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!

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