Essentials: How To Improve Teachers' Mental Wellness (with Simon Bolger)

Essentials: How To Improve Teachers' Mental Wellness (with Simon Bolger)

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In this Essentials episode, Simon interviews Simon Bolger, a head teacher on a mission to start a wellbeing revolution in schools - including the mental health of teachers.

He reveals the importance of positive psychology and how middle leaders can influence their teams and start a wave of cultural change. He also explains why it's important for teachers to take personal responsibility for their own mental wellbeing.

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Learn more about Simon Bolger at his That Wellbeing Guy Facebook page.

Click here for the full interview from episode 56.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Bolger  0:00  

You have to start small that I think that's the key bit because often I work with like you say middle leaders, like Key Stage leaders, faith leaders, sometimes wellbeing leads or wellbeing champions. They call it some schools. And they say to me, Well, what am I supposed to do in my position to be able to influence the culture? Well, that's just it, you have to just influence it in small ways. And I kind of liken it to this that the ocean is made of drops and we need to focus on those first, the ripples and the waves will come later.

Simon Currigan  0:23  

Welcome to the school behaviour secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course, students. When classroom behaviour gets in the way of success, we're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural special needs power school strategy, and more all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the school behaviour secrets podcast. 

Hi, Simon Currigan here and welcome to another essentials episode of School Behaviour Secrets where I share with you an important insight or strategy from a guest on the previous interview episode that can have an impact for the students that you work with in your school or your classroom. In this episode, I'm going to share a section of my interview with Simon Bolger. Simon's a head teacher who's on a mission to start a wellbeing revolution in our schools. And you might know him from social media, as that wellbeing guide, his passion is for schools to be well led, well loved, well taught and well placed for future challenges. Here's the part of the episode where we talk about positive psychology, and what we can do as individuals and leaders to improve mental health in schools. I think we talk a good game in schools about children's mental well being and mental health nowadays. But actually, like you say, when it comes to our staff, it's almost we have a different set of expectations. And we will paper over the cracks with small initiatives. And we're not looking at that culture. So how do we start that culture change? If you're a sort of middle leader in school right now, and you're listening to this and you're looking at your staffing score? How do you start the ball rolling?

Simon Bolger  2:13  

you have to start small that I think that's the key because often I work with like you say middle leaders, like Key Stage leaders, faith leaders, and sometimes well being those are wellbeing champions at their core in some schools. And they say to me, Well, what am I supposed to do in my position to be able to influence the culture? Well, that's just it, you have to just influence it in small ways. And I kind of liken it to this, that the ocean is made of drops, and we need to focus on those first, the ripples, and the waves will come later. So if you're a middle leader, you have to do everything that you can to empower your team, you have to do everything that you can to influence those people that are around you. And the way that you do that is if you want the spark and other people, you have to take care of the spark in yourself. So if you are getting out of bed every morning, determined to be the you know, the best middle leader in the world, we've got to have moonshot goals, if you get out of bed, that ambition in the morning, and making that choice, and that's going to leak out of you and into the people around you into your team. And what we want to do is start that wave across your school. And the idea is that other people will pick up on that. And hopefully we can start to influence our more senior leaders to be able to be on board with that cultural shift and that cultural change.

Simon Currigan  3:14  

Okay, then. So let's move this to individual teachers. Now, why did they get stuck in terms of poor mental health, he started talking about taking personal responsibility for our own mental well being what stops the moving towards being less stressed and being more happy in the workplace?

