Think Piece: Political Impartiality

I have recently realised I begin many of my articles and weekly school newsletters with, ‘As I sit here’. It is easy to understand the reason for this is as writing is an instrument that helps you to contemplate, reflect and then communicate within the written word these contemplations and reflections. I do not claim wisdom such as that of Marcus Aurelius (b AD121) or indeed the craft of the storyteller such as Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall,2009) What I do bring to the table or in this case this blog, are my personal musings and anecdotes, peppered with reports of our wonderful community. So, do indulge me by letting me begin again.

As I sit here, on the afternoon of 12th April during the school Easter break, reading an excellent book by Robin Alexander entitled ‘Education in spite of policy’, with The Archers on Radio 4 in the background, the notifications on my Twitter feed goes wild with tweets that both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been found guilty of breaking the law and will be fined the sum of £50 eachfor attending parties during strict lockdown. This is not really news as many of us knew that, even with weak attempts at deflection and ‘fudging’ the truth, many of our leaders acted with contempt when they broke lawstin which they held the public to account for. Why is this news important to someone who leads a school? How does this impact on education and educational outcomes? How is this important to the international response to the global crisis let alone the war in Ukraine? Again, indulge me as I explain.

On 17th February of this year, the Department for Education issued all schools with guidance on political impartiality and the requirement to remain apolitical in their stance and in delivering the curriculum. The Education Secretary went out of his way to advise schools that they must not criticise government or government policies especially in the classroom. In the whole, I agree that schools must be balanced in their approach to politics both national and international, as should be the case for all subjects in the curriculum, a good example being History. It is just, and right, that facts are researched and tested fairly for accuracy. It is also fair that as many perspectives, and sides are listened to as history is the narrative of many, and not just one group of people or community. I also agree that schools must not seek to indoctrinate pupils, and work towards developing pupils’ critical thinking and the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

The flaw in such guidance, and in our response to it, is that the news of today will be the history of tomorrow. How will history thus narrate the politics of Britain today? How will the leadership of a group of men and women be judged through the lens of time, and most importantly, what will be said about the choices we make today and the choices we make for our children. This is not about influencing our children, but it is about giving our children examples of leadership so that may base their own future leadership on. I believe this trumps party politics, and this not ‘woke’ or any such derogatory descriptions that at times education and educators have been labelled with. This is about the pursuit of what the UN mission’s pursuit of ‘inclusive and equitable quality education’ for all children and this can only happen when we are not distracted by leaders who damage the trust they hold in their public office.

No man is an island, and no leader is invincible. Mistakes and human errors are made to enable us to learn and grow. This is part of the evolutionary process, and this is what we teach our children at school. Learn from your mistakes, and do better next time, every time. However, the news that Boris Johnson and members of his cabinet, and party, flaunted rules, are no mistake. These acts cannot be forgiven or forgotten, and thus the fines that have been meted out as these acts have been judged to have broken the law. In PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) and Citizenship, schools (including ours) seek to teach our children social and democratic values, and the need to be part of a social justice system that is enshrined in equality and the rule of law. Schools do not make the law, but we abide by the law, and will be educating the law makers and politicians of the future. We seek to equip them with knowledge, skills but above all, the values that will guide them to improve a future, not just for themselves, but also for all.

I have no answer to the global and national political, and indeed economic crises that face us now. I watch in horror at more news about the war in Ukraine, the conflicts across the globe and the irreversible impact of climate change. I shudder to think of what the next major crisis could be; whatever it is, it will not be far off our doorstep. However, I live in hope as Desmond Tutu, in his stance for justice said, ‘Hope is being able to see there is light despite all of the darkness.’

Hope is in the hands of every child we lead into the classroom and school hall. Hope exists in the laughter and tears of a playground scene. Hope lies at the start and end of each school day when we wave our children goodbye at classroom doors and school gates. Even when our current politicians let us down, we must continue to believe that our children will carry on upholding the values we all hold dear.


We are hiring! Executive Assistant post

We are looking for a values driven individual to work with us to support our incredible HeadsUp4HTs community!

The HeadsUp4HTs community is led by James Pope and Kate Smith, two former Headteachers, with a mission to ensure ALL Headteachers are given the support to be the leaders they set out to be!

HeadsUp4HTs is part of InspirEducate, and is a network of Headteachers and school leaders supporting and lifting each other up. We champion the profession and provide several layers of support to our community, including coaching packages, Local Authority support and peer support spaces, all with an intentional wellbeing focus.

