The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Kelly Hannaghan

Why self-care is vital for wellbeing leaders

The role of the wellbeing leader in cultivating a healthy environment and organisation is increasingly important. But what challenges do these leaders face in protecting their own wellbeing?

Think about all the challenges schools are facing: troubled pupils, Ofsted inspections, attainment concerns, pupil mental health – to name just a few. (To find out more about the cost of ignoring wellbeing in education, see the Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018.)

This is why it is so important that we stand up and take notice of the ever-increasing stress that is put upon educators.

One of the key proposals in the Government's green paper Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision was to incentivise all schools to identify a designated senior lead for mental health and wellbeing by 2025.

So what is this role going to look like? And how do senior leaders ensure that the emotional health of these individuals is being safeguarded? 

Expectations of the wellbeing leader role

  • Schools have a single member of staff with relevant knowledge and expertise to act as the school lead for mental health. 
  • The new role in schools is not that of a mental health professional, and teachers and school leaders should not be involved in the diagnosis or treatment of mental health conditions.
  • The main responsibly within the role is to promote good mental health and emotional wellbeing among pupils by developing a whole-school approach to support mental wellbeing.
  • Lessons are taught about mental health and wellbeing through a programme of PSHE.
  • The wellbeing leader plays a key part in identifying emerging mental needs of pupils by ensuring staff can recognise signs and symptoms of mental health needs in pupils and role model what to do should they have a concern.
  • It is not the sole responsibility of the wellbeing leader to hold the full care of pupils with struggling mental health; there should be a referral process to health care professionals for appropriate specialist support and treatment.
  • Wellbeing leaders should be equipped with the skills to support and manage pupils with mental health needs.
  • Wellbeing leaders should have a support network that may include supervision to promote safe ethical practice.

I often question the impact and demand my role has on my own emotional health

My experience in the role of wellbeing leader within a three-form entry primary school is that not only do I look after the wellbeing of our pupils, but also the care of our staff and the school community falls under my responsibilities.

The pressures of being a wellbeing champion!

It is my passion to promote the importance of positive mental health within education, where I have been incredibly successful in helping schools shape a healthier culture for stakeholders to flourish with outstanding outcomes; nevertheless, I often question the impact and demand my role has on my own emotional health. 

With this in mind I would like to invite you to ask yourself a question: how do you feel most days? How do you honestly feel? 

We chose to make a difference by using negative life experience in a positive way

Ask a wellbeing leader that question, and the answer can be absolutely terrifying. There's a belief that wellbeing leaders should be super happy and healthy human beings, whereas sometimes this couldn’t be further from the truth.

People who go into these kinds of roles often come from complex backgrounds with possible historical trauma. We chose to make a difference by using negative life experience in a positive way. 

Combining quality mental health training and life experience can create a wonderful cocktail for success. However, self-care is vital in keeping you safe in the role.

Being honest with myself and getting leadership on board has been the key to success

Wise up: priorise your own wellbeing first

Pay attention designated mental health and wellbeing leaders, because you are so important! 

Research suggests that leaders are pivotal to influencing improvements in wellbeing, which will result in higher workplace performance and a happier school culture for both pupils and staff. However, looking after yourself first is vital to sustain performance in the role as wellbeing leader. 

In other words: put on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you. 

My personal 10 top tips to safeguard your own wellbeing

  1. Know your limits: it is ok not to be ok.
  2. Get plenty of rest – at least 8 hours per night.
  3. Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.
  4. Regularly connect with friends and family who do not work within the education system – it can be too easy to talk work.
  5. Try to take up exercise that involves doing activities you enjoy.
  6. Ensure you have an outlet to talk about challenges within the role. Supervision and coaching can be particularly helpful.
  7. Have a least one work-free night in the week and one full weekend day where you don’t think about work. It is vital to switch off.
  8. Learn how to say no.
  9. Practice mindfulness and gratitude – research shows it reduces stress and improves wellbeing.
  10. Most importantly don’t forget who you are: you are more than your role.

Work life balance

Whole-school wellbeing in not something that is solely left to designated mental health leads to fulfil: it is the responsibility of all stakeholders in education. If you want to succeed in embedding and sustaining a whole-school approach to positive mental health, you must practice skills to reduce the symptoms of burnout.

Wellbeing is everyone’s responsibility

Knowing your stressors is key because even the wellbeing leader can get sick and have poor mental health. Remember: you can't pour from an empty cup. 

Schools leaders are starting to invest in the health and wellbeing of their employees. Explore what support your school offers in order to continue doing the amazing job you do in cultivating change. Strive to make a difference to the way to look at your own self-care. Wellbeing is everyone’s responsibility. 

Final words

Thank you to all the wellbeing superheroes out there that are reshaping the future of the many human beings who pass though the school gates each day. I wish you every success in your role.

For those of you that are starting out on your journey, remember there is always help available if you look hard enough. Being honest with myself and getting leadership on board has been the key to success in my own venture.

Look out for my next blog where I will be exploring the value of professional networking.

Further reading

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