You’re a new-in-post Senior Mental Health Lead (SMHL) in a school or college in England. You have had the green light from your school to take the lead on developing whole school wellbeing. You have received the DfE funding and started or even completed your DfE assured training.

You are full of fantastic ideas and plans that will make a real difference to your school or college mental health and wellbeing – you can’t wait to get going!  Then, you go back to school with your plans in place and hit what feels like a brick wall of resistance. Why is nothing is changing? Why don’t people want to listen to your ideas or action your plans?

You may be facing several challenges as a SMHL that you didn’t expect. You may feel that your colleagues in SLT are not on board with your ideas, they aren’t adding mental health and wellbeing to strategic school plans, or you may feel like they just don’t give a s**t!

Before you give up, let’s uncover what is really going on here and why you may be experiencing this normal and expected resistance to change.

Leading school mental health is a change programme

It may not be fully appreciated by other members of your school or college staff team that leading mental health and wellbeing requires change to the way you normally do things. You as the SMHL may be holding up a mirror to reflect some of the practices in your school that are impacting on mental health and wellbeing. Not everyone will like what they see in that mirror, so they ignore it or put it in the too-hard-to-do-something-about box.

It might not be the right time to implement some of the changes you are excited about. Maybe everyone is just too tired from all the changes you have been through lately and this is just one change too many. Maybe they hope that, if they ignore you, you will eventually go away and stop going on about mental health and wellbeing. Well, we know that is not going to happen – mental health and wellbeing are too important ignore!

Find some quick wins that are hard to ignore

It’s important that you start with some small changes that give you some quick wins and help you gain buy in. This could mean offering to take a lesson or tutorial time from a colleague while you conduct a pupil voice focus group: this gives your colleague extra time to do some marking or prep and you some valuable insight into what matters to your pupils and students when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.

Starting with pupil or student voice can help overcome some of the resistance – if children and young people can voice what really matters to them, this can help you find a starting point that is harder for SLT or other members of staff to ignore. What are schools and colleges for, if not to make a difference to the children and young people? Pupil and student voice can also provide you with some ideas that can be turned into strategic plans.

Staff resistance to school wellbeing isn’t because they are being awkward

You may feel like you are getting nowhere, while trying to get your colleagues to buy into your ideas and strategies. You may even feel they are rolling their eyes thinking ‘there she goes again, banging on about wellbeing when our wellbeing is rock bottom’. Teaching is the third most stressful profession in the UK and teachers’ wellbeing is especially low right now, after dealing with the collective trauma of the pandemic and the constant change and stress caused by it.  Resistance occurs when people are trying to protect themselves from unnecessary change and stress. Responding with empathy can help see this resistance as an opportunity to make a difference. It’s your role to use this opportunity to help start conversations about wellbeing which can help the reduction of stress and improve wellbeing in the long run, creating a solid foundation to whole school strategic change.

Staff and teacher wellbeing are both key to your whole school approach

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to implement a whole school approach to supporting pupil wellbeing if you don’t have good staff wellbeing. Improving staff wellbeing will be key to your successes. You may be thinking that focusing on staff is a distraction from pupil mental health. Wellbeing is facilitated, maintained, and modelled through relationships and interactions with pupils and students. If you can improve the quality of these interactions by improving staff wellbeing you are indirectly improving children’s wellbeing and creating a sustainable wellbeing culture that is more receptive to strategic change.

A starting point to gaining buy-in includes gaining a shared understanding of what mental health and wellbeing is so everyone knows what they are aiming to develop. This provides valuable opportunities to open conversations about mental health as a team that can lead to developing change.

We’re here to help!

Our Wellbeing Club for SMHLs can provide you with tools, activities, and training on how to conduct pupil voice workshops.

If you need support and encouragement as a mental healthlead join our Facebook community of hundreds of SMHLs.

If you need help to implement plans for developing whole school mental health, check out our SMHL Wellbeing Pathway course and SMHL coaching workshops within our DfE-assured Wellbeing Club programme. These teach you practical activities and the underpinning theory around organisational change and strategic wellbeing development that can help you overcome resistance and make school mental health and wellbeing all you hope it could be for staff and for pupils.  

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