The theme for Mental Health Awareness week is Kindness
As a theme it has come up repeatedly in supervision sessions too. There have been tears shed where supervisees (Heads, Senior Leadership Teams, teachers, school pastoral team members) have recounted kindness, moments that have touched them from colleagues and sometimes children. People have been able to acknowledge each other’s struggles more.
I have noticed however that in the early phases of lockdown there was panic. We then entered a phase that was reflected in schools and their leaders of acceptance of new normal. A sense of knowing what needed to happen for people to function in this terribly challenging context. This is where regulation occurred for Senior Leadership Teams in schools. The demands and expectations steadied out. People had more capacity for joy in this phase, in amongst loss and fear. Humour was present and school leaders were particularly enjoying, the ones we work with, being able to be less focused on strict education but more on care, kindness and creativity in the “teaching” day. These are closely linked. We can only “be” like this when we are regulated ourselves. It is true that when in real fear and panic we see people at their best or worst and of course enormous acts of selfless kindness happen. But so does the opposite occur out of self -preservation and often, protection of close attachments.
In Mental Health Awareness week and thinking about schools and their culture moving forward as more educators and children return to “work”, there will be great fear. In fear we are in survival mode and are protective of our self and whoever are our immediate loved ones. Fear meeting fear or denial of fear will lead to all kinds of behaviours and a lack of empathy will thrive. It will likely be too much for many adults let alone the children returning to school. With all that the children will have uniquely and differently experienced, they will need adults who are supported in being aware of their own activation. What is it they are feeling, have been through and fear going forward? How safe or unsafe do they feel? All of this will need acknowledging as schools open more. Ideally at a leadership level and this is where our supervision work comes in.
Senior leaders set the tone for the whole school. If they have a place where they are able to take how they are in the seeming chaos of expectations and demands and feel scaffolded then they have capacity to respond in a thoughtful, compassionate, and KIND way to others in human interactions. They culturally set the tone for the school moving forwards. Its root will be in kindness which is rooted in having enough capacity to care for and see another’s needs.
Supervision and a culture of supervision in school will enable the adults to have ways to regulate and acknowledge their own fears and anxieties without them being played out and triggered by children’s behaviours which will embody their own wordless traumatic experiences and or anxieties as they return to school. Supervision in place will actively intervene in this cycle and allow teachers and SLT to act from regulated, reflective and kind places towards their children, which will have an immediate impact.
At the National Hub for Supervision in Education we passionately believe that supervision in place in schools will help support healthy cultures to emerge through and in these difficult times and beyond. Schools that engage in and embed supervision into their culture will be emotionally available cultures in which the needs of staff and children are known and about and can seek to be met. It will not be a culture where distressed adults are acting their fear out, are angry and where they are unable to meet children’s emotional/educational needs. Without these needs being met in staff and children at the same time the culture will be out of balance and not one where anyone is able to be kind, let alone learn the life lessons we wish for each other easing out of a pandemic. Supervision can restore, enable kindness and compassion back in … and kindness spreads, it heals, it is vital.