There are times when being a headteacher can be an exceptionally lonely experience – and I am apparently not the only one who thinks so.
When I asked online if anyone else also felt the same and would like to join a WhatsApp group, I had a fair amount of interest, and the group currently has 43 members.
But why is headteacher wellbeing an issue?
As a headteacher, there is much pressure to get it "right". You are charged with the welfare of the students in your care, your staff and sometimes parents. At any given point, someone may place a problem that has been vexing them into your lap and feel lighter and brighter for doing so.
Added to this is the fact that you have to contend with the constantly changing tides of policy and an ever decreasing budget. Who enjoyed the clear lead time offered by the Department for Education over GDPR? Those centrally produced, customisable policy templates that reduced workload and stress? No? Me neither.
Say no to isolation
So what is needed? Well, first and foremost, heads need to feel less isolated. They need to feel that there is someone who is wrangling with the same issues they are; who is on the other end of a phone (or a WhatsApp group) and may have the very thing you need to help them, or is happy listen as you vent their latest frustration.
In addition, there needs to be an acknowledgement that heads are under real pressure, research into what these pressures are and then serious commitment to doing something about them, followed by action.
I used GDPR as an example: it caused a lot of worry and it needn't have done so. Schools found themselves with greater need to seek advice, at cost, at a time when there was already less money to go around. I could have chosen many similar examples.
If there could be recognition of the need for headteacher wellbeing and a commitment to connect and support colleagues before there is a problem rather than after, that would certainly be a step in the right direction. Often support is only offered to pick up the pieces after things have already fallen apart. But, as someone said to me recently, this is rather like fitting a gas mask to a deceased miner’s canary.
Chris McDonald is a headteacher in Liverpool. A version of this article first appeared on Chris’ blog. If you would like to join the headteacher wellbeing WhatsApp group, please contact him via twitter @chrismcd53