Why self-care should be on every school leader’s agenda in 2022

School leaders are very good at minimizing the importance of their own self-care.
Well being
Remembering to look out for number one.

It is hard to imagine a new school year starting like 2022. Constantly changing health advice, confused messaging to school communities and most recently, the rollout of Rapid Antigen Testing kits adding another layer of complexity to managing the school and community.

School leaders are in a constant cycle of accountably and compliance to lead and manage continuousness school improvement. Every school is unique, and every school leader has had to take on the new responsibilities of project manager, community liaison and COVID expert as they navigate the needs of their schools.

The Australian Professional Standard for Principals sets out what principals are expected to know, understand, and do to succeed in their work. Accreditation of school leaders is an important recognition of the profession. The Standard is expressed in broad sweeping statements and for many, does not reflect the real, everyday work of school leaders, although it has become the measure of principal's efficiency.

Recent research from New Zealand and Australia suggested principals experience higher rates of burnout, stress and sleeplessness than other professions (Maxwell & Riley, 2017). Principals manage their own levels of stress whilst concurrently being tasked with the responsibility to manage the wellbeing of staff; a task that has become increasingly difficult given the current complexities.

While school leaders are very good at minimizing the importance of their own self-care, they more easily recognise the need to develop self-care practices in staff. What is often neglected is their ability to acknowledge that if they don't manage and balance their own self-care, they are more likely to adopt maladaptive coping strategies when they are met with uncertainty.

Self-care is not a new idea. It’s foundational to effective decision making and ethical action. Self-care is personal and unique to everyone and relates to what you do at work and away from work to look after your whole self. School leaders need to work at modelling visible self-care practices to ensure the staff they lead not only hear but see the importance of putting self-first.

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 as a priority. Despite the difficultness in finding this time, the very action to highlight the significance is the first step in the process of change.

Self-care is often categorised into six areas, and each of these help people recognise the types of ways unique individuals can re-energise, prioritise and lower stress, including:

  • Physical self-care: sleep, diet, physical activity
  • Emotional self-care: gratitude practices, experiences, relationship and connection
  • Psychological self-care: reflective journaling, non-work hobbies, scheduled down time
  • Workplace self-care: a consistent plan, peer support, professional learning and development
  • Spiritual self-care: reflective practices and places, time in nature, meditation, breathing techniques.
  • Relationship self-care: close relationship, family and friends, reflecting on work schedules and impact on home life.

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.

Principals 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. By finding ways to care for themselves, to find balance in their lives, and to preserve their own sanity, principals will be able to do a better job of responding to all the people and demands they face daily.

Maxwell, A & Riley, P (2017), Emotional demands, emotional labour and occupational outcomes in school principals: Modelling the relationships Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 45 (3), 484–502.

For more information and complimentary self-care resources, visit www.eduinfluencers.com

Photo by fedoskamcha from Pexels