School Leadership: Growing, Learning and Flourishing

Viv Grant is doing a school leaders’ blog series on how we can flourish. Below are my reflections to the questions that she posed about wellbeing, thriving and flourishing as educators, school leaders and schools.


I was appointed as a Headteacher Designate in June and started in January but am not yet in the full role as I have no staff, students or parents but I do now have a site and an office. It has been an interesting transition into my 1st Headship.

I joined GLF as the visions and the values of the trust were strong: ‘to grow, to learn, to flourish’. As a values-led leader, designing a values-based education this resonated with me. Our mission at Aureus is to educate the whole child and to ‘nurture hearts and minds’.

I relocated for the role, I now live in Oxfordshire after 12 years in London. This was part of my wellbeing commitment to myself, I wanted a change in pace, a new lifestyle and a new environment. The atmosphere in my school is calm because of the large windows framing stunning views. Seeing blue skies and green fields is very calming and I took this for granted when I grew up in Devon.

I am committed to ensuring that my staff and students grow, learn and flourish, but I also need to ensure that I have this pledge for myself as a school leader: I need to practice what I preach!


Have you ever struggled with the reality of school leadership? If so, when and how did it affect you?

I have a strong ethical and moral code. I lead and behave based on my values. I have seen several leaders lose themselves in their role and behave in ways I do not respect.
I always strive to maintain my professional integrity and have had to fight my corner when I have been asked to do things I do not think are ethical. I have whistleblown when I feel my values are being compromised. The increasing pressures from the system need leaders to be strong, resilient and tenacious to stay true to who they are, what they believe and what they stand for.

In what ways does the role sometimes fail to support the flourishing and wellbeing of its leaders?

Teaching and leading in education can become all-consuming. I believe that a lot of the profession are struggling to survive and keep their head above the water line. Hence why we have a recruitment and retention crisis for school staffing.

We have a lot of systems in our schools which are not time nor energy efficient which need reviewing. We also have traditional practices and paperwork for paperwork’s sake which could be changed.

Our profession has a renewed focus on wellbeing, but quite often it is focused on student wellbeing at the expense of student wellbeing. We need to focus on positive mental health and wellbeing for everyone in our school community. I have appointed a brilliant Deputy Headteacher, Julie Hunter, who has done the .B mindfulness course and the MHFA accreditation. She will be leading our wellbeing strategy.

What changes have you made to your own ways of being and leading that have served you better in Headship?

I am only a term in and do not yet have a team as I am the founding Headteacher of a brand new school site and community. This has it pros and cons.

The pros are that I have had a term lead in to think about and plan how to do things differently. I have recruited a dynamic team are all aligned with my vision and values for the school. The cons are that I am the only team member and the job feels like it is 24/7. I have especially felt the impact of this with communications as I have no one to streamline the flow and interface with all of the stakeholders who want to talk to me/ meet me.

With no team to delegate to, I am accountable for everything and everything is medium to high priority. I am employed a virtual PA to support me as I could not keep all of the balls in the air at one time! From September I will have a personal plan as well as a professional plan for 2017-18 goals. I will get into more a routine once the school is opening and ring fence more time for me. With our holistic offer including yoga, mindfulness and martial arts I will build this into my working week.


What advice would you give to those struggling with the role?

I have a very strong support network who have kept me sane – I have a professional mentor and a personal coach who I can contact to seek support and advice from. I live the #10%braver mantra of #womened – I found my voice a while back and use it. If I am overwhelmed, stressed, unhappy I articulate it.

I have recently been involved in a group coaching programme curated by Annemarie Williams and we had a session with Harriet Minter who challenged me to challenge myself about how I ensure that self-care and self-compassion are part of my professional identity. I am realistic about the fact I am a one woman band and cannot do it all, so I do what I can, when I can and do not beat myself up when I miss deadlines or make mistakes – we are humans and things go wrong, when they do I apologise and make amends.

For me, it is all about fit. I have found myself in the wrong role, at the wrong school, in the wrong culture and I had to walk away. We are responsible for the culture of our schools and the behaviours of our teams, but we are also responsible for our own wellbeing. If we are not healthy, happy and well, then how can we look after the wellbeing of others?


On a wider level, what needs to happen?

• To make school leadership more sustainable we need to invest in wellbeing and resilience build in activity such as coaching and mentoring.
• To support the well-being of school leaders we need to review the workload challenge and create a space and a range of opportunities in schools for staff to breath.
• To help school leaders to flourish we need to invest in the development of their leadership capacity.
• To create a happy & healthy school we need to focus on the whole person and offer holistic activities to develop the mind, the body and the soul.
• To recapture the soul and put the humanity back into education we need to remember and focus on the ‘names, not the numbers’ for our children and the ‘souls, not the roles’ for our staff.

