School leadership: Leading under uncertainty

School leadership: Leading under uncertainty

Tuesday, 11 October 2022

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 have probably had to adapt and respond to the needs of your school community in many different ways.

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.

Refocus on mental health and wellbeing

Throughout the disruption of the pandemic 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 on their staff and students’ wellbeing.

You, and your school teams, have the opportunity to refocus on mental health and wellbeing. Modelling behaviour which gives reassurance to young people, empowers and enables 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. 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 has the momentum to build on this moving forward.

Focus on strengths

Reflect on what has been achieved during the past few years. 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

With the return to school, it is important that young people get into familiar routines. 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

Getting a balance between recognition of what students have achieved during global events and acknowledging the challenges they may have faced is important. 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.

Talk about changes

We know that students of all ages will have questions about the changes to schools and the impact of global events. 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 feel listened to is an important role for the school. This can support the mental health and wellbeing of both staff and students. It may prevent students from becoming overwhelmed with information.

Whole-school approach

This may be the time for school leaders to look at developing a ‘whole-school’ approach to mental health and wellbeing. 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.

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