Tag Archives: Leadership

Getting the measure of better mental health

Here’s a recent article I wrote which was published in “Lead” – the magazine for NEU leadership members – in July 2021.

Vice-chair of the NEU’s National Leadership Council Josie Whiteley talks about being a coach for the School Mental Health Award.

In the past 16 months, leaders have demonstrated incredible resilience and adaptability. But, as we recover from the Covid crisis, is your school or college now in a better or a worse place from a wellbeing perspective?

The School Mental Health Award (SMHA) may help you find out.  

Since it was launched in 2017, more than 1,000 schools have either gained or are working towards it. It is based on a framework of eight competencies allowing schools to evaluate their mental health practices, identify gaps, and introduce or strengthen existing policies and initiatives.

They include: leadership and strategy, structure, support and culture for staff and pupils, CPD and working with families. A bronze, silver or gold award is given upon successful completion. For bronze, schools need to show how changes have made an impact in the school. For gold, there will need to be evidence that a school is sharing good practice nationally.

I’ve been an SMHA coach since April 2020 and work with more than 70 schools (and rising).

I’ve heard from leaders about the different ways of working to support mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic. This includes regular check-in phone calls, food delivery programmes, virtual meetings and information sessions for parents.

In many cases these changes have led to better relationships with pupils, parents and colleagues. Working towards the SMHA, with help from a coach, supports leaders in thinking through how these changes can become embedded – and they are very keen to do this.

An increasing number of schools are, for example, creating an area of their website dedicated to supporting parents’ mental health. Many others are updating mental health and wellbeing and behaviour policies in response to the pandemic.

So, what’s my role?

Starting with a one-hour, virtual coaching conversation, usually with the head or deputy and the mental health lead, I pose a series of questions.

A key one is: how does the SLT know what staff need?

If I’m met with a perplexed look, this then leads to a discussion of the value of asking people what they need rather than imposing ‘a relaxing, de-stressing yoga session’ that will be someone’s worst nightmare.

After the coaching conversation, I’m available via email or schools can book another meeting. Most choose not to, though, because the probing questions in the first meeting have usually inspired clarity of thought, and often a few lightbulb moments.  

As a coach, I’ve been discussing some common themes with schools. The extra workload generated by the pandemic has been a strain for staff. For those in secondaries the responsibility this summer for grading – handed to them at short notice, with little Government guidance and no additional help – has piled on pressure.

Leaders understand this and have cut back in areas including non-vital meetings, duplication of data and email overload. Some schools have introduced a “buddy” scheme to encourage colleagues to support one another, others are offering free counselling services.

Another recurring theme is the need to develop governors’ understanding of mental health issues among staff and students. In many cases, schools don’t realise this is needed until they start the award. Training for governors is especially important now, when poor mental health has increased because of the pandemic.

Once the school begins working towards the award, ongoing support is available via a private Facebook group for mental health leads, where they ask questions and share good practice and resources. A year later we have a final meeting. We discuss and celebrate the school’s journey. I love seeing how proud staff are to present their evidence for the award, and to hear them talk with real enthusiasm about the impact of changes.

To find out more, please contact Josie on: Josie.Whiteley@neu.org.uk

You can find out more about the School Mental Health Award here and, if you are interested, you can sign up for it via this email address: schoolmh@leedsbeckett.ac.uk

© Copyright Josie Whiteley 2021. All rights reserved.

Upskilling your way to success

I’ve just written a piece about self-development for members of Think Tree Hub Professional Association (where my online courses are hosted).

I thought it was worth sharing to a wider audience so here it is… 😊

The start of Spring is an excellent time to think about new things. As the days get longer and we enjoy more sunlight and the colour of the beautiful Spring flowers, many of us will be feeling more enthusiastic and energised.

What better time to learn something new?

Especially when the last 12 months have been such a struggle for millions of people, many of whom have been forced to adopt ways of living and working they would never have chosen.