We also need to spend more time on our values as individuals and as communities, ensuring that our values are ‘lived, not laminated’.


Final Thoughts:

I am presenting at the Mental Health and Wellbeing TeachMeet at Magna Carta School this week, sponsored by the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust. My workshop is on MH & WB Policy and Vision: With a blank piece of paper where would you start in nurturing a school culture where everyone can #growlearnflourish?

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The Holistic offer we have at Aureus to develop the Whole Child, I now want to focus on ensuring we have an offer for the Whole Educator too!

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I am looking into how we can establish, develop and nurture our Mental Health and Wellbeing programme at Aureus School.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • My #wellbeing contacts who I will see at the MHWB teachmeet this week – Clare Erasmus, Kathryn Lovewell, Sue Webb and Viv Grant inspire me.


Leading Wellbeing and Mental Health: On Visiting MCS

Wellbeing and Mental Health have been a high priority in education for a while. Both have generated a lot of headlines about the state of the UK education system. There are wellbeing and mental health concerns for the children, as emphasised by the NSPCC’s published report today:

  • 50,000 children rang childline last year
  • on average they received a crisis call every 11 minutes
  • this is an 8% increase on last year

Statistics like this really worry me and make me question the status quo:

  • What is going wrong in our schools?
  • How are we addressing these issues with our young people?
  • Why is our school system exasperating wellbeing and mental health issues?

A lot of schools now have reactive interventions to support those who are vulnerable. But, more importantly, how can we be preventative in out strategies?

The beauty of social media is that through #wellbeing #mentalhealth #teacher5aday tweets and blogs I have connected with a community of educators who  not only care, but are being proactive in crowd-sourcing/ cascading strategies and initiatives they are embedding in their schools. This is how I stumbled across Clare Erasmus. In May 2016, I saw a tweet about a #MHteachmeet at Magna Carta School, Staines. I shared it with a few friends and a group of us went down. I was intrigued as I had not seen a #teachmeet with a pastoral focus before.


The event was brilliant. It blew me away in fact. Nina Jackson was the key note and there followed a series of presentations on mindfulness, yoga, peer mentoring, family outreach, a mental health app designed by the students which showcased the #wellbeing ethos of the MCS. Clare had recently been promoted to Director of Mental Health and Wellbeing; she and her team had created a Wellbeing Zone with a provision of physical and virtual resources to support the community.

Clare and I have stayed in touch since the spring, and I have followed her as she has tweeted and blogged about their journey. She has presented on her research-led strategies  at numerous events including the Mental Health Conference that we hosted at Harris Crystal Palace, funded by the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust and curated by Dr Pooky Knightsmith. Today I visited her, with some Wellbeing colleagues and our HR team from GLF schools to see the  provision in situ.

mcs wellbeing 1.jpg

What I took away from my visit:

  • Collate the data – the student and staff voice focus is strong and underpins decision making but also gives leverage to get buy in
  • Create the space – MCS is well-provisioned with a suite  of rooms and offices
  • Invest in the training – the staff team have been trained to do yoga instruction, mindfulness, counselling – great CPD for them and brings value to the community
  • Identify role models – the young people have been trained to be Anti-Bullying Ambassadors, Wellbeing Ambassadors and Peer Mentors
  • Use the technology – an app designed by the students and a provision mapping tool have saved time and energy, whilst also breaking down barriers/ stigmas
  • Embed in culture – the different themed days, national awareness weeks, PSHE lessons and competitions include art and film artefacts displayed around the school

MCS 4.jpg

So keep Thursday 25th free as Clare and the team are planning the 2nd #MHTeachmeet t build on the success of last year.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Creating a values based education at Aureus School, with #wellbeing at its core

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • The Magna Carta School #wellbeing research which has informed their strategic direction and decision making re preemptive initiatives

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Clare Erasmus – a visionary when it comes to the strategic leadership of Mental Health and Wellbeing
  • Nicola Lainsbury – what a team these 2 make – great operational insight in to the day to day management of the space, the policies and the student ambassadors
  • Sue Webb – looking forward to working with Sue on embedding a VBE at Aureus School with #Wellbeing at the heart of our values
  • GLF Schools HR team – looking forward to collaborating on a MAT/ TSA wide strategy on how to ensure all of our stakeholders are well