As the network grows, we are looking for a values aligned individual to support us with;

Managing our busy diaries

Community communication

Network engagement

The role is ideal for someone with executive administration or personal administration experience. Ideally, this is someone who already works in the education sector. You’ll need to be Google Drive and social media savvy and a working knowledge of MailChimp and Canva would be desirable, but not essential.

The role will be virtual, flexible and for a fixed term, whilst we navigate our community in a new direction.

Initially, we anticipate the role to be between 10-20 hours per week on an hourly rate to be negotiated.

We aim to nurture a working relationship that values and respects each other’s differences, that promotes authenticity, equality, diversity, and that supports individuals to develop bring their best selves to their role.

If you are interested in working with us, then please email support@headsup4hts.co.uk and book in a chat with Kate. In the meantime, take a look around our website to get a feel for who we are and what we do.

 


Think Piece: Peer Coaching Support

Our Peer Coaching sessions are an integral way that we support our network. 

In essence, these are safe spaces, or coaching circles, which are completely confidential and judgement free. We carve out time to come together with other like minded and values based leaders to share our authentic selves, our challenges and our triumphs.

‘We all had a chance to speak. As usual, I felt nervous about sharing a part of myself with others, but James and the other Heads had put my mind at ease with their reassuring nods, smiles and championing chatter in the chat function. Within the first session I felt part of an extraordinary community.’

The support sessions recognise that Headship and school leadership can often be isolating. We aim to bring people together, to help them to make connections and allow them to share their own experiences of leadership. In doing so, we resonate, lift each other up and grow stronger knowing that it’s safe to share and that there’s always someone who has been through a similar experience or someone who can offer advice and support.

One member share their experience of joining the support session here

‘Each week my cup is refilled as I meet with people like me. Heads who sometimes struggle, Heads who are finding it tough, Heads who are courageous in their pursuit of a better education, for their own communities and beyond. Within this group, I have a voice. I am valued and listened to. I am supported and I don’t have to wear a mask.’

There are Headteachers and school leaders from all different backgrounds, schools and all with various levels of experience. Everyone is welcome.

We frame each session by reminding ourselves why we are there, and reassuring everyone that they are in safe hands. We often focus on a a question and sometimes it’s as simple as ‘How are you? No really, how are you?’ This gets everyone thinking and gives us an opportunity to truly reflect, without the fear of judgement or of a toxic accountability system looming over. We keep the sessions in a light and celebratory space, often championing, celebrating and cheering on those in the group. That said, we also rally round when someone is experiencing a difficult time.

The sessions are really fun and informal, some Headteachers pop in from time to time and others attend every week, keeping their own wellbeing bucket full. We always say ‘come when it serves you to do so’. We are here, each week, ready to hold you in that space.

In each session, our members' voices are all welcome; you can contribute, listen, drink coffee, and share your stories. Guaranteed, you will leave feeling part of a dedicated and values-based network.


Think Piece: Boundaries

Boundaries are personal limits that we set around ourselves, the responsibility of enforcing that boundary will fall on us. Boundaries keep us aligned with our core values and our own personal choices around the way we choose to live our lives and conduct ourselves both personally and professionally.

Boundaries help to keep you safe, in control and can empower you to make healthy choices and take personal responsibility.

Consciously appreciating your own personal and professional boundaries can help to support your wellbeing, physically and mentally, from day one. Setting boundaries requires a deep understanding of your personal and professional needs and expectations; knowing what serves you well in order that you can thrive in the role.

Ask yourself:

What are your boundaries when it comes to professional relationships?

To workload?

In responding to the expectations of the professionals that you work with?

In ensuring that your personal life has value equal to (minimum!) or above that of your professional life?

Essentially, setting yourself boundaries is a way of actively respecting your own wellbeing and keeping you safe, so get familiar with them and bring them to life. Consider how you will articulate these to those you work with, and your family and friends too and how you’ll hold yourself accountable.

It’s important to remember that boundaries can change too, so it’s important to revisit them and make adjustments to ensure they serve you. You can never ‘over’ communicate your boundaries to others either, clear and consistent communication is key.


Think Piece: Winging it and Flying!

Winging it and Flying!

