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Is Work – Life Balance For School Leaders Possible?

If you had to write your own report card and rate yourself on work-life balance, what grade would you allocate and what comment would you write?

C- Could do better!


D What is work-life balance?


B Delusional, pretends that all is fine but is about to be buried in paperwork and missed deadlines!

According to research only 6% of Australians report that they have a good work-life balance. I find that figure shocking! THIS is your real life – it isn’t a dress rehearsal, this is the real thing.

I tested the data from this research at a teacher conference recently. I asked the 100 educators in the audience to rate themselves on work-life balance and then raise their hand if they rated themselves an “A”.

Initially I was impressed when 18 teachers proudly raised their hand to indicate that they felt they had a really good work-life balance. However, in response to a murmur in the front row about working part-time, I asked the 18 participants to put their hand down if they worked part-time.…only two hands remained in the air!

Obviously working part-time improves work-life balance and is a decision that some people make.

My 5 minute straw poll at the teachers conference confirmed what my two year-long Masters research in 1995, had concluded, “Teaching is stressful”.

Whilst many factors contribute to the stress that comes from working in education, I believe that by it’s very nature, working with people is stressful.

Unlike working in a factory, we can’t always predict what our day will hold.

People can be unpredictable. We never quite know what is going on in another person’s world. They may be suffering from health issues, have had an argument with their partner, lost their job or be under extreme financial pressure, before walking into our school.

Schools can therefore be a reflection of the stress that a community is experiencing. In many cases the school is the last remaining hub of the community. They can be one of the few remaining places in a community where people congregate and interact. Staff in schools are therefore at the pointy-end of society.

Being a school leader is arguably even more stressful. Not only are we dealing with the foibles of the community, we have the demands of staff, competing priorities, increased expectations and tightening budgets to contend with. It is no wonder so many of us struggle with work-life balance.

A 6% success rate is VERY low. For school leaders, it’s probably even less. Often leaders in schools put their own needs below those of others. It’s time we got serious, took some personal action and heeded the advice given by flight attendants on a daily basis, look after yourself before looking after those of people around you!

Staff, parents, students and the wider community often rely on their Principal to be resilient and a source of both stability and wisdom. Unfortunately, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we will not be in a position to support others in their time of need.

My five recommendations for improving your work-life balance are:-

Aim for work-life satisfaction instead of balance. Aspiring to get balance creates a mindset where we try to ‘balance’ We should get satisfaction from the important work that we do as well as the other roles we play:- parent, partner, family member, neighbor, community member, son or daughter, coach etc.

Like it or not, our work is a significant component of who we our as well as taking up a significant amount of our waking hours. If your work as a school leader is not giving you satisfaction then I have two pieces of advice.

First, monitor your self-talk and ensure that you are telling yourself that your work IS important, you have an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives every day and that opportunity comes with challenges.

If, after you have tried to improve your self-talk, you are still not feeling a sense of satisfaction from the important but challenging work that we do as school leaders, it is time to follow my second piece of advice

Start to plan your exit strategy! Life is too short and our positions too important and demanding to be doing work that isn’t satisfying (at least three or four days per week). If your work is not giving you satisfaction, do something about it. You deserve to get satisfaction from your work,

Planning your exit strategy doesn’t mean you have to resign immediately. Consider what else you would like to be doing. What do you think would give you satisfaction? Could you utilise some leave time to see if it is as satisfying as you think it will be?

Do you need to undertake some part-time study to get other qualifications or to explore other areas? Could you change your lifestyle to reduce financial pressure – perhaps a ‘tree change’?

Develop some family Golden Rules to protect the time you have for your priorities and stick to them. At times school work can encroach on our family life. It can seem that we don’t have time for anything other than work and sleep. Establishing some Golden Rules for limiting the amount that work encroaches on us is vital.

Golden Rules are personal and vary from person to person.

The following are some examples:-

  • If I have to do some school work on the weekend – I’ll confine it to ONLY one day
  • Leave school at 3.30 pm on Tuesdays
  • Limit reading and answering emails to 30 minutes per night
  • Take my partner on a date night, one night per month
  • Have a family dinner at the dining table two nights per week
  • Call my mother every weekend
  • Go to the gym (or walk the dog or swim) at least every second day


What Golden Rules do you need to implement to protect things that are a  priority in your life?

Look after yourself! Your physical well-being has a direct connection with your stress level and mental attitude. It is therefore vital that we look after our own well-being. We all know what we should be doing. Having the self-discipline to actually DO, what we know we SHOULD, is a different thing.

People are relying on us. It’s time to get serious and be the best role model we know.

Often one of the first things we stop doing when we are ‘busy’ is exercising. We know that we should be exercising regularly. We know that we need to eat well and that we should stop to sit down to eat.  We also know that we should be drinking two litres of water each and every day and that AFDs (Alcohol Free Days) are also recommended. Getting the sleep our body needs is important to restore our resources and reinstate our reserves of patience and good humour.

These areas need to be priorities – especially when we are busy!

Avoid Deferred Happiness Syndrome (DHS) Many people suffer from what has become known as Deferred Happiness Syndrome. They put off being ‘happy’ to some later stage and wish their life away. You might have heard people say….“I’ll be happy when this week is over!”

“I’ll be happy when this term finishes….when I’m on long service….when the holidays are here…when the kids leave home… when the mortgage is paid off….”

Instead of putting off your happiness, plan a list of things that you want to do in your life-time. Don’t wait for a life-crisis before writing your ‘bucket list’. Start thinking NOW about the following FOUR personal goals you plan on achieving THIS year!

  • A Place you are going to go
  • An ACTIVITY you are going to do
  • Something to LEARN (that is NOT work related)
  • Something you’ll do that will make you a BETTER person


As you tick off each of these achievements, replace them with another goal. Give yourself permission to be happy now and start living life!