The need for mirroring

A second lockdown… I wanted to write this during the first, but it was just too hard and overwhelming. It was busier, weightier and harder than it has ever been. It has also been extremely rewarding. Gratitude has been an ongoing thread and theme of this pandemic, for some, if they have had capacity to find it. Alongside kindness and connection and creativity. There are many themes that run alongside, with fear and loss underpinning much of our lives.

Talking Heads was only established two years ago. Our intention was to try and gradually bring supervision into the education culture and particularly to headteachers. Our passionate belief pre-pandemic and ever more tightly held now, is that headteachers carry an emotional, complex weight akin to any of those working in the NHS or Social care. I would know, having been a clinical manager in the NHS for 10 years. My thinking grew out of working as a therapist and supervisor in schools post-NHS and seeing what a difference a resourced and reflective headteacher could make. A throw away comment by one Head meant that Talking Heads was conceived. It is an isolated role and one where it is extraordinarily hard to be professionally vulnerable. The culture within schools does not allow for reflection or vulnerability as it has become increasingly results driven.

The role of supervision for a Head? It is more consultative, but is still clinical. We (Seonaid Beasley, Penny Sturt and I) work to an integrated model with the potential for the creative language running throughout. Finding out how to bring this to life on Zoom feels overwhelming if you over think it. However, it works well in the spirit of playfulness. Working on Zoom, if you are not used to it, can raise all kinds of practical anxieties and then also it can feel like a deficit… a loss and I know that I also feel this at times. The loss of human connections. Schools have worked throughout this pandemic and I have worked alongside them. Heads I have worked with for a few years were suddenly emailing me and enquiring when their next session was, even though we see each other monthly. It was noticeable amongst those we had been working with for 6 sessions or more, became much more committed. Instead of sessions being cancelled as you might think, sometimes extra sessions have been booked so that some Heads have had fortnightly sessions.

Thematically there has been much need for each of the Heads to have a place to explore the sense of loss. The loss of not being able to comfort a colleague. The sacrifice some have made in terms of staying on site but not going home to a household where someone is shielding, putting work and the children/staff in their school above all else. Supervision has needed to provide a space that allowed the supportive aspects to be present whilst also still holding the supervisory boundaries of it being a professional context to talk about how you are at work. Never before have supervisors had caseloads of many supervisees who are all experiencing a level of trauma. Co-regulation has been key and so has humour. The search for joy when the only other alternative has felt like despair. There are no easy answers here and the search for joy has only been possible after the “allowing” of despair. It has been intriguing, with some distance, to note that there have been themes across each of the weeks of this pandemic. I suspect that is because the structured nature of lockdown has met a very structured education system but it is has been, at times, good to be able to say to Heads across and around the country – “you are not alone, I have heard this from several others this week”. This has often been very visibly relieving.

There has, as always, been much in the media that has been ongoingly unsupportive of schools. This is another huge weight of projection that Heads carry. The role of the media has also had its part to play in enabling the virus to be very divisive. The only supervisees who have not continued supervision at this time are those who are feeling very angry and bitter. Zoom makes connection here infinitely harder. The anger the media has elicited at those who are going out and being “Covidiots”. When SLT have felt the enormous sacrifices, they make but this is not understood by the teachers…here the virus has really been able to work its systemic magic. Zoom allows connection, empathy, co-regulation, sadness, despair, humour and fun but bitterness and that kind of anger/shame needs a whole-body presence to hold it safe.

There are no high brow academic insights here but if you are interested in how supervision has been for headteachers and would like to find out more, please feel free to contact us. We would love to hear from you. I can honestly say that supervising Heads during this pandemic has been a humbling and heartening honour. Knowing that the 1 hour a month is so important to them that they absolutely attend…has made me deeply attend to my own wellbeing in a way I am not sure I ever quite have. This work is deeply needed, and I need to be able to be resourced enough to keep doing it…. maybe another blog post from the side of the supervisor!

Lisa Lea-Weston (FRSA)