 

When I recently reached three years of headship and received a ‘Linked In - Congratulations on your Work Anniversary’ message, I couldn’t help but reflect on whether I’m celebrating or just plain holding it together. What on earth have the last three years been all about?

 

Despite previous leadership experience, I was totally and completely naive to the realities of headship. Throw in a pandemic and I can truly say much of the last three years have been spent winging it!

 

I’m not one to hold on to negative experiences in life and like to look for the positive and opportunities in everything, so whilst I admit to winging it a lot of the time, I have learnt so much and prefer to see that the times of ‘winging it’ have actually given me wings to fly.

 

I summarise here my three greatest challenges, the opportunities they created and the key to successfully flying!

 

Challenge 1 - People

All of them: governors, staff, parents and pupils - relationships matter to me and because they matter, they have been one of my greatest challenges. How can you possibly get it right for everyone all the time? The demands on a headteacher to show up, be caring, interested and supportive for everyone feels nearly impossible. How do you learn to fly when everyone needs you for something different? You work with a trusted professional coach. Coaching has helped me develop a self-awareness and increased emotional intelligence to work effectively with others, taking into account their needs and balancing the needs of different groups and individuals.

 

Challenge 2 - Crisis management

Yes I do mean the pandemic and all the challenges it still continues to throw at us. How do you learn to fly in a crisis? You reach out. I have various networks of amazing headteachers and leaders in my local cluster of schools, across the local authority and across the nation through HeadsUp4Headteachers. They are like gold dust and offer the greatest medicine of all, connection, understanding and laughter.

 

Challenge 3 - My own resilience

I have had to dig deep many times, to the very bottom of who I am and who I want to be, to find the grit, determination and resilience to fight my way through the stress and tears of frustration to get up, again and again to face another uncertain day with a smile of my face and put others needs before my own needs. This takes its toll. So how do you learn to fly when the world is in chaos and you want to crawl back into bed and hide? You invest in self care and prioritise your own wellbeing. It is not an indulgence; it is a necessary skill of being an effective leader. You truly cannot give to others if your own reserves are depleted. Dance, run, sing, read, cook, knit… something different for everyone, but do it and do it for you!

 

When I write that I am ‘flying’, please don’t take this to mean that I have it all sussed and am doing a great job. I am doing the best job that I can. My direction of flight is often off track from the right pathway, I get it wrong, that’s for sure! Like I say and it is worth saying again; I am doing the best job that I can. Some may call that winging it, for me, I am flying!


Physical and Mental Health: Work-life balance after the pandemic

Finding a work-life balance after the pandemic

 

Ok, so the pandemic isn’t over but during the various lockdowns and stages of it, there was time for me to reflect and reset some ways in which I work as a school leader. What do I value most in my life and how can I get the balance of work and home right?

 

I have always been a keen gardener, but the mini heatwave of April and May 2020 meant I spent even more time in the garden because I wasn’t in school until 6pm each day (and yes, I was in school during lockdown like most teachers because schools were not shut, we had key worker and vulnerable children in!). I have always found the outdoors a great distraction from other issues that might be going on around me and massively helps my wellbeing. With gardening, you focus on the job in hand be it sowing seeds or mowing the lawn. But that first lockdown meant there was hardly anything you could do as we were instructed to stay home and I was extremely grateful to have a garden. I honestly do not know what I would have done without one.The garden is my sanctuary to get away from it all. So now that there is some return to normality what now? Well I still try and get home whilst it is light in the months that allow it in order to spend even just half an hour in the garden pottering about. I do not take any physical work home with me as I learnt long ago that when I did this I just couldn’t be bothered or was too tired so what was the point? Family and health come first. Always. School should not be your entire world and I won’t let my school life define the other aspects of my life. One thing that helps is having no other friends or family members who works in education! I don’t talk shop outside of school as no one else really gets my job, just like I don’t really get theirs. This actually helps me a lot to switch off and concentrate on other things and not always be thinking about school. If I want to engage in this conversation then I go to Twitter but this comes with a warning. I often have my wife telling me to get off of it as I can get into a scrolling frenzy and spend ages on their just reading educational threads, some of which are interesting and useful, but some are not conducive to good wellbeing. It is easy to be gas lighted or incensed with a chain of tweets. It is important to keep reminding myself that Twitter is not real life and loads of teachers are not on Twitter. It can be too polarised at timeswith quite a bit of SLT bashing. So a Twitter break is often the way forward. The block and mute functions are also essential!

