Easing out of crisis: a headteacher's journey | Education Support

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Mental health and wellbeing of headteachers and school leaders

Easing out of crisis: a headteacher's journey

As headteacher Darren Morgan prepares to open his school to more pupils, he shares the challenges he is facing and offers some sage advice to other educators who are feeling overwhelmed. 

If we thought going into lockdown was difficult, it appears that easing out of it is impossible.

If I am honest, yesterday was one of those times of existential crisis that I suspect we all feel. A complicated school matter, complexities around coronavirus and personal doubts about my general ability took me to a difficult place and a sleepless night. 

I don’t currently feel I have the intellect or personal resilience to develop a school that adheres to the restrictions vital for a safe return of our pupils and staff and abide by rumoured government-driven directives. I don’t think I can manage 100 staff members’ feelings of anxiety, whilst complying with the Unions’ suggested protections. I don’t see how I can manage home-learning; in school learning; plan for a September with no idea what it will look like. All whilst juggling endless DfE, government and LA documents. Just when I have wrestled with all of the above and developed a risk assessment that conforms to everything required, the goal-posts shift. I am punch-drunk, Ivan Drago (Rocky IV) is about to deliver the final blow.

I have to motivate my school community. I am paid to be strong and inspirational. At what point can I be honest? Who can I be honest to?

If you are familiar with the plot of Rocky IV you will know Rocky did not succumb to Drago’s final blow. Nor will I, nor will you. We will all be around for Rocky V.

The vagueness of top-down direction has meant schools have become unique entities in their approach to easing out of lockdown. So far, my dates for wider opening have absolutely been the 1st June, then definitely the 10th and now, for certain the 22nd.  I am very fortunate that the parents at my school have been so patient with and understanding of me. As have my governors and staff. 

The size of my school means we can offer provision for all eligible children, keep the staff in teams and allow teachers and TAs to work in school for one week and then at home for a week, to help their mental health during these difficult times. We can also accommodate flexibility for staff with children.

So what can you do when the mountain ahead seems insurmountable?

Speak to someone

That someone can be Education Support for free, confidential help and support. Or share your concerns with a trusted colleague or friend. 

What is very clear to me is that I am not the only one struggling with self-doubt during this period. It isn’t helpful to continue to experience these thoughts alone, the mountain only becomes larger and more perilous as your inaccurate perception will be that you are the only one struggling. Be assured that you are not..

Focus on what has been achieved

It is tempting to sleeplessly lie in bed each night fixating on what hasn’t been completed. As difficult as it may be to do so, spend time focusing on what has been achieved. If you aim to run a marathon and exhaustion prevents you completing the last five miles, over 21 miles have still been run and those miles will not have been run by most others. What all school leaders are currently achieving is inspirational – we can be our own worst enemy at times.

To me, these issues have wrapped around themselves and become a complicated knot of string that I cannot begin to fathom. I cannot grasp the whole issue in one go, I now I need to take each strand at a time, do the best that I can and then focus on the next issue. By doing this, the ball of knotted string will slowly unravel and eventually look far less daunting than it does right now.

Stop

No matter how busy you are, stop and smell the roses! At the front of my garden I have a lovely rose-bush. Each day I walk past it first thing in the morning, and on my return home. 

There is a danger that autumn will arrive without me appreciating the roses before they disappear for another year. We have to find time to appreciate our families,surroundings and ourselves, no matter how busy we are. Once today has passed, it is not coming back again. 

We are closer to the resolution 

Today is closer to the end of all of this than yesterday was. With each passing moment we are moving closer to the end of the current crisis. If like me, you are feeling overwhelmed, remember that this is a phase and it too will pass. The sun will shine again. You will rise again, you will feel empowered, creative and ready to take on the world, or Ofsted, whichever comes first.

Please, take off your superhero cloaks, be honest and look after yourself. And, eat a chocolate bar – you deserve it!

Footnote: On the day I wrote this, heavy rain led to significant and thousands of pounds worth of damage to six classrooms, rendering them completely unusable. I think I’m going to need a bigger chocolate bar!

Darren Morgan is a proud headteacher of a wonderful school and tweets @Moggy14

How we can help 

Teachers and education staff who are feeling stressed or anxious during these uncertain times can get confidential emotional support from our free and confidential helpline: 08000 562561.

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