Do you feel you still have the same zest for being a head teacher as your very first day? Do you wake up in the morning looking forward to what the day at school brings and leave work enthused by what you’ve accomplished? Does your future as a headteacher excite you?
Answering no to any of these questions is very normal, particularly after a tough week or a mound of paperwork or a difficult encounter with a parent or pupil. However, many can find they struggle to find the same joy that the role originally offered them for months and even years.
Losing the joy of school leadership can be caused by a number of things. However, I believe school leaders losing their joy for the role says less about the individuals in question who struggle with this phenomenon and more about the intense pressures and baggage which comes with being a head teacher. In particular, I believe there are 4 key pressures that can serve to diminish a Headteacher’s love of their role.
1. High Expectation and Accountability – Head teachers are acutely aware of the enormous responsibility placed on their shoulders namely, the proper education and happiness of all the school’s pupils. However, if this was not enough, headteachers often also have to constantly meet (if not exceed) the considerable and often, diverse needs, hopes and expectations of school governors, politicians and thousands of parents and pupils. Keeping all these stakeholders happy is often not merely a tough balancing act but can be a minefield.
2. Job Insecurity – Growing accountability culture in schools means that headteachers’ hard work, reputations and careers can be destroyed by one or two bad results, complaints or outcome of an Ofsted report. As such head teachers are in the impossible environment of trying to establish a great place to children to grow and learn, whilst fighting to keep their job and the anxiety which comes with this.
3. Maintaining a Perpetual Appearance of Strength – Headteachers, more than most, are expected to act and remain an appearance of strength and control. Heads feel they must appear unmoved by the intense scrutiny, expectation and pressure of the role and to be able to stomach any criticism and complaints which come their way.
In particular, dealing with indirect and direct abuse from challenging behaviour from vulnerable children, parents and even staff on a daily basis and coming through these experiences and being unshaken can be incredibly tough.
Moreover, in the environment of a school, there is little support structure and ability to get real help when you are struggling, as to do so can be seen as weakness or admitting you’re not up to the job.
4. Struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance – All of this is made exponentially harder when you consider having to balance all this alongside maintaining marriages, bringing up children and enjoying something of a life outside of work. Headteachers often find themselves working considerably beyond the 50-hour mark on a regular basis. Headship can become all-consuming and mean some individuals feel that they simply aren’t able to give proper time and care to their personal and social lives if they are to ensure that their school’s expectations and aims are met.
Whilst these can all serve to dishearten school leaders, these challenges can be carefully managed in such a way as not to damage one’s joy and enthusiasm for the role.
However, for many in the face of the constant pressures over months, if not years, these can begin to take a toll on the individual.
The joy can dwindle at different rates, depending on the opportunities Heads have for renewal, the support structure they have available and numerous other factors.
The signs that your love for the role might be fading can also vary depending on the individual.
If spotted at a lesser stage, one can recapture the joy they had far more easily. Some of the early signs include:
– Feeling frequently physically & mentally exhausted.
– Going through the motions.
– Seeing less excitement in projects
– Focusing on negative voices in your head and from those around you and letting those inform how you think and your own self-esteem.
– Going home worried or upset about the school and/or the day’s events
– Beginning to doubt oneself
– Becoming withdrawn and becoming easily irritable
– Worrying about and/or anticipating about the worst possible outcome
Left unexamined or ignored these feelings can have serious consequences for your mental wellbeing, your personal relationships and even your leadership of the school. If not tackled, then these symptoms can turn into:
– Loss of hope about your job or even career.
– Heavy loss of confidence about skills and qualities
– Self-blame – Feelings that you are letting stakeholders down.
– Burn-out – complete emotional exhaustion in which we derive less satisfaction from our lives.
– School Performance Suffering
– Turning to self-medication, such as alcohol, food or smoking to supress feelings of stress and/or anxiety.
– In extreme cases, depression
Reconnecting with Your Vision, Passion and Purpose
If any of these apply to you, do not despair. Even though the struggles of day-to-day life as a school leader and the cost of the role can test your love of school leadership, I believe it is possible to reconnect with your original vision, passion and purpose which inspired you to get to where you are today and which is necessary to both motivate and sustain you in your role going forward.
However, in order to do this, it is important that we recognise the need as school leaders to take care of the “soul in the role” by nurturing our wellbeing and having opportunities to explore what matters most.
That’s why I’m now offering a series of School Leadership Retreats to give leaders a chance to reflect, re-energise, reconnect with values and focus on their strategy for securing outstanding results for themselves and their school this summer.
These relaxing getaways are 2 days long and will involve journaling, discussion and walking and a series of structured discussions and are designed to help you:
– Learn how to build emotional resilience and courage to take risks
– Develop relationships with, share support & best practice with like-minded school leaders
– Make sense of what it means for you to be a school leader today
– Deepen your connection with your values and your original vision, passion and purpose
– Identify ways of being that will support you in being the best that you can be
– Reflect on your the year, experiences you’ve had & how these can be used for growth
6 and 7 July: Suffolk
21 and 22 Sept: Suffolk
28 and 29 Sept: Bristol [venue tbc]
Places are very limited, so to avoid missing out – please register your interest today!