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15 Things School Leaders Can Do To Improve Their Well-being

The work of school leaders is intensifying as the impact of social change manifests in the behaviour of students and their parents, according to the latest Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey. The author of the report, Associate Professor Philip Riley says bullying and threats of violence in schools is out of control and making an already demanding job even more difficult. The intensity of the challenges that principals face certainly is – and that is taking a toll on principals’ wellbeing.

While school leaders experienced greater negative effects on their health and wellbeing than the general population, they also experienced greater work satisfaction. The Survey is evidence that principals are passionately committed to their work of educating young Australians, even at times to the detriment of their own health. The report also provides evidence that mental health issues associated with staff and students were increasing.

Principals and other school leaders are working long hours during term time and during term breaks. There is evidence of further deterioration in health indicators such as stress, sleeping troubles and burnout.

Whilst the report includes recommendations for each stakeholder group to implement to improve the situation, I encouraged individual Principals to implement the following strategies.

Clearly communicate that harassment and violence are NOT tolerated
It is a sad reflection on our society that many public hospitals now display “Zero Tolerance to Abuse” signs clearly communicating that harassment and violence towards staff will not be tolerated. This message can also be communicated through newsletters.












Take responsibility for your own personal well-being

Many school leaders put themselves last! They work long hours and tirelessly try to be all things, to all people. Looking after your own well-being needs to be a priority. People rely on us. You can’t help others and be there for them if you are burnt out and exhausted.

Undertake a thorough health appraisal every year
Early detection is often better than pursuing a cure. It is important that leaders commit to a full health appraisal on an annual basis. Don’t wait for the alarm bells to ring. Take a proactive approach and undertake a full health appraisal, including blood screening on an annual basis. Check out the program

Replace the term work-life balance with work-life satisfaction
‘Balance’ can be very difficult to achieve. Our work in schools takes up a significant amount of our awake hours. It is important that we get satisfaction from our work as well as the other aspects of our lives. Instead of aspiring for work-life balance, aim to get satisfaction from your work as well as the other roles that make up your life.

Set boundaries on your work hours
There is always more that can be done. Our IN tray is never empty, our IN box refills with emails, there are reports that need to be written and research that should be read. No matter how many hours you work, there is always more that could be done. It is vital to set boundaries to stop work overtaking and having an impact on the other aspects of your life. Which day of the week could you leave school at 3.30 pm and do something for you?

Monitor your self-talk
It is vital that we monitor that little voice inside our heads and ensure that our expectations of ourselves are fair and realistic.

Ensure that your expectations of yourself are realistic
At times educators can be our own harshest critic. At the end of each day we should reflect on what we have achieved and not be too harsh on ourselves if there are tasks that are still left to do on our TO DO list. We don’t get to sit, uninterrupted in an office, working our way through a TO DO list. Our days in school are unpredictable. Unexpected events happen often, requiring us to adjust our priorities.

Seek expert help if feeling over-whelmed
Our work in schools is challenging and demanding. We deal with all sorts of people, confront many stressful situations that occur within our society and are relied upon by so many. If you are feeling over-whelmed, seek professional support. It is not a sign of weakness but a recognition of the real complexity of the role we play.

Book a holiday, every break
School terms are intense and draining. It is vital that we take some time each school holidays to rest and recharge. A holiday doesn’t have to be extravagant. Even if you only go away for a night or two, the change of scenery and break from the demands of our role are worthwhile. The anticipation of the holiday can be almost as good as the holiday itself. Where would you like to go next break? Book a holiday now and gain the benefits throughout the term.

Establish and commit to an exercise routine
We know the benefits of exercise on both our physical and mental health. Establishing an exercise routine is one of the most powerful actions you can take. Choose an exercise that works for you – walking the dog, gym, playing sport, cycling, yoga, swimming etc. Establish regular exercise as part of your routine. When can you schedule it in? Make it a priority and you’ll find the time! Commit to the program for three weeks and it starts to become a habit.
Often when we get busy and stressed, the first thing many school leaders stop doing is exercising. Yet exercising is the best thing they could do for their well-being. Don’t make that mistake.

Be ruthless at prioritising and playing gate keeper
Time is one of the most precious resources we have. It is vital that we use it well. Ask yourself often, “Is this the most important thing I could be doing with the time I have available?”
A good way to feel that you are moving ahead and gaining traction is to identify at the beginning of each day, one task, activity or conversation that we need to make sure is completed that day, for the day to feel successful.
Playing gate keeper by learning to say “NO” and being ruthless about the number of priorities we take on is essential to being effective. It is better to have three priorities and do them well, than have many priorities and do them poorly.
If looking after your well-being and improving your productivity are important to you check out

Stop for lunch
We know eating well is important to looking after our health but we often skip lunch, eat on the run or at our desk. Take at least 15 minutes away from your desk to stop and eat lunch. If you get energy from mixing with people, then go to the staffroom. If you need quiet time away from people to re-energise, then find a quiet space (away from your desk).

Drink more water
We should drink at least 2 litres of water per day. This equates to about 8 glasses of water. Take regular breaks from your computer, get up, stretch and drink another glass of water.

Spend more time interacting with students in classrooms and the school grounds
Spending time interacting with students allows us to reconnect with why we chose this career working in schools. Whether it is taking on students at handball during the lunch break, informally visiting classrooms, sharing a joke or coaching a sporting team, interacting with students adds energy to our day.