How managers can support staff amidst this crisis | Education Support
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Supporting education staff amidst coronavirus - headteachers and school leaders

How managers can support staff amidst this crisis

21st April 2020

Sinéad Mc Brearty, CEO of Education Support, discusses how headteachers, school and college leaders and managers can best support and motivate staff during this national crisis.  

Leading, motivating and supporting staff is a tricky proposition in the midst of a national crisis.  Our staff are dealing with a wide range of issues, from those who have recovered from Covid-19 and want to re-engage in the world, through to those who are personally vulnerable and cocooning for 12 weeks. Throw into the mix a few offspring to supervise or home-school, an elderly dependent to support, and a demanding manager to satisfy…what could possibly go wrong?

As leaders and colleagues, it is helpful to recognise that everyone, ourselves included, will experience low mood and lack of motivation at some point(s) over the coming weeks and months.  Those are very reasonable emotional responses to the current situation.  Whether we are responsible for one or two colleagues, or whole institutions, there are a few practices that will help us to support staff to give their best at this time.

We know that high demand/low control cultures are fatal to personal satisfaction and motivation. This context calls for high control on the part of staff (allowing people to juggle their own children/elder care/trip to the laundromat), and modest demand from line managers. Hierarchy and autonomy are in tension at the best of times, but whilst everyone is dispersed, command and control cultures look very antiquated. Staff will work best when they are trusted to deliver against clearly articulated objectives, underpinned by open and honest communication with line managers and leadership teams.

Leaders can build the resilience and self-efficacy of staff by facilitating collegiality. This can be done through video conferences, but also by getting staff to check-in with another colleague that they might not normally be in touch with: corona phone tag. Adopting a celebratory disposition can go a long way.  Just getting through the day is an achievement for some of us. The school staff who are caring for the children of key workers are heroic.  The teachers working to support parents with learning at home are working in new and different ways. The courage, creativity and sheer heart evident across the sector leaves us with no shortage of things to celebrate.   This is a time to practice gratitude with our staff and colleagues: to notice small stuff, and acknowledge it; to be liberal with positive feedback. And to share feedback both ways: leaders also need to hear that they are doing something useful/good/supportive.

Line managers need to be regularly in touch with their staff, ideally in a negotiated mode. Not everyone wants a regular 8am catch up. Schedule in debriefing sessions: staff will have new, different concerns about how to manage their boundaries with pupils’ families, or concerns about particular children who aren’t in communication with the school.   Help colleagues to stay focused on their core purpose as educators, and help them to make that meaningful in this situation.  Leaders can role model these approaches, supported by coaches or some of the fantastic leadership support that exists across the sector.  If there are tense or tricky line management relationships in your school, pay particular attention to those over these week and support the line manager to be creative and supportive, where possible.

Some people may have time to do more. If they do, help shape a useful project about which they can be passionate, and largely self-directed. But recognise that sometimes our ambitions might be greater than our actual capacity.  I am beginning to realise that I might not learn to play the piano via YouTube over the coming weeks.

Our society is changing. Unlike Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, when we click our red shoes, we’ll find that Kansas isn’t there any more. During every day of this crisis, we are shaping the future.  Let’s make it a better, kinder, more enjoyable one for everyone.

How we can help 

Teachers & 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.

What can you do?

If you’re in a position to help others in these extraordinary times, please consider making a donation so that we can continue to answer the increasing number of desperate calls and grants applications we are receiving. Thank you so much.