Positive Mental Health in Schools:
Transformative Leadership; delivering the vision for mentally healthy schools
Let’s begin by identifying what a ‘mentally healthy school’ would look like. In a nutshell; it would be a place where all pupils and staff enjoy the level of positive wellbeing that comes from feeling understood, supported and being given genuine opportunities to develop and flourish.
For those advocates of more traditional leadership approaches; moving from the current position (1 in 10 young people1 with diagnosable mental health issues and 76% of teaching professionals2 experiencing work related stress and mental health issues) to one where everyone has a true sense of wellbeing feels just too complex a task to plan, however enticing the vision – after all, there are performance targets to be hit! Perhaps this explains the current worrying state of the mental health landscape in schools and why it continues to worsen year on year.
Halting the Trend
So how can Transformative Leadership halt the current trend and succeed in bringing the vision of a mentally healthy school to fruition whilst still achieving the core aims and targets prescribed by current education policies? To find the answer to this; it is perhaps worth considering the cause and effect cycle currently in motion within our schools.
Children and young people with poor mental health and wellbeing are less able to achieve3 the academic targets set for them; whilst teachers rely on those same targets being achieved for their own performance reviews.
Children and Young People
Children and young people with poor mental health and wellbeing are more likely to exhibit conduct disorders4, the severe and persistent behavioural problems that lead to class disruption and hamper their classmates’ ability to learn; adding yet more stress to the working day and making achieving performance targets even less likely for teachers.
With teachers’ workloads increasing and more and more focus being put on achievement of ever more challenging performance targets workplace related stress is leading to more and more teacher absence through sickness5. This impacts negatively on classroom routine and planned learning which, in turn, negatively affects children’s educational progress and increases their anxiety about their own attainment.
Without positive and effective intervention this vicious circle will only grow, and the effects become more damaging on pupils and teachers alike.
Succeeding Where Others Have Failed
This bring us back to the question; how can Transformative Leadership (TL) succeed where other more traditional approaches have, thus far, failed? The answer lies in the transformative leader’s ability to involve every member of the school population in creating a values-led environment that is truly equitable and inclusive.
In a mentally healthy schools context, this would be an environment where all students, regardless of their background and lived experiences, are able to connect meaningfully with education and be empowered by it; where staff and pupils alike feel a collective commitment to acknowledging and supporting each-others differing needs and aspirations and where teachers can freely use their skills to ensure that every member of their class has equal opportunities to succeed.
As much as that might still sound like a dream scenario; it is possible to achieve – the key lies in understanding and fully embracing the underpinning principles of Transformative Leadership.
1 Joint Department of Health and Department for Education Green Paper
2 Education Support Partnership Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018
3 Public Health England Briefing Paper
4 The Centre for Mental Health
5 The Guardian
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