 

Alongside all of this, I moved schools in September 2020 having secured a Head of School role in February 2020, right before the pandemic struck with an almighty bang! This was tough in itself to change schools at such an uncertain time. Itdid have some benefits. I was able to take more time to get to know school policies and staff whilst al lot of the hustle and bustle of school life and strategic thinking was put on hold as we stuck to our bubbles. But it was hard. You can’t do a lot of things you would want to do in the early stages of a new leadership job. Things like face-to-face assemblies to make your mark and having parents in school or events to build those relationships. These all led to times of imposter syndrome or frustration but I am fairly patient which helped. I also moved to a school closer (much closer!) to home. This of course means it is now even easier to get home in time for a spot of gardening! Moving forwards, I want to make more of some weekday evenings, perhaps going out for a meal or the cinema to help break up the week. I truly believe the school I help lead and all other schools need leaders who are refreshed and on an even-keel with their wellbeing. Otherwise the whole school will suffer due to poor decision making or inconsistent moods that help know one. 

Leading through a pandemic has been exhausting. Emotionally more than anything else. It is the weight of being responsible for the whole school community who look to you for answers and direction in what was and still is (at the time of writing) an uncertain time. For many of us in education, this has taken its toll. So now I just hope the wider powers that be can shift towards making staff wellbeing, and especially that of school leaders, even more of a priority. This is still severely lacking with leaders often having to fend for themselves with no one looking out for them on a regular basis alongside what I view as a toxic level of accountability coupled with cuts to other sectors that now make schools a one-stop-shop for community support. Until things change, I shall keep on gardening and keep on leading but family and health come first. Always.

 

Alex Baptie

Head of School

East Sussex


Physical and Mental Wellbeing: I even tried hypnosis to cope with stress

When asked about my job, I sometimes describe being a headteacher as similar to being in an emotionally abusive relationship. I read a definition once, which described it as ‘a consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviour that wear down a person’s self-esteem and undermine their mental health.’ And without diminishing the terrible experiences of people who have been in emotionally abusive relationships, I can’t help but find a correlation between the cycle of emotional abuse and the cycle of experiences I have working in education.

Some days I feel like I can handle it, and on others I feel completely crushed. No one in teaching needs me to tell them that being a headteacher isn’t easy. The past two years have added another dimension of difficulty to an already tricky job. The chances I used to have to refill my resilience-cup have dwindled and so, all it takes at the moment to make me spill over in despair is one more complaint from *that* parent, one snide comment from someone about how little teachers work, or one more child or family remaining un-helped by Social Services, CAMHS or one of the other over-burdened support systems out there.  

There are delightful bits, of course there are, my passion for pedagogy and bearing witness to a child’s development are the bright spots in my working day. I enjoy assemblies, hearing children sing, chatting to the children in class and on the playground, reading stories and just having the chance to love the little people for who they are. Sadly, this is being buried in the putrid swamp of outside pressure and lack of funding. New curriculum, over-testing, new inspection frameworks, less funding, less support, less resourcing. At times it feels overwhelming.

I never would have described myself as a political animal, but the current situation has certainly forced me to be more aware and to speak up against the injustices being done to school staff, school budgets and the families and communities we serve. But, it is hard to stand against the continued media barrage against teachers, the head of Ofsted criticising us for helping children and families eat when no one else would, and the endless and ridiculous amount of information that is shovelled at us by the DfE.

My job as headteacher is to be a protective umbrella over my school, taking care of the bigger picture so my teachers can teach, my teaching assistants can assist, my children can learn and my families can flourish. In my 12 years as a head, I have faced tough times, deficit budgets, bonkers parents and challenging children. I have had death threats levelled at me and I have had a mentally ill parent actively try to strangle me (I was saved by a wonderful teaching assistant who held a door shut with her bodyweight so I could escape and call the police). I have had parents formally complain to the Local Authority about me for ridiculous reasons. I have had so many Ofsted inspections (including one from an inspector who brought a pink silk corset with honest-to-god nipple tassels on it into my school in her briefcase!) from which I have learned nothing about my duty to school, although I did learn a great deal about my capacity to cope with stress and keep a straight face!

I coped with all these things. I cried sometimes, I comfort ate my way through barrel-loads of junk food sometimes, I ran miles and miles, I composed and deleted my resignation letter, I even tried hypnosis to cope with the stresses. The thing is, these tough times would pass and I would have a chance to recognise the joy in my job, find my equilibrium and come back stronger and more positive.

