It is my belief that school leadership can be one of the most fulfilling and joyful roles but it can also be one of the most stressful and emotionally testing roles too. Sadly for many school leaders, it seems the latter appears to be more aligned with their reality of the role.
In my previous blog, “Are You Falling out of Love with School Leadership?” I explained how the challenges and high cost of the School leadership can leave leaders feeling disenchanted by the role.
I discussed how the culture of high accountability, low job security and excessive workload in our schools can serve to dishearten our school leaders and alienate many from the original vision and passion which inspired them when they entered headship.
However, the question remains: What should you do if you are finding that the role no longer offers you the same joy which it did?
It is my belief that a school leader’s compassion & heartfelt desire to make a difference and serve their pupils & community is something which can never be fully extinguished. However, the flames can require stoking in difficult times.
I believe this is not a case of starting from scratch but rather it is about reconnecting with that which has been lost, identifying ways to lessen the costs of the role and overcoming the challenges that the role presents.
Ultimately, I believe there are three steps which school leaders should take to bring back their passion for the role.
Step 1 – Learn to put yourself, those you love and what you love first.
As a head teacher, it is very easy to get so invested in your school and achieving its goals, that you can put this above your own wants and needs, happiness and those you care about most. Moreover, many assume that how much they work, will in turn, always lead to greater success.
However, the truth is it is only when your own needs have been met, that you can effectively meet the needs of others. Just as meeting the needs of others often requires you to listen, likewise to meet your needs, you must listen to your body and mind.
If your body and mind are exhausted, don’t plough through anyway, as this not only risks burnout. Moreover, by ignoring what you’re experiencing, you are plastering over serious cracks, cracks which could left to get worse can cause your mental state to collapse.
In order to meet your own needs, it’s crucial to learn to protect your free time to do things you love (e.g. playing sport) and to spend time with those you love and which make you laugh and smile to reward yourself for your hard work.
Set aside time to do these things and don’t allow your diary to become so full with meetings that you don’t have moments for yourself.
Lastly, learn when to turn off and accept that no more can be achieved in a day when you get home. This means turn your phone off, so you’re not tempted to make calls or emails and put work out of your mind.
Step 2 – Remind yourself why you’re there – nurture rather than damage your self-esteem.
It is important to keep in your mind exactly what made you become a head teacher and what motivated you in the past. Remind yourself of your reasons for starting out and has kept you going, and focus on these reasons as if they were a mantra.
Remind yourself what brought you joy in your role in the past and make an active effort to bring these back into your life. For example, if you used to love watching the smiles on pupil’s faces at lunch time but now find yourself stuck behind a desk or at a working lunch every day, in future allow yourself the time to go out to the playground, even just for 15 minutes.
When stress takes over and exhaustion kicks in, it is common to focus on negative comments, aspects of the job and ignore the good things you have done and achieved and the praise you have received. It is important to stop and reflect on the positive comments you get and fixate on these and give yourself praise for the things which you feel you have done well for which you may not have received proper credit. Also, try to be always mindful for what is good about your school and your job.
Avoid falling into negative traps, like blaming yourself when you or other make mistakes. Be kind to yourself as you would a pupil, patient and understanding when you’re struggling rather than getting angry or construing that it is a result of your own incompetence.
Step 3 – Get support and the tools you need to cope and flourish
Above all, one of the greatest mistakes which head teachers is convincing themselves that they are the superhero that people want them to be, impervious to stress and abuse. Others may turn to you to be strong but that doesn’t mean you must be strong at all times.
The truth is head teachers are no different to anyone else who experiences negativity, job insecurity and intense pressure. It is important to see this vulnerable person “beneath the mask”, to acknowledge how you feel and process these emotions rather than operating on ‘auto-pilot’ and without consideration for what’s going on in your head and heart.
The best way to nurture these emotions is to ask for help. Asking for help rather than portraying weakness, making yourself vulnerable actually takes a huge amount of courage.
This may be a friend or family member but better than this, is a professional who will create an impartial, non-judgmental, safe place, where you can take your mask off and talk through what you experience and how it affects you. These conversations rather than emotionally draining you, can open up new rivers of hope and energy which can allow the joy return to your job.
Overcoming the Challenges of your Role
Now I know it’s sometimes not easy to ask for help like this. In fact, one of the hardest things for me as a Head teacher was finding the courage to do precisely this. And it is the same today. But if our leaders are to sustain consistently high levels of effectiveness amidst the growing complexity of the role, this form of support is not just helpful – it’s vital.
Social workers have supervision to help them process their toughest cases, and corporate executives have space for “lessons learned” and continuous improvement between projects.
Yet school leaders remain woefully under-supported and as a result, many are left without anyone to turn to when they are in need of support, clarity, guidance or even just some encouragement to keep going.
That’s why I am now offering free “Coaching for The Soul” support calls to ensure that no School Leader finds themselves in the same situation as I was in as a Head.
These calls provide a safe, confidential space for school leaders to:
– Talk through the challenges they are currently facing
– Get support in locating next steps and solutions to help overcome problems
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they are having
– Gain clarity around how best to move forward
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!