School leadership: Leading into a very different school year | Jigsaw.ie

School leadership: Leading into a very different school year

School leadership: Leading into a very different school year

Monday, 31 August 2020

Traditionally the new school year includes an array of plans, meetings, timetables and an air of excitement for the return. This year, the return to school has never looked more different.

The global pandemic has created a wave of uncertainty, unknowns and change for all of us. Nowhere is this more evident than in schools. As a principal or deputy, you are probably trying to adapt and respond to the needs of your school community as they begin to return.

Given this, Jigsaw recognises the need for support in the area of mental health and wellbeing. This includes you, your staff and, in particular, your students.

We know that mental health and wellbeing is central to learning and for the cognitive development of young people. Being resilient, relationships and feeling connected to their school communities matter.

As educators, you play a critical role in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of students and school staff. But, to care for others it is vital that you and your staff are supporting your own mental health as well.

school desks

Refocus on mental health and wellbeing

Throughout the disruption of the past five months schools have responded immediately, sensitively and creatively to the demands placed on them. Along with the practicalities of delivery, school leaders have had to consider the social and emotional impacts of lockdown on their staff and students’ wellbeing.

You, and your school teams, now have the opportunity to refocus on mental health and wellbeing.  You can model behaviour which gives reassurance to young people, empowering and enabling them to better understand the situation and what they can do to look after themselves.

Often, challenges like these can present us with an opportunity. Schools now have the chance to refocus on mental health and wellbeing. This includes initiatives to support student mental health, but just as importantly, staff mental health.

In your role as a leader starting with your own self-care will enable you to better respond to the needs of your school community.

Looking forward with the ‘whole-school’ community

What schools have achieved is nothing short of amazing. With no notice, entire ways of working have been re-designed and implemented. You and your teams have created new ways of communicating, teaching online and new support systems. Now your team have the momentum to build on this moving forward.

Focus on strengths

Reflect on what has been achieved during the past few months. Acknowledge the strengths among staff and students in getting through this challenging time.

Highlighting this to everyone within the wider school community is a great way to start the new school year filled with hope.

Mental Health Promotion Practitioner
Schools are starting to realise that wellness and self-care, cannot be isolated.

Re-establish routines

As schools begin to return to the ‘new normal’,  it is important that young people settle back into familiar routines. We know that many school activities will have to change to meet current health restrictions and guidelines. Finding elements of consistency will support students and help them to adjust.

Discussing how routines have been altered also helps to keep everyone safe. It is an opportunity to reflect and to provide space to share thoughts and feelings.

Share experiences

It is important to get a balance between recognition of what students have achieved during lockdown and acknowledging the challenges they may have faced. Give them the opportunity to discuss these, if they feel comfortable doing so.

It will be reassuring for students to hear their peers identifying similar concerns and experiences. It can also offer an opportunity to engage in classroom-based discussions focussed on equipping students with strategies to cope with change, uncertainty and unknowns.

Prioritising time and space for people to talk about these changes and to feel listened to is an important role for the school in the coming weeks.

Talk about changes

We know that students of all ages will have questions about the changes to schools and the impact of coronavirus. Many may not have felt comfortable to ask these questions at home or through virtual platforms.

Prioritising time and space for people to talk about these changes and to feel listened to is an important role for the school in the coming weeks. This can support the mental health and wellbeing of both staff and students. It may prevent students becoming overwhelmed with information throughout the weeks of the initial return to school.

Supporting these conversations

Jigsaw has created a series of classroom-based resources to support schools with these conversations as they begin to open their gates. The current crisis offers an opportunity to apply new ways of thinking about students’ emotional needs.

Whole-school approach

This may be the time for school leaders to look at developing a ‘whole-school’ approach to mental health and wellbeing. It will help to support the school through this period of transition. A whole-school approach will enable schools to adopt a universal approach that staff, students and parents can benefit from. It will also help target and tailor resources to those who need them the most.

For more information, download our Guidance document for school leaders.

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