On leadership programmes, there is always a section of learning devoted to being strategic, to not getting bogged down in the minutiae of day-to-day school life, but saving time to think, plan, review and make big changes to teaching and learning. These things do matter – if senior leaders don’t devote enough time to the big problems of practice, then schools don’t move forward, teaching stagnates, and pupils lose out on their potential learning power.
But what we never hear on leadership programmes is that senior leaders should also spend time on little things. These are the things that matter to teachers and these are the things that affect wellbeing in the workplace. Replying to somebody’s quick email about a problem with the break duty schedule matters. Sending someone that article you read about their current school improvement project matters. Asking someone how their child’s exams went matters.
We have a crisis in retention in schools. Yes, it’s related to workload, yes it’s about the accountability pressures beyond senior leaders’ control. But it’s possible to work within these system restraints and still ensure teacher wellbeing. And research now shows clear links between teacher wellbeing and teacher retention, but also pupil learning outcomes.
Little things matter to pupils too. Of course, the curriculum content must be covered and the classroom must have a consistent behaviour policy. But pupils also appreciate their teacher noticing their new hair style or remembering their birthday. If the teacher promised they could help hand out the books the next day, it’s important that the teacher doesn’t forget. These are the little things that forge relationships of trust and warmth and, without these, learning is reduced.
Our new programmes look at exactly this issue – how senior leaders and teachers can support teacher and pupil wellbeing and mental health so that schools both keep good staff and offer their pupils the best possible learning experience.
Co-designed and co-led by Dr John Ivens, a trained psychologist and headteacher of The Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School, Leading a Mentally Healthy School supports senior leaders to investigate their own schools in terms of wellbeing and to make changes, both big and small, to policy, practice and their daily interactions with staff.
Designed and subsidised by national children’s mental health charity Place2Be, our Mental Health Champions: Classteachers programme is led by trained and experienced psychologists. The programme helps teachers identify and understand the mental health and wellbeing issues their pupils are facing, and take practical actions to support them. A combination of face to face sessions and small group consultations enable teachers to understand and cope with challenging behaviours, supporting their own wellbeing as well as that of their pupils.
People care about both the big picture and small details – as school leaders, we need to make time for both. Only by doing so will we keep the best teachers in our classrooms and make sure pupils make the most of the learning opportunities those teachers provide.