Who is checking on the mental health of our school leaders?
Monday, February 15, 2021
Remember when you were a child at the amusement park, and the ride operator said if you want to get off the ride all you have to do is wave? Well, I’ve been waving furiously for several months and yet some days it seems no one is coming to my rescue. I am sure I am not alone.
Being a school leader is tough enough but doing so in a pandemic starts to take its toll on us as professionals and as human beings. Who is checking on the mental health of our school leaders during this challenging time? I hope all of you reading this can recognize if and when you need help and know the signs of when to reach out to your fellow school leaders.
I certainly practice this in my work as a New Hampshire high school principal each and every day.
As a result of the ongoing pandemic, mental health for educators has continued to be one of the most trending topics in our profession. This past month, ASCD ran a 10-day series of articles to provide mental health resources for educators. There are a few points of note for school leaders. The first is an article by Isobel Stevenson, entitled, “Educator Stress Is a Leadership Challenge. Here's What Leaders Can Do About It.”
Stevenson calls upon school leaders to prioritize this for their staff, stating, “Reducing stress for educators is a worthy goal in itself; education leaders have an ethical obligation to do so. That reducing stress also improves organizational productivity makes doing so a fundamental leadership responsibility well within the grasp of all leaders.”
Stevenson goes on to suggest these tips as simple strategies leaders can use: Be supportive of your staff, stop trying to do so much, build collaboration and trust across the system, and communicate regularly and often. These same tips would work for a team of educational leaders in their efforts to take care of each other’s mental health needs just like it would with teachers.
Another resource from the ASCD 10 day series geared to school leaders is this recent article by Elena Aguilar, entitled, “The Resilient Educator / The Lowdown on Burnout.” Aguilar describes burnout in this way: “Burnout is basically depression. That's the first and perhaps most important thing to know. It's a distinct form of depression characterized by fatigue, frustration, dissatisfaction, and apathy. As many as half of all workers in high-stress jobs experience some form of burnout in their career. In education, burnout is most common when teachers don't see the results they aspire to create.”
As a result of the pandemic, educational leaders from coast to coast have reported teacher burnout at an all-time high. I have seen this to some degree in my own school this year. Aguilar went on to advise that when leaders see signs of burnout in themselves or their teachers they should “normalize and talk about emotions; proactively identify what ‘success’ might look like; and consider alternative ways a struggling teacher could contribute to education.” Agular went on to remind readers to remember this: “Burnout is a place one can return from.”
In this recent EducationWeek article by Denisa R. Superville, 10 strategies were identified for principals who are feeling stressed and anxious right now. They include meditation and relaxation, sleep, breaks, better management of time, self-reflection, finding your “tribe,” recognizing that not every meeting needs to be a video chat (phones work too!), exercise, eating healthy, and being aware of the voice in your head.
In this recent MultiBriefs Exclusive, I identified five strategies principals can utilize to keep their mental health in check during the pandemic:
- Find an appropriate work-life balance.
- Focus on the problems and issues that you can control.
- Take control over how you spend your time.
- Celebrate victories, even the little ones.
- Focus on your mental and physical wellness.
In summary, the pandemic is long from over. Even when we do reach a point where cases have dropped and safety restrictions begin to relax, there will be much work to do to build up our schools in the post-COVID world. We won’t be out of the woods for some time.
Educational leaders, I worry about you and I hope you will take the time you need to take care of yourself so you are rested and ready for the work that lies ahead. Our profession will need us at our best!
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