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$1.2 million to assist Victorian principals’ mental health

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A comprehensive school culture program with a focus on principal mental health is coming to Victoria, looking to affect long term change for approximately 1500 principals and educators and 35,000 students.

Smiling Mind will co-design a cultural and environmental change framework underpinned by mindfulness principles and practices with schools. The training and educational model will inform the direction for creating a tailored mindfulness program for each school and integrated to establish school wide mental health.

WorkSafe Victoria has awarded Smiling Mind $1.2 million as part of the WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund to deliver the whole-school program.

The project is designed to complement the Department of Education and Training's Principal Health & Wellbeing Strategy and will help to improve school culture and enhance protective factors associated with principal wellbeing, resilience and mental health.

The program will commence in April 2019 with 80 primary school leaders across Victoria over a three-year period.

Tip Kennedy, Principal at Richmond West Primary School says that being a principal is demanding and this program is a welcome addition that will provide leaders with the tools they need to succeed.

“The work of a school principal is demanding and challenging. School communities look to us for support, guidance and strong leadership. Within the dynamic nature of schools, we also work towards creating calm, respectful and engaging learning settings,” says Kennedy.

“Stress is often associated with our work. Along with many of my colleagues I have experienced the impact of that stress. Initiatives that promote principal mental health and wellbeing are needed to help us do our best work. Supporting principals to look after our own mental health will help us continue to support our students, teachers and families."

Smiling Mind CEO, Dr Addie Wootten says, “We’re committed to developing and fostering healthy school cultures, mentally and physically. We are extremely excited to be working closely with WorkSafe's WorkWell to help create learning and working environments where every mind can thrive and experience the benefits associated with mindfulness practices.”

Mental health has become a growing concern for educators, the 2018 Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing survey indicated almost 60% of principals report poor health due to burnout and stress.

“The role of a principal has evolved and expanded. The increasing demand on them to be more than educators is growing – with many of them having to act as counselor, mediator and mentor and adhere to the expectations of students, parents and their colleagues. We’ve seen a decline in the number of teachers staying in the workforce, with many changing professions within the first five years because they’re finding the stressors and pressures overwhelming. There are limited mental health support options available to them.

“Primary school principals and teachers are responsible for our children during some of their most formative years. This program will create positive change not just for the leaders but will also have a strong flow on effect to benefit the entire school community,” Dr Wootten says.

Julie Podbury, The President of the Australian Principals Federation (APF), sees the impacts of stress and mental health challenges faced by principals and says more needs to be done to support their wellbeing.

“Principal wellbeing is a critical issue that must be addressed for schools to continue to function effectively. We see the effects of poor mental health and wellbeing every day through contact with our members and work we undertake to support them.”

“Taking a system-level approach and improving the wellbeing, resilience and mental health of school leaders in order to improve school climate and culture is vital, and the APF strongly supports this initiative.”

The program will deliver across four key areas:
• Leadership training: a focus on introducing leaders to personal mindfulness and exploring how these foundations could be implemented in their school
• School integration: an intensive course to build capacity and internal sustainability of the program
• Communities of Practice: an opportunity for teachers and school leaders to participate in forums to share their learnings, discuss challenges and opportunities, as well as provide or receive additional support from peers
• Coaching: ongoing individual support for school leaders each term.

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