Simon Bolger  3:29  

Well, I said earlier, that 42% thing that schools culture has a negative impact on their well being. The other key thing that comes out of that is that half of all members of staff in school are aware of their school has a mental health and well being policy. So it also comes back to actually asking for help being that person to go out and say, Look, I'm stuck, I'm struggling, this is hard, I need a bit more time, because they're worried about the consequences that they'll face because of that. And I think having been a teacher for a number of years, you get into that I call it guilty teacher syndrome. Sometimes it's actually if you're unwell, sometimes it's actually easy to just go in and just try and get through the day teach that lesson, and have that they often try and sort it out. And because we get stuck into that we don't know how to speak up, and we're not empowered enough to speak up. I think that's a generational thing that has stuck within schools for generations that, you know, it doesn't matter who you are, and where you're on your career. It's kind of passed down that actually, you're a teacher, and this is your job, and you need to get on with it. But what we need to do is we need to challenge that narrative. And we need to try and change that narrative as best as we can. So if you are that individual teacher, what I think is a really good thing is if you're feeling that you're being accorded run over, we've all had days where we feel like we're being run over. And actually if somebody says to you, hey, you're right, it's absolutely fine to say you know what, I'm really not today. And if you swap that around as well, if you are a member of staff and you spot someone else and you think you know what they look like they're being run over be that person that says, Hey, are you alright? Is there anything I can do to help? Sometimes you might not be that right person. Sometimes you might need to escalate it and say, Look, you know what I've seen Simon he looks like he's really struggling. So I think someone could just really do having a word of him and just escalate and pass that on and look out for each other. Because I kind of think that because of the excessive accountability that we're feeling, sometimes that's lost in some of our schools. And that's one of the things that we really, really need to change.

Simon Currigan  5:10  

You work with scores on implementing techniques from positive psychology. What is positive psychology? And how does it differ from normal psychology? And how can adults in school use it?

Simon Bolger  5:20  

So positive psychology began as a new domain of psychology that was in the late 1990s. And this guy called Professor Martin Seligman, he chose it to think for a term when he was the president of the American Psychological Association. So he in another psychologist, called the highly six sent me highly. He's the psychologist who wrote the book flow, which is all about flow theory and flow states. They describe positive psychology as the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. And they focus on both individual and social well being as well. Now Seligman has done a lot of work on the science of flourishing. Now, flourishing is essentially you being at your best. We've all had days when we've been at our best when we get out of bed in the morning and show that determination and zip to be at our best. And I say zip stands for it says that IP. So that stands for zero inspiration and positivity. So we get out of bed and we want to grab it in the morning. But the key is to try to learn to have more days like that, and fewer days where we feel a bit miffed or a bit beige. So positive psychology has some different dimensions. And they can include self discovery, where we identify what makes us tick. And we can use that to our advantage, where we develop our potential. I liken this to a process called ignition, where we supercharge our strengths, and we enable ourselves to use those more often, and understanding our purpose and having a sense of feeling part of something bigger than ourselves. Now, I call these belonging cues where as a head teacher, I worked to communicate to staff that I see here trust in need them to achieve our shared goals. And what that really is that sets the tone for the culture as well as Seligman talks about internal voluntary change to achieve lasting levels of happiness. I phrase this simply as predisposition over position, if we can challenge our predispositions, then maybe we can more positively influence our experience of life achieving a state of flow where we feel that intense involvement in an activity and time literally flies by we, as teachers can create this for ourselves and for the children we teach as well. It's most simple. I ask what sort of person do you want to be? Why do you want to be that person? And how will you prove to yourself on a daily basis that you are that sort of person?

Simon Currigan  7:15  

So what sort of actions can we take? Or what kind of habits can we develop in our practice? To help us use those principles to help us feel better on a day by day basis? What are the practical things that we do in the classroom, we're in school to sort of use those techniques

Simon Bolger  7:28  

that first of all, we need to be kinder to ourselves. So we're not only training sessions, I always say put your hand up if you talk to yourself, and then a few people do and I say, if you didn't put your hand up, you're a liar. And then those people in their head they say, No, I'm not. And they prove my point for me, I assure you are your own personal motivator, biggest critic and own worst enemy and where focus goes energy flows. So we might as well focus on speaking and thinking about ourselves in a more positive manner, trying to be present in an age of distraction as well, it is challenging, but it's definitely worth it. Like everything around us the news, Netflix, social media, your phone, it will try to attract your attention and trying to steal your focus. And sometimes we forget that we actually have a choice about where we focus our attention to try to be present in your relationships with your family, your friends, your colleagues, your own children, the children we teach is absolutely crucial. We need to look after ourselves physically, as well as emotional all movement is good movement and the power of exercising no matter how little is actually astonishing. I think it's three weeks, he says you'll never regret a workout, I think we can all agree that that's true circles of control and influence also really important. I'm going to borrow a little equation from the author Paul McGee, who you should definitely get on this podcast. By the way, Paul says E plus r equals O. So it's the event plus more response, which gives me the outcome, it's not necessarily the event that gives the outcome. So that's a really nice, nice thing for us to think about. Can

Simon Currigan  8:43  

I dig into that a little bit more actually. So instead about the stories we tell ourselves about the things that have happened and being more intentional about how we react to an event. So maybe the head teacher comes in and dumped some assessment on our desks and says, you know, I need those in two days. Is it what we say about that? And how we respond to it that affects how we then feel?