Lately, however, it feels like there is no let up between the punches- I’m not able to fight back, I have no recovery time between blows… I feel like I’m being bludgeoned into a paste. I have put on weight, I hardly sleep, when I do sleep I grind my teeth so badly that I shattered a molar, I don’t exercise, I cry in my car on the way home but I can’t seem to explain exactly what it is that has tipped me over the edge. I feel like I shouldn’t feel like this. I have a job, a home, a family. I have so much to be grateful for, and so much that brings me joy. My staff are wonderful. They are amazingly supportive, genuinely good people. They try so hard and do their work magnificently. My governors are great and do so much to help me. They ask me how I am and how they can help me. They are the spokes in my umbrella, keeping me up and open over my school but my fabric is being torn to shreds.

I would love to do something else- at times I wish I could do anything else- but I am so worn down and burned out that I believe it when I think there is nothing else I know how to do. I’m trapped in this relationship, waiting for the good times that seem to be fewer and further apart.


Physical and Mental Wellbeing: I haven’t got time for lunch

I haven't eaten today. I've got no time for lunch.

 

We are nearing the end of a challenging and taxing half term and we all know the score by now. The dark mornings and afternoons and the feeling that time, instead of being on our side, is actually our enemy. There's just never enough of it. For senior leaders, this pinch point is all too clear, the mental exhaustion comes from balancing everything from the strategic to the seemingly trivial, managing budgets of millions of pounds one minute and then managing the Year 8 lunch queue the next. The toll on our brains and bodies becomes evident at this stage in the year, but it’s this time where our colleagues really look to us to see something completely different. 

 

The only answer for senior leaders seems to be to work harder, for longer. We sacrifice precious moments and time with friends and family, sacrifice break and lunchtimes in a desperate attempt to catch up and to squeeze everything in. Unused gym memberships, broken social engagements with friends and fatigue beyond words becomes the norm. You forget your body’s need to fuel and refuel during the day, because even eating or drinking a glass of water gets added to the bottom of your growing to-do list. 

 

This would be the case if this was an ordinary year, but it isn’t- for so many reasons this year is extraordinary. But even so, there are bigger issues that need to be addressed here in order to ensure that senior workload is manageable and that we are able to serve the teachers and colleagues in our schools to the best of our ability. 

 

Being in leadership is a public affair, you’re on show, performing, walking the walk during every waking working moment. In our cars being the last on the staff carpark, in working through lunchtimes and breaktimes we are sending a message, loud and clear to future generations of senior leaders that in order to retain your position and be proficient in your role, work has to be prioritised ahead of your own health and wellbeing. 

 

We need to shift that narrative, to stop promoting martyrdom as a glamorous pursuit. To stop telling colleagues what time we shut the laptop the night before. 

 

This is easier said than done, particularly if it’s all that our colleagues have ever seen or all that's been promoted by their leaders. As an NQT, I remember feeling the weight of expectation when I and 12 other colleagues were asked to prepare a presentation, summarising our learning for the year. We spent weeks preparing, trying to source the time around planning our lessons and learning how to be teachers. In the end, we decided it would be best to just stay in school until it was done. We camped out in a computer room until around 9:30pm, ordered pizza and planned for our lives. After we had done our presentation to the whole staff the day after, we were praised for our dedication and the additional hours we had spent putting the work together- we were congratulated on the sacrifices we had made. 

 

I don't remember exactly what was in that presentation but I do remember that that experience created an unhealthy work ethic that I still battle against, 12 years later. 

 

I'm more and more aware now of the language I use around my impressionable colleagues, and I'm trying more consciously to ensure they don't perceive me as somebody who can fit a week's worth of work into a day. 

 

The key here is in developing those around us more successfully and modelling the sort of leadership behaviours we would want to see in them. A greater focus on distributing leadership capacity into middle leader posts is crucial in building sustainable change and in ensuring the healthy working habits of future leaders. Developing opportunities to have honest and candid conversations about the challenges of managing your time at senior level is so important. 

 

In 12 years time, I hope that the next Assistant Head says they learnt from somebody who made time for their lunch, drank plenty of water and picked up their child rather than their laptop in the evenings. That's when we will know we've been successful. 


