What leaders can do to maintain motivation during lockdown

Real Group Senior Educational Psychologist, Dr Joanna Wood has been examining what educational leaders can be doing to maintain motivation and their own wellbeing in these very trying times. During conversations with senior school staff, she observed that despite the compassion and good sense they were demonstrating in reflecting on the needs of the vulnerable children they support, they found it more difficult to answer questions relating to their own wellbeing. Although not being a surprise given how accustomed they are to putting the needs of these children above their own, as Dr Wood points out, it is a concern given the excessive “emotional labour” they are currently experiencing.

Dr Wood identifies four kinds of challenges school leaders are currently facing; loss (through both personal loss and also anticipated professional losses), uncertainty and the challenges this brings to strategic planning, role confusion in the form of home/school and family/work contexts, and system failure, through unavailability of tools and personal relationships at this time.

Happily, she identifies three areas that psychology can provide tools to help senior leaders “understand and process our responses to the current crisis.”

Models of grief

To become aware of the stages of grief that can help “make sense of the impact of uncertainty and unplanned change. These stages include shock/denial, anger/guilt/blame, depression and acceptance.

Positive psychology

Drawing from the principles of positive psychology and Martin Seligman’s PERMA model, Dr Wood points out that it is important to focus on what works well, not on what is wrong. These can include such elements as positive emotions, engagement (getting ‘lost’ in an activity), relationships, meaning (a sense of purpose) and accomplishment.


According to Ryan and Deci’s self-determination theory, concentration and motivation are hard to come by at present. In order to remain motivated, Dr Wood suggests we need to feel competent at what we do, related and connected to others, and autonomous, in that we have control over our lives. These are important touch-points for leaders to re-focus energy on in order to remain motivated.

To summarise, Dr Wood offers some useful tips to help leaders navigate the complex waters of the current lockdown:

  • Focus on what you can control
  • Remember you can’t look after everyone
  • Try to tune into your own emotions in a safe way (journal writing, for example)
  • Notice unhelpful negative thoughts and replace them with positive self-talk, such as “It will pass” or “this is outside of my control”
  • Don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek help if needed
  • Stay connected socially where possible
  • Consider distractions and new challenges, such as self-development, but don’t feel pressured to do so.

If you would like to find out more about our Educational Psychologists and they work they do under Real Psychology, please visit us our website.

The original article can be found on the TES website here.

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