Take a moment for yourself

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails”

John Maxwell

I can only imagine school leadership being something like sailing. It could almost be so as the constant stream of new policies, curriculum updates and compliance deadlines throwing you around a bubbling sea. Some days you might feel like you are sailing on Australia II, on the crest of success while on others, sitting in the San Diego Yacht Club.

School leadership is an individual pursuit. School teams, collaborative planning, professional networks, and performance appraisal are part and parcel of being a leader. In the silence of their office, leadership is solitary.

There is no trophy recognising or thanking you for getting through another year. Much like the fabled winged keel, school leaders, by default, keep innovating to successfully lead and manage the school. 

The days of chalk boards have long passed. I wonder how many school leaders remember those days. Australian principals are, on average, 51 years old (the average age of principals across OECD countries).

The Sydney University study, ‘Understanding Work in Schools’ (2018) reported that school leaders work 62 hours per week. Headteachers and assistant principals 58 hours per week. Recent studies have reported school leaders spend 40% of this time managing compliance and administrative tasks in the school.

Compliance with mandatory learning such as Child Protection and Code of Conduct is important. Accreditation is now a process of professional growth. 

Sitting in front of a screen is the reality of school leaders who are required to manage this and so much more.

Recent research from New Zealand and Australia suggested principals experience higher rates of burnout, stress and sleeplessness than other professions (Riley, 2017). Principals manage their own levels of stress whilst concurrently being tasked with the responsibility to manage the well-being of staff.

School leaders who don’t manage a good work-life balance, or at least a proper work-life blending, will often show evidence of this physical, emotional, and psychological stress which in turn affects their ability to deal with other people. 

Self-care is not a new idea and is personal and unique. It is foundational to effective decision-making and ethical action. 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. 

Self-care can be described in several ways. 

  • Activities and practices that give you strength, that lower the level of stress and contribute to your wellbeing
  • Reflecting on when stress is manageable/less manageable
  • Reflecting on when physical and emotional wellbeing is enhanced

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 leading and managing in the age of digital compliance.