This blog comes from teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions, Jo Steer (@Skills_w_Frills)
Maintaining a good work-life balance is difficult in any profession.
The wonders of technology have given us endless ways to blur the boundaries, meaning that we often take our work home, physically, emotionally and mentally.
Despite what some may think, educator don’t “own” work-related stress. But by golly we’ve earned a majority share.
Given our excessive workloads, accountability measures and the fact that we work more overtime than any other industry, it’s no wonder that 67 per cent of educators describe themselves as “stressed at work”, with many showing actual symptoms of clinical anxiety and depression.
The truly tragic thing is that we’re not surprised by this. To us, the language of stress, panic attacks and antidepressants has become commonplace and normalised.
The risk of burnout
We accept and expect it. Some of us even seem proud of it, bragging about how little sleep we’ve had or how stressed we are, as if these things are synonymous with success.
We tend to ignore the warnings from our bodies, committing ourselves wholly to the school timetable. We don’t stop when we’re tired, we stop when term ends (even if we’ve contracted a moderate version of the Black Death along the way).
Of course, there will always be certain events that trigger an increase in this stress: exam time, data deadlines and OFSTED inspections. But if a bad day becomes a bad week, month or term, then you may be getting close to burnout. Here are the signs to look out for:
A racing mind, the need to be constantly busy and an inability to switch off and/or be still are all warning signs that you’re heading for burnout.
These can be accompanied by a host of uncomfortable physical sensations including shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, shakes, tight muscles, dizziness, nausea, out-of-body experiences, panic attacks and more. Insomnia is also a common but distressing side effect.
Losing interest in work or everything outside of work (hobbies, activities and entertainment that you usually enjoy) is a worrying sign. When I went through burnout, I felt detached from reality – and incredibly numb.
If your mind is racing, you’ll very likely have big problems concentrating. Maybe work takes much longer than it should; maybe you’re extra clumsy and forgetful; maybe you get to work, without any memory of how you got there. These are clear signs that your brain is overworked.
Perhaps one of the cruellest side effects of burnout is that, despite putting work above all else, you’re not even left with your self-esteem intact.
Instead, you’re often left feeling as if you can’t lead your school, that you’re a fraud, that you can’t keep up and therefore must be inadequate. If you’re increasingly insecure and unsure of yourself, you might be nearing burnout.
Sunday night dread and ranting about work isn’t uncommon in any profession. But if you’re finding yourself consumed by negativity, unable to think, see, hear or say anything remotely positive; if those feelings of dread become an everyday feature of life, then there’s something very wrong.
No matter what the symptoms, the key here is to notice change; in your body, mind, emotions and your behaviour. Like any disease, it’s better caught early, before it does long-lasting damage.
In the frenetic life of a school leader time and space are increasingly rare commodities. With a constant flow of meetings to be held, problems to solve and fires to put out – it can be very hard for leaders to find the time and space to be still and think.
However, without this chance to stop and consider what’s working and what isn’t – many leaders find themselves repeatedly making the same mistakes or simply leading on “autopilot”.This lack of space also means many have very few avenues for exploring and talking through the emotional aspects of the role, the challenges it poses and the impact is having upon them, mentally, emotionally and physically.
In turn, this can (without doubt) increase the risk of emotional ‘burn out’. When this begins to happen, not only do we experience extreme levels of mental and emotional exhaustion that can be debilitating to our ability to lead others, our health and our overall well-being. Having been a Head myself, I know all too well what this feels like but equally what must be done to prevent it!
That’s why we’re now are offering a “Developing Headspace” Programme, consisting of a 2 Day “Transforming Leadership” Residential in Suffolk, Group Nurture Meals, coaching calls and a half day “Review and a Reflect” session, all designed to support and enhance Headteachers’ capacity for authentic, inspiring and sustainable leadership.
The programme hopes to offer a space for reflection and active, informed listening, for Heads to renew perspective, think strategically, build lasting networks of support and refresh the vitality of their core purpose.
Spread across three school terms, the programme includes a range of activities designed to provide on-going care, support and encouragement for Heads across the school year.
Above all, it is our aim to ensure that the programme supports school leaders in 5 key areas…
Vision: Central to all aspects of the programme are processes and ways of working individually and collectively that keep individuals anchored to their vision.
Values: Heads are supported to identify ways of being that increase alignment with themselves and their key values.
Resilience: As Heads develop a deeper understanding of how they respond to the stresses of the role, individuals are supported to develop greater degrees of emotional, psychological and vocational resilience.
A Values Network: The programme design facilitates the development of new supportive and collaborative relationships with like-minded peers.
Confidence: As individuals experience a growth in self-awareness and appreciation of their core strengths, they also experience a growth in personal conviction and increased confidence in their own abilities.
If you’d like to find out more about the programme, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…