Until recently, ‘That Boy Can Teach’ was a whisper on the wind of education. Writing under a pseudonym, he quickly became a trusted, popular name in helping teachers and school leaders to reach their full potential (while being humble enough to balk at such a description). Now, however, Iron Man’s helmet has been removed, and Tony Stark - or rather, school leader Aidan Severs - has been revealed to the world.
When we asked the Department of Health which schools were leading the way in mental health, they pointed straight to Tapton School in Sheffield. Assistant head Steve Rippin has been a local pioneer for mental health: from staff training and awareness sessions to school assemblies to engaging parents, mental health is well and truly on the curriculum at Tapton.
Being a school leader can be stressful - this is probably stating the obvious, especially given the time of year. In the Innovate My School Guide 2017/18, four authors from different backgrounds discuss various aspects of school leadership. Here are their thoughts on wellbeing.
There are several words that I don’t feel get the usage in day-to-day conversation they deserve – ‘determination’, ‘empathy’, ‘bravery’, for instance. However, the word that perhaps evokes the most powerful ‘do I have that?’ feeling is ‘resilience’.
Until our resilience is tested, we never really give it a lot of thought, we just merrily continue through life without actually knowing whether or not we indeed possess it. So what happens if our mettle is tested if we don’t have resilience?
Let’s rewind several years, to when my resilience was truly tested to the max, and I failed - miserably! Ill health - a cancer diagnosis, totally out-of-the-blue - led me to enter an abyss of physical and mental pain, a downward spiral that led me into a chasm of hopelessness and despair. And I don’t say that lightly - I was very psychologically fragile for quite some of time.
Consequently I ascertained that I indeed didn’t have ownership of any resilience, I had nothing to fight with, nothing to correlate this gargantuan event too, and I continued to plummet.
It was suggested by a medical professional that I needed some psychological support: I needed therapy. So following a referral to the psycho-oncologists at our local cancer centre, and a telling short fortnight wait, I began the start of my recovery, and finding my resilience. It did not happen overnight. There were many frustrating therapy sessions (both for me and my wonderful therapist), but perseverance - on both our parts - ensured that a way forward was discovered, I was able to keep going, and I began to dare to dream that I could step out of the quagmire that I had been wading through for what seemed like forever.“I was excited at the prospect of creating a new life.”
Now armed with resilience, I persisted with therapy, not only enabling me to feel free from the boggy river I found myself in, but to step out onto the sunny river bank at the other side. I had the fight back; close family and friends had resigned themselves to the fact that they would never see the ‘old me’, and so had I. But suddenly, as the clouds parted and I could see the sun and the stars again, not only did I see and feel aspects of ‘my previous life’, but I was excited at the prospect of creating a new one – my ‘new normal’ as I called it. What this consisted of is a positive mindset, an appreciation of each and every moment I was in, acceptance of what had happened and not reflecting on my own past with sombreness or the future with trepidation, but with hope and excitement, and of course resilience.
Possessing resilience in this form is undoubtedly life-changing; the ability to bounce back when something difficult is thrown our way, is an invaluable asset for any person, both old and young. Therefore, teaching our children about it now, during their formative years, can make an enormous difference to how they tackle the obstacles that life will undoubtedly thrown their way, as they advance their way to adulthood. I often wonder if my spirit and fortitude had been tested as a youngster, that I would have coped better.
Reasons for children to develop resilience throughout each school year are shown in the difficulties they may encounter, not only in their childhood, through adolescence and on into being an adult:
Developing a child’s resilience from Day One enables them to be braver, more adaptable, live with curiosity and will ensure that they can advance through life in an independent, motivated and optimistic fashion. They will have the tools to strengthen relationships that will make certain that they forever feel they have somewhere to turn – which is imperative for building resilience.
If we imagine resilience is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it will become. We as adults need to guide pupils to not let the little issues define their day, week or even their lives.
Throughout the school year, we must encourage them to find solutions to problems, and not to let the problems ‘take hold’, which in turn can lead to weakening their ‘muscle'. If a child does not recognise this, it can lead to a child’s mood beginning to decline, and consequently to them feeling negative which can negate the resilience they may have begun to build up. By utilising positive self-talk - ‘I can do that’, ‘I will make this situation better’ “We must encourage pupils to find solutions to problems.”
and so on - can prevent a child seeing a situation as an insurmountable problem, and will begin to flex their resilient ‘muscle’.
Once a child has established that using resilience every day is a crucial part of living with a positive mindset, they must then endeavour to continue to sustain it. There are many methods that teachers should encourage and develop, in themselves and in pupils:
With these in mind, if we stop using the resilience muscle, in time it will become weaker and will surrender to heavy weight. Therefore, children need to tackle problems throughout the school year; not avoid, not shy away, not let issues grind them down, but to face them head on, find their own solutions in order to develop this important aspect of their personality make-up.
Now, having built my resilience over the past years, I now have the ability not only to help myself, but to help others around me too. I recognise that sometimes, on my stronger days, that I almost feel like I have a surplus of resilience and determination – an ‘I can fight the world today’ kind of feeling. It’s at that point where I can pass my strength on to others. It’s not always easy, because on some days I certainly enter a deficit of resilience – then I can feel weak and defenceless, but I can tap into my ‘reserves’ and fight right back.
So of course when my resilience does get tested, I take all those strategies that I have developed over time, and use them to bounce back - although I like to call it ‘bouncing forward’! That is the great importance of possessing resilience – it can stay with you forever, but you must use it whenever you can, build upon it, be aware that you are using it, find your own solutions, communicate well, develop self-compassion and go and enjoy life like never before. I do, and when I sit and reflect, I can’t believe how far I have come, and for that I am incredibly grateful and still – to this day, I am full of fight, determination and of course – resilience.
How will you develop resilience in yourself and pupils throughout the year?
I tweet and blog a lot about my network and how being an outward-facing leader who is connected to a wider educational community fuels me. It the last few years through Twitter, StaffRm, #womened and now #bameed, through #teachmeets, #leadmeets and #researched I have met a plethora of fantastic educational contacts who have inspired me, empowered me and connected me. Through these connections I have ended up meeting brilliant educators and collaborating on some fantastic projects. These collaborations have reignited my passion for my profession.
We all feel anxious sometimes. Maybe it is going into a new situation such as starting a new job, or having to have a difficult conversation. The feeling of nervousness and anxiousness is completely normal, and an evolutionary necessity. However, for some people, like me, that feeling of anxiousness never goes away. You live with it day in, day out, and it can have quite a detrimental effect on your life and mental health.
The BBC School Report recently found that 70% of surveyed 11-to-16-year-olds had experienced negative feelings in the past year, ranging from “feeling upset and unhappy to feeling anxious, frightened or unsafe”. The report also found that 73% of teachers would often or occasionally worry about a particular pupil’s wellbeing in their free time. However, a third of these teachers had not been trained in how to deal with pupils’ mental health issues.