Schoolwell caught up with James Hilton, Personal Development Speaker, Trainer & Author of Leading from the Edge: A School Leader s Guide to Recognising and Overcoming Stress.
SW Hi James, thanks for speaking to us! Leading from the Edge was published in January. What has life been like for you since then?
JH Things have been hectic albeit in a very good way! Sales of the book have remained strong and the reviews, thankfully, have been great. This has led to me being asked to write articles around stress and resilience for a number of magazines, journals and newspapers as well as speaking at TeachMeets and conferences.
However, more importantly than any of this, the book is helping to open discussions around well-being in the education profession. This is a subject that is too important to remain in the dark any longer.
SW You are very honest about your own experiences in the book. What gave you the strength to do that?
In the period I describe in the book, I felt a crushing sense of isolation. This was in no small part down to the fact that I withdrew into myself and distanced myself from others. I could not see the wood for the trees and believed that I was the only person finding things tough and therefore something of a failure. I now know this is not the case and wanted to help other people to avoid some of the mistakes I made as well as offering some of the strategies I learned in my recovery. Teaching is a tough enough job -We need to be kind to ourselves.
SW What would you say are the most effective strategies in managing staff well-being?
JH Good communication is key. In the absence of information our brains fill in the gaps, often assuming the worst possible scenario. Staff need to understand not only the decisions but the rationale underpinning them.
A sense of feeling valued and part of the team is vital. ‘Thank you’ s are so important. Written ones serve as a lasting reminder.
We all have tough times and an acceptance of that is important. People are not necessary looking to their leaders for a solution to them problem so much as a listening ear – a proper listening ear.
Most workers take their cue from their leaders who establish the culture. If you want staff to have a work-life balance you have to clearly model that as their leader/manager.
SW How do you see school staff wellbeing developing over the shorter and longer term given the current situation in schools?
JH I do believe that there is a growing recognition that mental health and wellbeing amongst our students is becoming an issue that is reaching crisis point. Less discussed is the issue of well-being amongst staff and yet this is key because I think it is very difficult to have one without the other. I know that there is a growing recognition amongst some of our professional associations that this is the case but it simply has to become a priority for all school leadership teams and governing bodies. The statistics around recruitment and retention support this view. I know that schools are increasingly driven by a standards agenda, but improvements in this area are unlikely to be sustainable unless staff-wellbeing is a priority. Lots of schools are starting to recognise this now and make it a higher priority.
JH Firstly, do it because you believe it is the right thing to do rather than to tick a box for someone.
There are a number of ‘off the peg’ well- being policies on line and these may be useful as a reference point. However, if it is important, you need to create something that is personal to your school, otherwise it will most likely end up collecting dust on a shelf somewhere.
Build in clear expectations of behaviours eg. all staff to be off site by 4.30 twice a week. Once again, these need to be modelled by senior leaders if they are to create any change in culture.