WHERE’S YOUR HEAD AT, SARAH CREEGAN?
What teaching and leadership experience do you have?
I’ve worked in education for over 25 years and held most positions in primary schools, including Inclusion Co-ordinator, SENCo, Deputy Head and Head Teacher.
Within the first 3 weeks of becoming a Head, an inspector called, Ofsted visited and judged my school to be satisfactory – downgrading it from good. So that was a baptism by fire!
While I was leading my team on a journey of improvement and culture change, I was also successfully managing a £7m rebuild and an expansion programme, from one to two forms of entry. This included supporting vulnerable 2-year-olds in the Nursery, as part of a new Government initiative.
When Ofsted inspectors returned 2 years later, the school was graded as good and our growing number of staff and children were flourishing in a state-of-the-art building.
Where has your interest in supporting others’ mental health and wellbeing come from?
I took the huge, and sad, decision to leave Headship in 2016. Mainly because I was, and still am, concerned about the negative impact that the current education system is having on the mental health of pupils, staff and school leaders.
During my time as a Head, I did my best to run an extremely happy, highly inclusive school with a genuine desire to put the wellbeing of all stakeholders first and foremost. Despite this, I found that I was spending an increasing amount of time and the school’s budget:
Working with mental health professionals – both proactively and reactively.
Training and providing supervision for staff, so that we could give the best possible support to children with social, emotional and mental health difficulties.
Bespoking the curriculum and the school environment to meet the needs of all our children and, particularly, the most complex.
Supporting staff – from those with a diagnosed mental health problem, to others who were having a ‘wellbeing wobble’.
Supporting parents and other family members – both with their own mental health and that of their children.
Doing things that upset me and I didn’t agree with me – such as sending in 2 soggy Key Stage 2 SATs papers, because the children couldn’t stop themselves crying during the test.
Chatting to colleagues about all of the above, (as well as the everyday, ongoing pressures of Headship), and finding out that many were on medication for stress and anxiety. I wasn’t, but if we ever meet (and you’re interested) I’ll tell you a story about the grand opening of our new school building, the gymnast Beth Tweddle and my eyebrows!
How have you supported others’ wellbeing?
Apart from supporting my own staff, I mentored new Heads in Kingston and Richmond as well as an interim Head in Sussex, who was in a particularly tricky situation. Part of this role was to support them with school improvement plans, data analysis etc. But the majority of the time was spent chatting through some of the things that were keeping them awake at night and possible solutions.
Now that I have branched out on my own, I regularly work in schools across the country supporting Heads, leadership teams and other school staff with their mental health and wellbeing.
How will you support others’ wellbeing?
Since I left Headship, I’ve gained further knowledge of the neuroscience behind human behaviours such as irrational thinking, unconscious bias, communication and thinking styles and the reasons why we react as we do when faced with challenging situations. All of which I wish I had better understood as a Head!
I’m also a Mental Health First Aider and have a wealth of coaching experience.
I know the toll that being a Head can take on personal relationships and physical health, as well as mental health. The importance of talking to people cannot be underestimated - people who can provide the right support in terms of a healthy mix of empathy and challenge.
Hopefully, Graham and I are those people.
What are people saying?
‘I am writing to express my gratitude and appreciation for the work that Sarah Creegan has completed with me over the past year.
As an ex-head teacher herself, Sarah has been able to give me an amazing amount of professional support acting as a coach and mentor and helping me to navigate my way through what has been a very difficult year in education both globally and individually in my school.
Sarah has a sympathetic but practical approach and enabled me to broaden the way I was approaching difficult situations at school. She helped to give me clarity and confidence eg when dealing with tricky conversations with staff. Sarah’s sensible and common sense approach plus her vast educational experience, helped me to view certain situations in a different way and enabled me to plan a way forward.
Sarah is a friendly and caring person with an engaging personality and the ability to put others at ease straightaway. I always felt happier and more confident after an hour or so talking with Sarah and I cannot recommend her more highly, she did my personal wellbeing the power of good!’
Helen L Adair, Head Teacher, Howletch Lane Primary School, Durham