When you take a role in school leadership, you know you’re signing up for some added stress. Added responsibility generally equals more pressure, but it can be a little surprising how much more it is.
According to research from Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education school principals and assistant principals are experiencing 1.5 times the amount of workplace demands as the general population.
That results in higher levels of burnout (1.6 times higher) and stress symptoms (1.7 times higher). School leaders are also 2.2 times more likely to have difficulty sleeping and 1.3 times more likely to experience depressive symptoms.
Research from The Flourish Project, a collaboration with Deakin University Business School and The Shoalhaven Primary Principals Council focused on school leader burnout, found that some principals were interrupted an average of 70 times a day in school hours. Which explains why more and more work is completed outside of school.
Preparation is key
Managing stress can be really tricky, especially if you’re in the throes of a difficult term. That’s why there’s no better time than now to start preparing for how you’ll reduce stress for you and your teachers this term. We’ve put together our 6 tips for managing and reducing stress.
1. Know your network
Leaders are inherently required to support the needs of those around them — it’s part of the job. But as you are preparing for the new term, think about who supports you. It’s important to know who you can call upon when you need a sounding board, advice or just someone to listen.
Apply the same theory to your teachers. Check in with them regularly — even if it’s just for an informal chat. Connecting with your colleagues regularly will remind you of all the support that exists around you.
2. Plan and set realistic goals
Research shows that setting realistic goals is an effective way to reduce stress, as opposed to managing it. Spend some time in the school holidays mapping out what the term will look like. Are there any big deadlines? Make sure you allocate time now to work on those tasks. Do you see any points in the term where teachers will need extra support from you? Think about how you can manage your workload so you have more time for them. It’s important to be truly realistic in this process. If you know that the same task took 3 hours last time you did it, don’t allocate 1 hour. That’s a sure way to build up stress! It’s always better to overestimate the time it will take to complete a task. That way you reduce the chance of feeling overwhelmed and falling behind on your deadlines.
3. Empower your teachers
When your teachers feel empowered a huge weight will be lifted from you. Not only will you get some of your time back, you might also feel more confident about delegating some of your own tasks.
Research shows that empowered teachers are happier in their roles, so think about what will make your teachers feel more confident in their roles. It might be a PD program, a more supportive culture between teachers, or a dedicated time where they can share their classroom wins and challenges.
Keep in mind that adding in time for meetings or PD with staff shouldn’t be in addition to what you are already doing. You should think about how you can change up the time you have already set aside for your staff to be more focused on empowering them.
Hearing about your mistakes or challenges might also be beneficial for staff. No one gets it right 100% of the time, not even the leader, and we often don’t know the answer to a problem straight away. By sharing your challenges you can show how you approach decision making.
It’s important that staff know that you are always there to support them, but by giving them the right tools you can help them to succeed on their own.
4. Lead by example
If you’re prioritising work over sleep, not taking time to recharge and setting unrealistic timelines on your tasks, then chances are your teachers will too. Your stress levels and working habits will not just be noticed by teachers, they’ll probably be adopted by them too. And once one teacher starts working late and feeling the pressure others will do. The chain-reaction will happen quickly and before you know out morale is low.
Leaders who demonstrate good balance are effectively modelling that behaviour to their teams. As much as possible, show your teachers that you make balance a priority.
5. Banish negativity
It’s mid-way through the term and the remnants of the restful term break are completely gone. Work is beginning to pile up, school camp is drawing closer and everyone is starting to look a little tired. It’s about now that you might notice some negative talk creeping into the staffroom. It might start with one or two complaints, but negativity can gain traction quickly. Before you know it, it’s spread across the school and everyone is feeling a little down.
While it’s normal to complain when you’re having a bad day, it’s important that the conversations remain productive. Keep in mind that when people complain, it’s often because they feel unheard. Make sure there’s a time allocated for staff to air their complaints, be heard and feel supported. This will go a long way in keeping the morale of the whole team positive.
6. Allocate time for the things you love
Finding balance between work and life can be really difficult. Make sure you allocate time for yourself well in advance so you can prevent burn out. It might mean leaving on time every Tuesday to go to the gym, or scheduling regular catch-ups with friends and family. Whatever it is, lock it in and make it a priority. Resist the urge to reschedule!
Go forward stress free
The school holidays are the perfect time to rest, recharge and reset for the term ahead. By spending just a few hours thinking about the tips above you will step into the new term with a plan to manage stress levels.
If we can leave you with one more thing it’s this — remember why you started. It might sound cheesy but when things get stressful it’s easy to focus on all the difficult aspects of the job. So remind yourself why you wanted this role. Was it to make a difference in your school? To support better outcomes for your students? Whatever the reason, hold it close and let it be your motivation.
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