Physical Health and Wellbeing: Women’s Health

Why do senior leaders need to make improvements for women’s health in the workplace?

Not least because pregnancy and menopause are a normal part of women’s lives. As such it can be an equality and safety issue, women could very well need flexibility, reasonable adjustments to work patterns and the workplace environment and support but overall better knowledge and understanding by their line managers and colleagues.

Women’s health can incorporate pregnancy, early motherhood, menopause, fertility treatment, miscarriage, still birth and gynaecological issues. All of these have the possibility of causing physical, emotional and mental health issues for women. Conditions in the workplace can have a detrimental effect and make symptoms worse.

Menopause it is still a taboo topic, one that is rarely spoken about, particularly in the workplace, unless through jokes and banter. The lack of awareness by employers of the impact symptoms may have to our capacity to complete activities at work and which affect our well-being. We need to start speaking up; challenge negative menopausal stereotypes and encourage our friends and colleagues to do the same.

There is a significant lack of understanding and knowledge we all hold around the menopause and its symptoms. The period of time leading up to the menopause is actually called the peri-menopause, being the period of transition leading up to the menopause where women experience a huge variety of symptoms, but few people are aware of the term. Most of us will have heard about hot flushes, heavier periods, frequency changes to periods and starting to get hair where we don’t want it, but how many more symptoms do you know about even if you are currently in the transitional stage of peri-menopause? They can include: difficulty sleeping; low mood or anxiety; skin irritability; palpitations; panic attacks; joint stiffness and problems with memory and concentration.

Did you know this period of hormonal change can last for 4 to 8 years and for some up to 12 years?

All women will all experience some symptoms and for some they can be severe and have a significant impact on the quality of our personal and working life. It is said 1 in 4 women will experience severe symptoms! These symptoms affect working life and we try to manage tiredness, memory changes and poor concentration plus the stress and embarrassment, which may be detrimental to confidence levels.

New and expectant mothers are covered by specific requirements under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The term ‘new or expectant mothers’ includes pregnant women, mothers who are breastfeeding, mothers who have given birth in the last six months and women who have miscarried after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

However, it is harder to pin down the legislation for women undergoing fertility treatment, miscarriage before 24 weeks, menstrual difficulties and the menopause. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all workers. Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, employers are required to undertake general risk assessments which should include specific risks to pregnant and menopausal women.

The Equality Act prohibits discrimination against people on the grounds of certain ‘protected characteristics’ including sex, age and disability. Conditions linked to the menopause may meet the definition of an ‘impairment’ under the Equality Act and require reasonable adjustments.

Every workplace needs to be committed to ensuring that women feel confident in discussing pregnancy, menopause and female health symptoms openly, without embarrassment and are able to ask for support and adjustments in order to continue to work safely in the organisation. For this reason, pregnancy, menopause and female health at work is an issue for men as well as women.

Workplaces need a positive attitude towards the menopause, pregnancy and female health treating all individuals with dignity and respect during this time and ensure that the workplace does not make symptoms worse.

Workplaces need to aim towards:

creating an environment where women staff members feel confident enough to raise issues about their symptoms and ask for support and adjustments at work.
ensuring that conditions in the workplace do not make menopausal, pregnancy, fertility treatment or female health symptoms worse and that appropriate adjustments and support are put in place, recognising that pregnancy, fertility treatment and the menopause and perimenopause is an individual experience and therefore there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
reducing sickness absence due to menopausal, pregnancy, fertility treatment or female health symptoms and retain valued staff in the workplace.
Educate and inform managers and colleagues to be ware how pregnancy, fertility treatment, menopause and female health can affect working women and about the potential symptoms of female health and how they can support women experiencing them.

Everyone who works has a role to play in ensuring a comfortable working environment for all staff, including women experiencing the menopause or female health difficulties.

These could include simple measures such as:

leaving doors open
ensuring that windows can be safely opened
ensuring that it is possible to regulate the temperature in a classroom or other room by turning down radiators (as long as the temperature does not drop below 18 degrees Celsius, this will be comfortable for all occupants)
provision of fans
fitting blinds to windows
provision of safe spaces and fridges for breastfeeding mums or fertility drugs
establishing a system that allows cover for women who need to access toilet/ washing facilities while they are teaching (to deal with heavy and recurring bleeding during the peri-menopause or administration of medication for fertility treatment)
considering requests for changes to working arrangements, e.g. temporary part-time working
swift permission for absence to attend fertility treatment or menopause-related medical appointments

Not being proactive in this area may lead to the staff member suffering from physical and mental health issues and being on sick leave, which could be long term and potentially resigning or taking early retirement when reasonable adjustments could have retained valuable, experienced staff.