Finding an inner strength and resilience they never knew they had might be one positive to take from these turbulent times. And another positive might be understanding that to survive we need to adapt – to learn and to change.

Change is often difficult for a whole host of reasons, especially when it is viewed negatively and this creates both fear of, and resistance to it. But if you can change your mindset to see the positives in change then it can result in an exciting, learning journey rather than a frightening threat.

On-going training and development grows in importance as changes in the world and the workplace happen increasingly quickly. And if you can’t keep up you may well find you’ve fallen too far behind whether you’re employed by a massive company or working as a sole trader or small business.

Having spent most of my career working in education my preferred description for this ongoing journey is “Lifelong Learning” and it is something which can be too easily forgotten about, undervalued or believed to be unnecessary.

In a conversation with a family member recently I explained I had missed their earlier phone call as I was “Zooming” doing some further training in NLP. “You were doing a legal updating course last time I called,” she said, “don’t you ever stop studying?” The answer to that is most definitely “No”!

Perhaps you don’t enjoy studying as I do, and you may be wondering why you should take time to develop your own learning in such a busy world?

The simple answer is because the impact can be so significant, for you, your teams and for your customers.

For YOU: Lifelong learning leads to personal fulfilment, career advancement and business success. Keeping your brain active (with positive things) boosts both mental and physical health.

It can help you stay at “the top of your game” and will certainly help you avoid boredom leading to a lack of motivation. Personal upskilling includes keeping ahead of changes in your industry of course but, perhaps more importantly, looking after and supporting your personal growth and your health and wellbeing.

Do you ever allow yourself time to think about why you actually do what you do? Why is it important? Do you enjoy your work and does it fit into the kind of life you want? Are you able to live and work your values, in fact what are your values and beliefs and how do they affect you every single day?

Do you work so many hours that you believe you have no time for learning and wonder how others manage to find the time and space in their busy schedules? Are you a martyr to your work and no longer able to identify how you could be putting your health and indeed your business at risk?

Do you ever ponder these kinds of questions or do they get lost in the “bus-i-ness” of every day?

For your TEAM: Your interest in their development and training can boost morale making them feel important and needed. Encouraging your team to value their own lifelong learning helps them understand its importance. Keeping up-to-date with the latest changes in your industry brings benefits to them and, of course, to your customers.

Investment in helping staff to understand the importance of both physical and mental wellbeing, and actually encouraging them to put this learning into practice, also reaps benefits.

Staff turnover and sickness absence are lower when staff are happy and as well as being cost-effective this can create some stability for your business in this increasingly unstable world. It also makes your company attractive as a place of work.

One of the areas where I offer training relates to ethical leadership of self and others (I’m a little bit obsessed about its importance to be honest!) and I’ve also recently been involved in delivering 1-1 coaching with employed professionals.

It has been fascinating to hear how different approaches by their bosses have such a significant effect on all aspects of their lives in the workplace. And the “feel-good” factor – created by positive experiences where line managers understand the real value of their staff teams and treat them accordingly – really is priceless.

From my experience of years of discussing with others what they need to ensure good wellbeing at work, the following key areas stand out as being vitally important:

  • Having time to do the job properly;
  • Having the correct tools/expertise/training to do a good job;
  • Consistency in “rules” and treatment of all staff;
  • Being listened to and being heard;
  • Feeling respected and valued.

So, if any of you have team members who seem to be unhappy in their role, consider how you respond to the five points above…  and whether you need to change your behaviours.

If you feel there are areas where you could benefit from upskilling, my latest online course may be of interest covering the importance of ongoing self-development to support being a great boss.

You can access “Make Self-Development Your Superpower” here – and my previous blog gives you a little more information about the course if you would like to know more.

I do hope my thoughts encourage you to ask yourself some questions about your own lifelong learning and that of your teams. I wanted to close with a quote I love which is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. It seems to me to be solid advice:

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever”.

What more is there to say?

To find out more about Think Tree Hub click here.

© Copyright Josie Whiteley 2021. All rights reserved.