The importance of supervision for self-care

Educators spend so much of their time looking after the mental health of the pupils in their care, but what do we do as leaders to safeguard staff wellbeing?

Author details

Kelly Hannaghan is a wellbeing consultant, public speaker and writer, passionately promoting positive mental health and wellbeing of all stakeholders in education. You can find Kelly on...

As the school year progresses, pastoral leaders are met with increasing demands and caseloads that are bursting at the seams. Couple that with the daily responsibilities of the job and you can understand why so many educators are reaching burnout before the end of each half term.

You can’t pour from an empty cup

So often when you are looking after everyone else, your own self-care is sabotaged. It is impossible to serve a diet of wellbeing to others when your own wellbeing cup is empty.

We need to place an emphasis on self-care within education to sustain resilient leaders, who can effectively support the emotional needs of our most vulnerable young people in education.

Self-care and prevention of burnout are especially important to protect teacher retention, in a climate where statistics show that there is an increasing struggle to hold onto teachers within the profession.

Identifying symptoms

The specific symptoms of career burnout can include any of the following:

  • low energy
  • a change in sleep patterns
  • a change in eating habits
  • headaches
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • boredom
  • detached feelings
  • resistance and denial
  • feelings of being overwhelmed.

Behavioural impacts include a decline in work performance and job satisfaction, impairments in social and other interpersonal relationships, and an overall withdrawal from the job, both physically and emotionally.

Measuring staff wellbeing is key

A valuable way to prevent poor emotional health in work is to regularly measure staff wellbeing (for example via a survey) and plan strategically to support with early intervention.

Measuring wellbeing is beneficial in two broad ways. Firstly, schools can use information to establish wellbeing leads and strategies, targeting those areas of staff wellbeing and engagement most in need. Secondly, employees receive easy to understand feedback, that allows individuals to take positive action to improve their own health and wellbeing, driving up employee wellbeing as a whole.

Reducing stress and improving relationships

One of the most important roles of a teacher is to build positive relationships with the pupils: if we strengthen the teacher-pupil relationship then the education outcomes are better. Providing a menu of wellbeing for staff that includes a rich diet of learning around self-care, resilience and growth will help build positive relationships.

The following are some strategies to reduce stress and protect the wellbeing of staff.

  • Help teachers to understand the pupils as a whole-being and offer professional advice regarding vulnerable pupils.
  • Respect that looking at wellbeing is a unique process and regularly collect voices on needs.
  • Provide supervision and coaching sessions for staff.
  • Give staff the opportunity to partake in staff wellbeing measuring processes.
  • Provide a directory of high-quality services and agencies.
  • Work with teachers to implement the use of reflective and empathic language.
  • Continually develop a collaborative professional relationship amongst staff.
  • Offer mediation services for staff who experience conflict.
  • Provide up to date CPD in mental health.
  • Release the sigma around talking about mental health.

To hear more ideas from Kelly on supporting staff wellbeing, head over to the Optimus wellbeing podcast.

A space to reflect: supervision

We have found the introduction of supervision to be a vital strategy within our wellbeing plan, which has added incredible value to the lives of teachers within education. 

It has created a space for professionals to reflect on their systems of knowledge, attitudes, and values related to teaching, while providing an insight into their professional development.

Placing an emphasis on emotional care doesn’t have to be financially constraining

Supervision is the most effective method of reflecting on human behaviours and interactions. The teacher is professionally trained in the academic improvement of pupils, but not always in relational emotional development and we expect our teachers to fully embrace challenging models of behaviours and emotions within their classrooms.

We secure weekly timeslots for supervision, where staff can sign up for half hour sessions. These sessions take place within the school therapy room.

Top tips for practicing safe supervision

There is no one way to facilitate supervision, but here are a few principles.

  • Supervision allows a person to focus on a particular aspect of their practice in a way that they would not normally do.
  • The supervisor will offer and facilitate a safe reflective space and will often challenge the staff member to think outside of their current ways of thinking.
  • The supervisor will offer support and advice to the supervisee tents to learn alternative ways of working and specific skills.
  • Ensure a contract is set out at the start of any process, ensuring firm boundaries are set for the sessions.

Tangible outcomes

One member of staff shared how the supervision sessions ‘enhance my teaching practice and empower me to facilitate pupil learning’.

School leaders have noticed that staff are taking more responsibility for their personal performance, and are more able to use a solution-focused approach with any issues that arise within the protected supervision time. Staff absences have been reduced and long-term absences due to stress have decreased.  

Staff feel heard, valued and respected

Senior leaders have also reported experiencing a decrease in the amount of personal problems brought to them by staff. The time saved contributes towards operational aspects of the school, allowing procedures to run smoothly.

Of course, teaching staff still have concerns sometimes; however, these are now managed within boundaries in a safe, meaningful space.

Staff wellbeing surveys show an increase in teacher happiness in the workplace. Staff feel heard, valued and respected; this is having a huge benefit on academic outcomes for pupils. 

Creating a brighter future in education

We have made supervision and self-care work at Lessness Heath because senior leaders are on board and fully embrace our wellbeing strategies.

Having regular wellbeing meetings provides staff with a space to voice their ideas and needs around the mental health and the wellbeing of all stakeholders within our school. Being creative with our approaches has sustained our action plans. The take-up of supervision is increasing as word is spreading on its impact on wellbeing, teaching and learning. 

While budgets are tight our headteacher, Kate O’Connor, believes that schools can’t afford not to look at whole-school approaches to wellbeing. She has had to be very creative to make the sums work! But placing an emphasis on emotional care doesn’t have to be financially constraining: it’s the little approaches that make the most difference.

Insights into practices of self-care are prevalent within our provision. We continue to take steps in promoting ways that staff can look after themselves in order to do the amazing jobs they do, just as we do for the mental health of our pupils.

Last Updated: 
21 Jan 2020