Make sure you are under the umbrella too!

Make sure you are under the umbrella too!

Posted on January 28, 2021

Wellbeing. It’s vital isn’t it? We talk about it frequently with staff, with our pupils, with families. We think about it regularly, for our staff, for our pupils, for our families. Many schools have wellbeing polices, wellbeing plans, wellbeing as part of their curriculum offer and wellbeing sessions or meetings for staff. But there is a storm out there all the time, and do we think enough about our wellbeing as leaders?

People often use the phrase ‘put on your oxygen mask before helping others’ as a quote for ensuring your own wellbeing, but I often think that this is about when entering crisis mode, or extremely high levels of stress. I am a fan of the umbrella metaphor, the umbrella that protects from the storm. So, make sure you’re also under the umbrella you hold. I find this metaphor really works, because it may also be, if you are holding the umbrella over your staff, who is holding an umbrella over you? Maybe you do have good coverage from an umbrella, and you are doing ok, that is great! (Make sure you stay under the umbrella!)

However, leaders sometimes find themselves in the position of just holding an umbrella to protect their staff and community from the storm, maybe patching and mending the umbrella as they are holding it. Their staff are protected; some may get a little splash from the storm, but on the whole they are warm and dry. But what of the leader? There they are, cold, wet and battered by the storm as they are not under that umbrella they are mending and holding.

Why is the leader not under the umbrella? This could be for many reasons, (or a combination of them)

  • They don’t feel they should be under the umbrella; it is not for ‘the leader’.
    • They feel they should ‘be strong’ they think that they are in service for their staff and community and should be holding it all together. It may be the leader as a martyr or the Superhead. It may be they feel that they are the holder, but not able to shelter under it.
  • The staff do not welcome them under the umbrella.
    • This is a cultural issue, an ‘us vs them’ mentality, seeing the leaders as others or separate. This could be dangerous and unhealthy in the long run.
  • They thought they had an umbrella over them, held by a COG or CEO.
    • This is so hard to come to terms with, when the support they thought was there is not. Or it is the leaky umbrella, the umbrella that folds and breaks with the slightest pressure.
  • They do not realise they are not under the umbrella…. until the lightning hits…
    • A very dangerous scenario, leading potentially to mental health issues and physical illness. The burnout and confusion-how did this happen? (when their resilience is worn away)

In this context I am not only thinking of headteachers (although sadly I do feel that it is many of them that are not under a good enough umbrella) it is also the deputies, the safeguarding leads and the SENDCo’s. The heads of department, the school business managers and the CEO’s.

So, if you realise you are not under the umbrella, what should you do? First of all you need to pause, reflect on why you are not, and get some help. This is not admitting that you are no good at your job, this is about saying I am a member of staff too, this is my right. Having some excellent coaching and/or supervision is a good tool to use to get your umbrella up, but you also need to have a great umbrella; what should your umbrella consist of?

Please take some time, no matter how busy you are, to check your wellbeing umbrella. Maybe you can remake the organisation/school/team umbrella with your staff. There are resources out there. (Purplemoon can project manage this for you, and we are not the only ones that can offer this). There are some excellent books and podcasts on this topic, Kat Howard’s book ‘Stop Talking about Wellbeing’ immediately springs to mind.

Wellbeing is not an add on, it is not the next cliché or buzzword. Everyone should be under the umbrella. Everyone should help decide what the umbrella is made from and maybe everyone should be holding the umbrella up. Everyone should be protected from the storm. Whatever the storm is.

Of course, work should also be ongoing to dissipate the storm(s), but perhaps that is another blog!

Is venting good for you?

Is venting good for you?

Posted on January 18, 2021


Venting, good for the soul? A nice way to release anger and frustration? The satisfaction in the moment; getting what is in your head out into the world and letting someone else have a share in your feelings sounds good doesn’t it? But is it actually good for your long term wellbeing or is this a negative selfcare tool?

There was a point in my career when I would have been very much on the side of venting as a good thing. The job would be weighing heavily on me and something would just be tipping me over the edge. I’ be on a call to my dad and after the general niceties he’d ask me an innocuous question; ‘how’s work this week?’ Or maybe a not so innocuous one; ‘did you see X in the newspaper?’ and away I’d go. He would listen, empathise, sympathise and quite often get angry and frustrated on my behalf. Sometimes he would make me more frustrated as I had to explain something to him as an segue as he isn’t ‘in the field of education’. I’d then run out of steam and talk to my mum about something totally innocuous (a bird in the garden or something the neighbour had done) and I would laugh and move on. And I would be feeling better(?)

Sometimes it would be a teacher friend I would be venting to (and it might become a joint vent on the same subject, both adding the fuel to a raging burn) and then we’d realise we were on the tram, or in the pub and maybe this wasn’t a ‘safe space’ to be having this vent. Or it would be a teacher friend at a different establishment where we would end up almost in competition over who had it worse. Urgh.

Later it also became my super other half (not in the education sector at all) and he would get it full barrels at times, and just look at me with sympathy then go and get us both a beer and try and help me make sense of what I had just said. I am not sure he signed up to that at all when we moved in together!

I then started being coached and coaching ‘properly’. I think I came to it ‘late’ and we had been doing a kind of ad hoc muddle of coaching over the years from reading about it and the odd seminar. But, for me, finally attending some meaningful training (Thank you Paul Simmons at Independent Coaching and Oldham LA who provided this free to new heads) really made me realise how dangerous venting is:

  1. Was I venting in a safe space?
  2. was the person on the receiving end able to deal with the venting in a good way and were they emotionally equipped to deal with it?
  3. (Crucially) was it actually making me feel better longer term?

At this point I also went back to a very good friend who is an outstanding play therapist. She worked in my school leading filial play therapy and, (as she now lives in Australia) I sent her a message along the lines of ‘Remember when you were muttering about me needing Supervision and you were trying to get me to sit down and talk and I didn’t really get it? Well I do now!’ But still, supervision isn’t on the general radar of education folk. Coaching definitely is, and coaching will definitely reduce the need for the venting. So, why is supervision better (and safer) than venting?

  1. There is a safe space created where there is just you and the supervisor.
  2. The supervisor has no emotional attachment to the situation (especially when they are external to your organisation) or, if they are a line manager who has received supervision training, they know how to deal with their own emotional attachment to it.
  3. The supervisor will be equipped and ready to deal with, and address the need of, the supervisee. It is a planned and structured event.
  4. If the supervisor believes that medical intervention or specialist therapy is needed then they will advise the supervisee to seek this out (and if necessary stop the session so that this can occur).
  5. The issue/case/situation that is being discussed will be examined, addressed, thought about and some steps to move it on will be decided by the supervisee.
  6. If the supervisee is bringing the same issue/case/situation to sessions, then the underlying issue regarding this will be addressed.
  7. Supervision will have a long-term positive effect on your wellbeing and job satisfaction

Is venting good for your soul? When it comes to work I would argue no, not in the long term, and it can be dangerous in the short term depending what space it is done in and who with. Supervision and coaching are far better tools to have (and, I believe, they should be part and parcel of your wellbeing offer at work). However, don’t get me started on the current preferred playing style (that means they win) of the England rugby team…