Never has there been a time when the mental health and wellbeing of staff and pupils has been so important within schools. The constant changes that schools are facing because of the response to the pandemic are leaving staff and pupils feeling overwhelmed, worried, and stressed.  You may find this is causing disruptions to levels of engagement, productivity, learning and achievement.

As a Senior Mental Health and Wellbeing Lead you are in a fantastic place to support pupils and staff to deal with these constant changes and levels of uncertainty. In doing so you will be supporting the whole school community to develop resilience despite these challenging circumstances.

For this article we have chosen the word ‘deal’ with rather than ‘cope’ to explain practical tips and ideas that School Senior Mental Health Leads can use when supporting others develop wellbeing even during times of change.

Here are our 3 ways you can help your school deal with change and support the development of mental health and wellbeing at the same time.

1) Acknowledge and accept difficult emotions, counter with positive emotions

Change can be an uncomfortable and emotional process. Everyone will be experiencing different and, in some cases, a complex range of emotions as a response to change. This includes acknowledging and accepting your own responses. It’s okay if you are also having an emotional response to change, that is normal, you are human. You have an important role in supporting others so it’s important that you look after your own emotional wellbeing as a priority.

These emotional coping responses in yourself and others will be happening as an automatic stress response or coping mechanism triggered by change and uncertainty being faced. Emotional responses could display as anger, outbursts, shouting or crying.  

Alternative emotional responses can also be avoidance strategies, to avoid feeling the uncomfortable emotion. These can be more subtle emotional coping responses. They can include shutting down, becoming more closed off and guarded or being distracted and distracting others.  

Acknowledging and encouraging others to be accepting of these emotions can be the first step towards adapting to change. Once they have acknowledged their emotion, they can start to become accepting of it. This can be helpful in developing self-awareness and emotional literacy.

Another option for dealing with difficult emotions is to balance out these uncomfortable and difficult feelings by experiencing more positive emotions. Positive emotions include hope, gratitude, joy, excitement, and inspiration. The experience of positive emotions or positive affect helps buffer against adversity, challenge, and change. Positive emotions have been proven to develop resilience and help manage stress during times of change.  

How can you be kind to yourself and accepting of your own emotions during this time of change? How can you support pupils and staff develop and build positive emotions to help deal with change?

2) Recognise strengths and assets

Resilience is more than bouncing back to the same as we were before. One alternative definition of resilience is that we ‘reconfigure’ because of the challenge, change or adversity we have faced. Although change can be challenging it is also a great opportunity for our strengths and personal assets for wellbeing to shine.  We ‘reconfigure’ to become a better, stronger, wiser person than we were before.

To develop and positively ‘reconfigure’ we can use change as a time to enable people to identify resources and assets within themselves they were not aware of. We do not know what we are capable of until we are tested.  Have you found inner strengths that you never knew you had? What have you noticed about yourself and others has truly surprised and amazed you? How can you utilise this knowledge to support others?

Evidence tells us that being provided feedback on your strengths when you are using them is an effective way for developing wellbeing. This is also one of the best ways of building strengths awareness. It is easier to spot strengths in other people than it is yourself. Giving this feedback to someone else also helps them to build positive emotions (see previous point).

How can you support staff and pupils to focus on the strengths and personal assets they are using effectively?  How can you shine a light on these and give strengths-based feedback?

Need Support Now?

We have developed our DfE Assured Wellbeing Club to support Senior Mental Health Leads discover ways they can support pupil, staff and whole school mental health and wellbeing.

3. Focus on marginal gains

It may feel like everyone around you is in panic mode because of the constant change. Maybe they are paralysed to make decisions or support you implement projects and decisions you have made due to this state of panic. This may make you feel like you are getting nowhere.

You may have allocated time for planning or developing support for pupil mental health or staff wellbeing. You may feel this is constantly being eaten into by having to adapt to changes and challenges. This can be exhausting and frustrating. Feeling like you are fire fighting rather than getting anywhere.

However, the state of panic and paralysis is not permanent, in time it will pass and things will get moving quickly again. One helpful strategy to help you maintain motivation even despite constant change, setbacks and challenges is to recognise the marginal gains you have made. 'Marginal gains' is a term developed to acknowledge that it’s the tiny tweaks, amendments and baby steps forward that contribute to success.

Take a moment to reflect on what you have done. What shifts, no matter how small, have happened? How have they made a difference and supported people? What was your role in contributing towards that? You may have thought it was nothing, that anyone would do that, but they would not. You did that. You made that difference. Acknowledge these achievements and recognise the distance you have already travelled. There is a reason why you are the Mental Health and Wellbeing Lead, take time to remember and acknowledge this.

What small steps forward (even the tiniest ones) are you making on your journey towards developing whole school mental health and wellbeing.  How have these made a difference?

Could you use this time to learn more or plan more so that when the time is right you are ready to implement your ideas? They will need to be supported to recover from the impact of all this change.

Putting it into Action

Reflecting on this article  

What have you found most helpful?

What will you put into action to help you deal with change as a Mental Health and Wellbeing Lead?

Supporting schools with pupil and staff mental health and wellbeing

We are here to help. Having worked with over 100 schools in the last two years, we have supported them by delivering a range of positive mental health and wellbeing programmes and interventions. We have created our Wellbeing Club as a way of supporting Mental Health Leads in schools and college gain access to our support, training, resources and encouragement to develop mental health and wellbeing in a way that meets pupil and student needs.

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