It is almost unimaginable that the school year once spread across 2 and then 3 terms. Up until 1987, this was the school year that teachers and school leaders had to manage. Term three was often 13 weeks, the seasons moved from autumn and into winter. In a three-term year, mid-term three was tough.
Tidiness, seasonal bouts of influenzas, and half-year reports added to the workload of school leaders and teachers and a welcome holiday break was 5 or 6 weeks away. It is hard to identify what systemic support was in place for school leaders or how self-care was understood.
As part of a system reorganisation, NSW education changed to a four-term school year in 1987. School leaders now manage their workload across 10-week terms. However, it is evident that government and system priorities have used this change as opportunities to flex the structure of the school year and the duration of each term. Numerous studies have highlighted how increasing workloads and systemic demands have resulted in unhealthy work/life balance that many school leaders experience. School leaders manage their own workload whilst concurrently being tasked with the responsibility to manage the wellbeing of staff.
Whether it is a three-term year or a four-term year, the mid-point of the school year is tough. Schools in 2022 are very busy, and school leaders face an ever-increasing workload in their role; leading and managing their school and school community. School leaders have reported working 60 hours per week and that is 8.5 hours every day of the week!
School leaders are called to be strategic and forward-looking. Effective leadership is critical to driving continuous school improvement. Self-care is strategic and forward-looking. It is foundational to effective decision making and ethical action. School leaders who don’t manage a healthy work-life balance will often show evidence of physical, emotional, and psychological stress which in turn affect their ability to deal with other people
Self-care is not a new idea and is personal and unique. It relates to what you do at work and away from work to look after yourself. It is what you actively do to take care of mental health and wellbeing so you can support others (staff, students, and family).
Self-care can be described as activities and practices that give you strength that lower the level of stress and contribute to your wellbeing. Activities such as planning healthy sleep patterns and diet and making time to engage in physical activity and non-work hobbies that manage to balance time with family, social and community events.
Reflecting on what self-care really means for the individual, putting actions in place for self-care strategies and allowing maximum opportunities to practice self-care must be a priority. By finding ways to care for themselves, to find balance in their lives, and to preserve their own sanity, school leaders will be able to do a better job of responding to all the people and demands of mid-term three.