By Victor Ochieng’

Last Saturday, I was cordially invited to address secondary school principals in Laikipia Central.

In that conference convened at Semara Hotel in Machakos Town, I was asked to talk about Mental Wellness of principals. In order to tap energy from synergy, my conviction and conscience made me to tag along two co-facilitators: Michael Masinde and Kelvin Mungai added value to that important mission.

In actual sense, mental wellness is worth exploring because lack of it can dent the leadership and management roles of school principals. In the same sphere, when principals suffer from mental illness, it can have a ripple effect on staff and students.

Basically, mental wellness can be defined in three different ways: One, it is a state of psychological, emotional and social well-being. Two, it is achieving optimal mental health. Three, it is being mentally fit or healthy.

In a good book titled the 5 A.M. Club, Robin Sharma writes about the four interior empires that work well to enhance mental wellness. One, there is mind-set, which focuses on psychology.

Two, there is heart-set, exploring the emotional side. Three, health-set, examines physiology or fitness of the body. Four, there is the soul-set, which focuses on spiritual side.

The bottom line is – mental wellness means that all the dimensions are in picture – perfect order.

In addition, human beings are totally tripartite. They are made up of the body, spirit and soul. The soul is also triad: Will-power, emotion and mind or intellect.

The sickness of the spirit has a negative impact on the body. Likewise, a sin-sick-soul dents wellness to a great extent. Reading and reflecting on the lofty and lovely lyrics of the hymn It Is With My Soul by Bob Kauflin is important.

Again, there are two psychological spheres that have an impact on mental wellness. This encompasses emotional intelligence and stress management.

Dr Daniel Goleman explored five areas in emotional intelligence as: Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social intelligence.

Principals who long to attain mental wellness must hone the intra-personal skill called stress management. Stress can be eu-stress (positive) or di-stress (negative).

In the distant past, William Shakespeare sagely said, “Unease lies the head that wears the crown.” This is true about precious principals that steer our secondary schools.

Principals must think critically about stress management because if liquids have boiling points then human beings also have breaking points.

There are a lot of things that may stress principals, which include: meddlesome and nettlesome school stakeholders, CBC preparedness, high expectations, overworking, burn-out, delocalisation policy, incorrigible staff, cash-crunch, students’ indiscipline, loss and grief, and many more.

Somewhat, when (di)stress piles up, and is not cured, it can spill to depression and suicidal tendencies.

Somehow, this implies that our principals, despite being powerful as they are, should never live in self-denial by thinking that they cannot breakdown due to perilous psychological pressure.

Instead, they should manage acute levels of stress through practical practices like self-care, search for a strong-support-system, plus psycho-social and spiritual support.

Moreover, principals that long to attain mental wellness should purely prioritise capacity building in form of seminars and workshops. There is nothing wrong with seeking professional and pastoral counselling.

In Best Practices in the spheres of Counselling and Self-Care, even practising counsellors are encouraged to attend debriefs. Commitment to life-long-learning and personal-development that happens through reading useful self-help books that are indispensable.

No wonder, we urged principals not to be starving bakers. That is, making bread but starving of it. We also implored upon principals to be wary of the ‘destination disease’.

This is where professionals reach a certain point in the arc of life, and think that they are hunky-dory. They simply stop learning, and therefore become ‘illiterate professionals’. Perhaps, this is what made Alvin Toffler to postulate, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and re-learn.”

Therefore, prioritising mental wellness means that principals read books like Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence by Dr Daniel Goleman. A book like The Art of Institutional Leadership by Professor Laban P Ayiro is a great text for principals. Another treasure trove is Ikigai – the Japanese Secret to Long and Happy Life.

Finally, Principals can prioritise their mental wellness, but if this ambit is not achieved in staff and students, then the environment will be totally toxic.

This is what compelled us recommend the following intervention as way forward in the conference: We advised principals to sensitise and train their staff on mental wellness.

For the sake of mental wellness of students, we underscored the essence of staging periodic and sporadic pep talks and one-on-one counselling sessions.

It is a government policy that principals constitute and consolidate functional departments of Guidance and Counselling in schools. To enhance effectiveness, all teacher-counsellors should be trained on Basic Helping Skills plus professional and ethical issues in counselling practices like confidentiality.

There is need for having a resident or a visiting professional counsellor to handle referral cases. It is incumbent upon principals to ensure that they form formidable welfares to handle issues bordering on mental wellness like Post-Traumatic-Stress (PTS), loss and grief. We also impressed upon principals to liaise with the church or sponsors and chaplaincy department to handle psycho-spiritual and metaphysical issues like cults and occults.

The writer speaks in Principals’ conferences. [email protected]. 0704420232

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