more comfortable, healthy and happy then I’m glad to have helped.
My wellbeing actions
- I spoke with a few of the school governors, including the chair, and we agreed that for my wellbeing, leaving school by 2 pm every Tuesday will be massively beneficial for me, my family and my assistant headteacher – who has the opportunity that afternoon to step up. I now use the time for my personal comfort, happiness and health – I swim, paddleboard, run or cycle and catch-up on some work every now and then. It is amazing what that few extra hours can do for wellbeing, and though a daunting conversation initially, governing boards have to look out for you. Headteachers, you have my permission to ask!
- On a Wednesday at 3:45, I leave my desk and go for a 10 km run around the village. It just happens, and everyone knows it now. I refuse to miss it. How do I catch up on the missed 40 minutes? I do it later, or the following morning, or when I’m at home that night. Why do I do it?
- It’s only 40 minutes
- It stops me procrastinating about running later on at home when it is far less pleasant, dark and cold. I also don’t know where to fit eating in, before or after?
- It shows other staff that they have my permission to do the same. Any other job offers such chances, why shouldn’t we take the opportunity to do the same as a headteacher.
- I actively put energy into supporting children and staff’s wellbeing, and it improves my wellbeing too. Of course it will – showing we are a caring and kind school will only help to make me a more caring and kind school leader. That will naturally improve my happiness, comfort and health.
Coaching is a big part of it
I also seek professional development and coaching. Yes, I know I am writing for a coaching blog, but I genuinely value CPD and coaching. Reach out to Mary-Jo and use her coaching brilliance – I highly, highly recommend her. Talk to other heads, we all want to be supportive of one another, we all care. Immerse yourself in making meaningful impact and changes. Learn a new skill, go back into the classroom to remember why we do what we do, find something to smile about and enjoy. I am immersed in an NQPEL programme, the exemplary leadership programme, supporting my assistant head through an NPQSL, all whilst leading a school through our development programme. Coaching is really important for this.
I hope that you find the thing for you that makes you well: comfortable, happy and healthy. Know that we have each other’s backs and that meaningful change will only happen when we talk, listen and reflect.
Alex Griffiths is the Headteacher at Brooke Primary School in Norfolk since 2018. Besides all his hard work during the COVID-19 crisis, he has also been busy using his creativity to transform the school into a social media phenomenon.