Simon Bolger  9:02  

Absolutely. Let me give you an example. I was as head teacher at the time, it was one of my middle leaders who won't mind me telling you this however, the children came in one minute late from the end of lunchtime, and that teacher was there why you want me like Where have you been for woman they were meant to be do pick Council PA, we don't have time to get changed, right? Handwriting books all often the whole afternoon is ruined. And it was like a minute past one. I went and just sort of said, I don't think the whole afternoon is actually ruined. And what happened is that teacher got from zero to 100. And that's what tends to happen. Now I call this the heart process. There's a summary for each letter of the word heart. So we've got what happens, the emotion that I experienced the action that I take the result I get, and then what happens time and time again. So let's just rewind that what happened the children came in late the emotional response was I'm cross angry, annoyed, frustrated, the action that I take right or cancel everything. We're gonna sit do handwriting hop, nobody speak to me. No, nobody Look at me. This is this all ruins that sort of thing. Then the result that you get, well, the kids are gonna be on edge, midday supervisors who brought the kids in, they're going to think it or, you know, tiptoe around that person, members of support staff are gonna be there and then even for yourself how you're feeling? And then the time and time again, how are you feeling in that moment? You know, if you have three moments like that a week over the course of the whole school year, you've got yourself in trouble. So what I'd say is we need to break the heart. So we do that by spelling the word differently. So we know what happens, the kids come in late, well, that's fine. But what we need to do is we need to intercept that emotion with thinking and sometimes we kind of forget, don't worry that we are responsible for our thoughts. We're not necessarily responsible for our emotions. And it comes back to what you said, Simon, it's the stories that we tell ourselves. So she finally intercepts that moment. And I asked myself, Okay, I'm going to set this with thinking, what actually happened in that moment, that meant the kids came in a minute late and asked myself, this is another thing that this author Paul McGee says, he says, is my response appropriate? Is my response proportionate. But actually, that member of staff, they could just say to themselves, I wonder if everything was okay. At lunchtime, go to that midday supervisor, let the kids come in late with something. All right. Was there a behaviour issue? Was there a safeguarding issue? Was there an accident? Is there anything I can do to help you don't work isn't over in a minute late, actually, we'll just get ready superfast up and then we've got to get ourselves outside. So now that I've changed the way that I've thought about the moment, that story that I've told myself, I've reframed it, rephrase it, I've got a completely different emotion. Now, because of that, I can take a completely different action. Because of that, I get a different result. And if I do that time and time again, I know, you know, that's not necessarily a high pressure situation. But I know in situations like that, that I can respond effectively, in that type of moment.

Simon Currigan  11:27  

What sort of habits should we avoid doing? We've started to touch on this, we need to be more intentional about how we're responding to events, what other sorts of things should we be doing or stop doing? That's the key part of the question, really.

Simon Bolger  11:38  

So I actually do this as part of my training. And I say, can you come up with 10 habits that we should avoid doing? And this is what I found over the course of the last sort of two and a bit years. These are the top 10 answers that I hear. So number one, stay inside all day to move as little as possible. Three, spend more than you earn four take yourself in life too seriously. Five, look for reasons why things won't work. Six, always find someone else to blame. Seven always consume and never contribute eight be jealous of the lucky and successful. Nine, never smile at someone first, and 10 be unreliable. And then when we do this with children as well, what we do is exactly the same thing. They come up with that. And then we say right, what can we do this the opposite of that that's going to help us to try and be the best that we can on a daily basis.

Simon Currigan  12:22  

And that was Simon Bolger talking about mental well being in schools for staff and students. If you want to hear more, head back to Episode 56. I'll put a direct link in the episode description, where you'll also find links to Simon's social media. If you've enjoyed listening today, please remember to rate and review us, it only takes 30 seconds and when you leave a review, it tells the algorithm to recommend school behaviour secrets to other podcast listeners, and that helps us reach other teachers, school leaders and parents with this important information. And while you've got your podcast app open, remember to hit subscribe so you never miss another episode. Thanks for listening today, and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of school babies

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)