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Getting the Balance Right - Mental Health and Wellbeing

By Colin Marks, Headteacher, Orton Wistow Primary School, OWN Trust

Working in a school and playing a part in shaping the lives of the pupils who attend it is a privilege. I have enjoyed each role I have had during my twenty years at Orton Wistow Primary School, and taking on the Headship this year is a challenge I will relish and take great pride in.

One of the greatest challenges for any leader in a school, especially a head teacher, is how you ensure the safety, happiness, learning, and progress of all the children and ensure that all staff feel supported, empowered and have a real sense of job satisfaction. The mental health of all pupils and staff (including the Headteacher's) is paramount.

Any decision made by a Headteacher needs to take account of the impact it will have on the success of the school and the effect on individuals: indeed, the two go hand-in-hand. A positive change to how a school works can make a real difference to the children's outcomes and promote a sense of satisfaction within the staff, as their time is being used well and the impact is clear. On the flip side, a change or new initiative poorly implemented can make a limited difference to the children and cause unnecessary stress and frustration amongst staff.

I like to imagine a set of scales when introducing a new way of working or expectation in school. On one side is the time, effort, and cost required from the staff (and children). On the other side is the impact. At the very least, you want the scales to be balanced. It can then be argued that the work put in is worth the payout.

It is important to recognise that at first, the scales may not be balanced because a new initiative requires more time and effort to start with, and the real impact might not be seen until it is embedded. Over time the scales will balance as the amount of effort it takes (and possible initial cost) lessens and the outcomes improve. The best case scenario is when the scales continue to tip, and the impact outweighs the effort put in.

Careful consideration of all changes, initiatives, and priorities can affect the wellbeing of everyone in school but there are also other ways we can support ourselves and each other. A constant topic for discussion at the MySpace meetings I attended a few years back was around understanding what replenishes your own wellbeing. For me, exercise and time away from a screen help me to switch off. There can be days in school when I will be office bound, and remembering to take some time out to wander through the school during different times of the day, talk to as many people as possible and get my step count up can make a real difference to how I feel.

Something new I am keen to explore is the introduction of ‘Wellness Action Plans’. These individual and personalised plans for all staff are confidential plans that outline what can be done to promote positive mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. It is a proactive approach to helping everyone.

Getting this right in school could be the thing that makes the biggest difference to our young people. The scales could be tipped well in our favour!