We can also pledge to share important points about the topic to ensure everyone is better informed and the subject does not remain taboo.

Bretta Towned - Jowitt


#HeadsUpBookClub: Permission to Feel

Permission to Feel: unlocking the power of emotions to help our kids, ourselves, and our society Thrive. Marc Brackett, Ph. D Celadon

In our inaugural Book Club session, we were privileged to discuss this book with the author who kindly joined us from Yale University. Marc asked us, 'How many of you would share that you are reading a book with this title?'

Our discussion around the contextual connotation was just one of many fascination aspects of the evening. What sat quietly in the corners of our minds were a range of questions around vulnerability, trauma and our own judgement systems related to emotions, our social upbringing and inhibitions that tell us when it's appropriate to share our emotions.

As leaders and educators, the more pressing matters of how to use this were bubbling in our minds, and how our current climates would benefit from this learning.

Marc’s book explores the social expectations and conventions around the simple question, 'How do you feel?'

 

How often is our response to this a mask?

How often do we ask it without considering what we really want to know?

Do we really hear the answer?

 

One simple question introduces us to the roots of Marc's book and life work, rooted in the theories of emotional intelligence and backed up by extensive research.

Last week's inaugural Heads Up Book 'club began with this book because this question is integral to all we prioritise as an organisation. Recognising our own emotions is also the first in Marc's RULER approach, which is at-the foundation of the work he undertakes at CASEL (Collaboration for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning), Yale. He explains how the integration of Social and Emotional learning is essential , and shared the basis of his research to press home the interdependence of emotional and academic intelligence.

Central to this is the RULER curriculum he developed with his Uncle Marvin, a long timesuccessful educator. Their framework underpins  a systemic approach that is widely used around the world by schools and organisations:

Recognise  the occurrence of an emotion-noticing changes

Understanding the causes of emotions and  how they influence thoughts

Labelling emotions: connecting experience and precise description, increasing self-awareness and communication.

Expressing: know how and when to express

Regulating: monitor, temper and modify emotional reactions. Accept and deal, not ignore.

raises questions around who we trust, who our children trust enough, and are there people we can speak to...

'Who gives us Permission to feel?'

What's pressingly evident is Marc's key message that we all need to develop an awareness of the science of emotions, rather than bringing our judgements to bear on them. This takes us into exploring the aspects of behaviours, and the complexities of responses to behaviour.Marc used his own experiences to highlight key concepts surrounding culture, environment and the impact of emotions on our ability to interact.

We kept coming back to this idea, and how now more than ever, we recognise this to be true.

To some observers, emotional intelligence or emotion skills signify something fuzzy and touchy-feely, like a retreat from reality, This is especially so in the business world. In fact, just the opposite is true. These are mental skills, like any others- they enable us to think smarter, more creatively, and get better results from ourselves and the people around us. (Permission to Feel, p.54)

I was fascinated by the research around educator judgements and mood. Not an easy listen, but crucial to understand that the way feel affects our judgements.

So what do we do?

Developing the emotion skills necessary to survive and thrive is rooted in so much of our work as educators and Marc’s framework offers a clear curriculum approach .

He offers this advice to schools:

The best SEL approaches are systemic, not piecemeal
The best SEL efforts are proactive, not reactive
The most effective approaches integrate SEL into the curriculum and provide skill building across ALL  grade levels to reach ALL children.
The best SEL approaches pay attention to outcomes: Is what you are doing working?

What strikes me if we are considering approaches to wellbeing in isolation for children, staffor families, surely a more cohesive and coherent whole school and community approach would be more effective?

As Marc states,

When we unlock the wisdom of emotions, we can raise healthy kids who will both achieve their dreams and make the world a better place.’ ( Permission to Feel, p.218)

Such a mesmerising and thought provoking session and sincere thanks go to Marc for giving us his time and such a great read.

We rounded off the session with a couple of images from Oliver Jeffers’ book, A Child of Books, Walker Books. This offered a chance to consider ways in, ways we could share and stimulate some discussion around emotions with our staff and children and make some pledges to give ourselves, and our community Permission to Feel.