At LifeWise we exist principally to achieve our mission to positively prepare children for life. However, we appreciate that we cannot do this alone. It is the amazing hard work and dedication of Headteachers and their staff who take our resources and make our mission a reality.
We acknowledge it is a hard role to play, and as part of our service to you, we’ve created a series of articles that explore the challenges of leading a school successfully – written by a wonderful Headteacher, for Headteachers. Julie is an integral part of the LifeWise team, and we hope that through this series, you find some support, ideas or inspiration. Most of all, we hope you enjoy reading them.
Let’s face it, when you’ve hit the ground running and are leading staff and students back into a solid September after a shaky Spring and short Summer, the last thing you need is any of your own emotions getting in the way.
You have a tough job to do leading the recovery from the pandemic and your crew are relying on a steady captain. But it’s hard not to experience a whole range of emotions when our lives have been saturated with them. It is no wonder that many school leaders feel the best, maybe the only way, of handling them might be just to ignore them. And that has been, after all, a ‘quality’ demanded of leaders in times gone by. But the stiff upper lip of our culture and toughen-up ethos expected of school leadership teams hasn’t been at all helpful.
Thankfully, we have a different take on this now and showing emotion doesn’t have to be de-stabilising or unproductive – and if we’re going to make positive choices in this coming academic year, steering into calmer, fresher waters, we need to know how to handle extreme emotions – those of parents, of pupils and staff…even, on occasion, of ourselves! We need to know what will bring balance to our staff, and students and to do that, we need to know what will provide balance for those of us leading the challenge.
Here are five points of balance that will help you to manage emotions in this coming academic year.
Be conscious of, and acknowledge your own emotions and those of others, not just in the things you think, feel, and say but in facial expressions, body language, vocal tones, and other nonverbal signals. Because it’s that that give us connection and, in turn, connection gives purpose and meaning to educational leadership; when you’re connected to humans – either the children or adults in your care – then you have the opportunity to enhance their feelings of self-worth; you have the opportunity to promote a sense of worthiness and create belonging and community cohesion across your school network.
Understand those feelings and acknowledge their source, exploring how they influence behaviour. By recognising the source, you can begin to tackle the big issues. Think of when some teachers are resistant to teaching elements of PSHE. Maybe teaching children about anxiety makes them anxious in turn, or perhaps they are concerned about opening Pandora’s box that they’d find hard to handle. If the teachers don’t believe in the importance of regulating their own emotions, how can they be effective at instructing their students? Leaders understand that deeply expressed emotions of passion and commitment can inspire people to achieve and children to heal and grow, so lead the way in being open about feelings of anxiety too. You can be measured and regulated, whilst still being honest and authentic.
Label emotions with a nuanced vocabulary. Reflect any emotional language back, by connecting and redirecting it, and coach staff in managing children’s emotions in a way that diffuses the intensity. A response that wraps up an outburst with, ‘So you’re feeling stressed because…is that right?’ gives them the chance to agree or disagree. This doesn’t mean that you agree with them; it just affirms their feelings. Then use and encourage the PACE approach – Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy. These principles promote the experience of safety in your interactions. Children show you how they feel through their behaviour, often in ways that are most unhelpful to you, themselves, and others. The same might be true of adults too. Disturbed adults or children need to feel that they have connected with the emotional part of their brain before they can engage the thinking, articulate, problem-solving areas. Once someone feels that you have connected with their level of emotion, they can stop showing you, and you can begin to find that balance.
Express your feelings – you can do so in accordance with cultural norms and social contexts but also in ways that try to inform and invite empathy from the listener. Praise publicly but correct privately. Teachers and pupils undeniably appreciate being acknowledged for the good work that they do, so making your commendations public can boost engagement.
Regulate emotions, rather than letting them regulate you, by finding practical strategies for dealing with what you and others feel. Rest and relaxation is not a reward for your hard work but a right and it is absolutely essential that you schedule time for yourself. People with high emotional intelligence recognise and acknowledge their emotions but aren’t driven by them. You have the power to authentically showcase not only the behaviour that you expect from children and staff – such as restraint, persistence, and self-awareness – but also the self-care essential to your emotional and physical well-being.
To help support the very tough job that you do every day, LifeWise has curated a truly different PSHE platform. With over 300 classroom-ready lessons, we can help you and your team to protect your emotional wellbeing and also save you some precious time, whilst delivering exceptional PSHE lessons to your students. If you’d like to find out more, you can speak to one of the team via our live chat, or take a look at some of our customer testimonials.
About the Author
Julie continues to build on her relentless quest for innovative and impactful pedagogy and is motivated by growing knowledge of neuroscience and its impact on ways of learning. After 30 years in both the UK and schools around the globe, supporting inclusive, diverse learners and mentoring PGCE student teachers as a Headteacher, advisor and consultant, we're absolutely thrilled to have Julie onboard.
She wholeheartedly supports the LifeWise mission to positively prepare children for life. Julie has been involved in opening trauma informed schools, classroom design and creating communication friendly spaces, growing student numbers, raising attainment. She is also a published author but ask her what her greatest accomplishments include and she’ll tell you the success of students thirty years down the line!
It’s a very different world since the dramatic life-altering sweep of the last few years. But even before the global transformation brought on by the pandemic, it was very different from the world I experienced as a pupil.
Implementing interventions can help to build a child’s self-worth, as well as their academic understanding. Children may be less willing participants in the learning process in the larger classroom environment.
I have been so privileged to work with children; I have learned so much from them. I am still privileged and still learning…or perhaps, in these enlightened days,