Student well-being has always been a priority for any head of year, the school closures and subsequent lockdown in the United Kingdom following the outbreak of COVI-19 will bring to the fore an increasing range of issues for pastoral teams in school to face up to as plans are created to bring more students back to school.
There are four key things you as a head of year can do to support students in their return to school over the next academic year.
- Re-build positive relationships
At the heart of being a great head of year is an ability to build positive relationships with pupils, staff and parents. Time apart will have an effect on previously established relationships, you would be foolish to assume you can pick up where you left off before closures. These relationships will allow you to provide guidance, support your year group and provide challenge where it is needed. Building up positive relationships is more than smiling at everybody and saying hello; much of your work as a head of year will be building up key relationships through listening to the worries of others, giving people your time and showing that you care about their issues.
Your students will undoubtedly be in a heightened emotional state when they return to school and find their way back into a routine. Relationship building will be key in re-building the trust between you, your students and your team.
- Be alert to bereavement
As a head of year, you will naturally be closely monitoring students who have suffered a bereavement and at times may feel that additional support is needed to help the student deal with their emotions. Some suitable support interventions could be art therapy, forest schools, sports activities or indeed anything that can allow the student space and time to be reflective whilst also providing a means to channel their thoughts and energy away from any outbursts. Your students may have had a lot of time to reflect upon their loss at home but now they are trying to adjust to life in school whilst still dealing with their grief.
Being available to talk and to listen to the student will of course be of real benefit to them. Be careful not to attempt to fix all of their problems or try to protect them from everything. Instead, you should listen to what the student has to say and allow them to work through their issues by expressing their thoughts and feelings to you in a trusted manner. This is why building positive relationships with members of your year group is vital.
- Be consistent
Being consistent is key to your success. But it is also key to helping your students return successfully to school. Inconsistency causes confusion and leads to accusations of favouritism, indecisiveness and injustice. It destroys trust, community spirit and a positive school climate. In the privileged position of a head of year, you must make sure that rewards and sanctions are applied fairly and consistently in order to drive improvements within your year group.
Make it crystal clear what students are expected to do but also have secure procedures in place to support when things go wrong.
- Develop your own resilience
Be under no illusion, being a head of year can be tough. As a great head of year, you have set yourself aspirational targets and at times and you will feel as though they are unachievable. You need to be able to push on when times are tough and you feel like no progress is being made. The hard truth of being a head of year is that so much of what goes on in school is beyond your control while you may feel that you are left picking up the pieces.
Take care of your own well-being and that of your team. You will be operating in unfamiliar territory and no doubt will get some decisions wrong. Learn where you need to and recognise the positives in your work.
Being a head of year is a real privilege at the best of times, even more so when so many students will look towards you for support and guidance as they return to school.
Michael is the author of The Head of Year’s Handbook: driving student engagement and wellbeing. You can find out more at http://www.criticalpublishing.com/the-head-of-years-handbook