Mental health and wellbeing are still a stigma in the education field.
While reading the Teacher Wellbeing Index 2020, some numbers caught my attention:
- 46% of education professionals did not speak to anyone at work about mental health issues because they felt it would negatively affect people’s perceptions of them.
- 30% of education professionals (35% of school teachers) considered there was a stigma (feeling of shame) which prevented them from talking about mental health problems at work.
- Only 8% of education professionals had access to supervision as a safe space to discuss issues.
In other words, the educational field – like many others – has a stigma around mental health. This is very harmful to professionals since they don’t feel safe to open up about their wellbeing. Consequently, this prevents them to seek help in external sources such as counselling, coaching and other types of supervision.
The fear of being judged or seeing negatively by their leaders and peers is isolating headteachers, teachers and school staff. Having recently watched the Crown on Netflix, these alarming rates remind me of the Royal Family’s infamous motto “Never complain, never explain”. Education professionals don’t get much support and are expected to carry on regardless, avoiding ‘complaining’ about feelings, challenges and fears.
How can external coaching help?
Coaching provides a safe and structured space where school staff can dedicate time to evaluate their professional performance. It is also a very welcome break in an extremely busy routine. A moment in which they can stop and recharge their minds, taking time to breathe, think and talk.
By providing professionals with the time to talk and reflect on their school-related challenges without fearing judgment, stigma or misinterpretation can bring beneficial results to one’s mental health and wellbeing as well as keeping the whole show on the road. I see a large number of Covod cases in the third week of January that may make us think the Autumn Term was easy in comparison. I provided much needed group supervision for a senior leadership team last week and on that day, 18 members of staff were absent.
Nevertheless, it should be clear that external supervision is not seen or used as the only resort to the improvement of school staff wellbeing. Moreover, it is a very important part of a joint effort with other initiatives such as reduced hours in specific days of the week.
But, in order for that to happen, school staff need the support of their leaders and superiors. It is important listening to overwhelmed headteachers, teachers, teaching assistants and further staff when they seek help; as they are usually the ones holding everyone else up. Offering an understanding, non-judgemental and professional response is the first step in strategic support.