4 Tips to Better Self-Care as a School Leader

This blog comes from IC Associate, executive coach and author of bestselling book “101 Playground Games and 101 Wet Playtime Games and Activities”, Thérèse Hoyle.

The press, media and study after study tells us that Headteacher recruitment and retention is in crisis, nevertheless there are many things School Leaders can do to make sure they’re not another one of those burnout statistics.
The NFER survey in 2016 showed that increasing numbers of Headteachers are leaving the profession before retirement age, with many articles and leaders themselves citing the intense pressures and challenges of the job, unrealistic targets, a loss of passion and a lack of support as responsible for this.
Meanwhile, in a survey undertaken by the National Governor’s Association in September 2015, 43% of 4,383 respondents reported it was difficult to find good candidates when recruiting senior leaders for similar reasons. In light of this, perhaps it is no surprise that England could be facing a shortage of up to 19,000 senior teachers by 2022.
Most of us came into the profession because we had a vision of how we thought education should be, we loved children, had an enthusiasm for our subject and wanted to make a difference.
Sadly, with the changes that have taken place in education, many leaders and teachers can find themselves disconnected with their original reasons for coming into education.
I often think of us climbing an education mountain where we are snowed under with never ending amounts of paperwork, ambushed by parents leaping out of prickly bushes when we least expect them and  vulnerable children who sometimes need more care and attention, than time and resources allow.
On top of this, there are boulders in the form of SATs, OFSTED, budget cuts, and as we climb half way up the mountain we find the media laying in wait for us, with yet another doom and gloom story about what we haven’t done and how we are failing yet again.
It can feel as though we have become buried under the government’s never-ending impositions in the form of targets, exams, SATs reforms and curriculum changes to name but a few! It’s perhaps no wonder we sometimes find it hard.
The education landscape today does undoubtedly feel challenging and stressful. The workload pressures, constant changes and demands are an ever-present realities of the job.

So how do we address these challenges?

There are many things we can do to not become a martyr of the system or undone by the stresses of the role.
The first step to doing this is recognising what stress is and what it is telling us. The word stress is often understood as meaning “pressure” or “tension” but it can also more broadly be defined as “a force which causes an object to change’.
I think this definition rings true as when we suffer stresses and strains in our body, it is our physical, chemical or emotional forces that change and signal to us to adapt. They are our warning signs that change is needed.
Too often, however we do not listen to our bodies and end up with distress, which manifests physically as pain, muscle tension, injury or disease; emotionally with symptoms of jealousy, insecurity, feelings of inferiority, inability to concentrate, poor decision making, mental disorientation, depression and anxiety etc.

So what is stress telling us to change?

Well I believe it is telling us to better care for ourselves. It is telling us – as I’m sure you will have heard it said in every pre-flight demonstration, to put on your own ‘Oxygen Mask’ before you help others.
The idea is that you don’t become so preoccupied with trying to help secure everyone else’s oxygen mask that you forget to secure your own. You are not going to be much help to anyone, let alone yourself, if you’re in a pre-comatosed state!
Many of my coaching clients will tell me they have depleted themselves for the sake of others: pupils, staff, families, friends.
However, the irony is that by neglecting their basic needs and putting themselves last – they have hindered their ability to properly care for those people they long to serve.
After all, you are not really going to be much good for anyone else in your life if you are depleted, lacking energy, or are in a state of constant irritability.
However, by taking the time and care to secure your oxygen mask, when the challenges of school life come hurtling towards you, you will have some foundations with which to deal with them. Having the mask will mean that you will have enough fuel to support everything and everyone else in your world.

So what does putting your own mask on first look like?

Well it starts with creating daily habits that nurture and sustain you, such as:
1. Eating a healthy, balanced diet. Cut down on all refined and processed foods, sugar, fried fatty foods, additives and all stimulants like tea, coffee and alcohol. Instead eat more wholegrains, vegetables, fruit, whole wheat pasta, seafood, free range/organic poultry and dairy products.
2. Drinking water throughout the day. By staying hydrated you’ll be taking care of your most basic needs first. Water is also essential for cleansing the body so try to drink at least 4-6 glasses a day.
3. Exercising. Start an exercise programme – walking, running, swimming, aerobics, dancing or yoga and follow it regularly 2 or more times a week. Medical research indicates the better shape you are the easier you will find it to handle stress.
4. Taking time off from the digital screens and replace them with rituals of self-care. While screens may feel relaxing, and allow you to turn “off,” try and find a screen-less activity to truly take time for yourself. Instead, skip the TV and create a rituals of self-care, like:
– A bath
– Legs up the Wall with eyes covered for 5-10 minutes
– A five- minute foot massage
– Listening to relaxing music with a cup of tea


Learning to meet our own needs

When you are working in a school, engaging day-to-day with children and their families, teachers, support staff, Governors and other adults, you know that in addition to expending great amounts of mental and physical energy, you expend equal (if not more) amounts of energy meeting the emotional needs of others.
If you don’t invest the time in meeting your needs, you can end up carrying a huge emotional debt and become increasingly emotionally overdrawn, with no readily identifiable means for bringing your emotional account back into credit.
This is particularly dangerous if you’re like most Heads in our school system, you’re incredibly under-supported.
There’s no one you can talk to who really gets your job and all the stresses that come with it, leaving you stuck with coping mechanisms and busy-ness to get you through the day — not a great set up for good leadership.
As a result, you run 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, but we also can begin to derive less satisfaction from our lives.
It is for this reason, that we now offer free “Coaching for the Soul” support calls, for Heads who feel that they could benefit from a confidential space that will allow them to:
–  Talk through the challenges they’re facing and find solutions
–  Receive support and encouragement in their current situation
–  Reflect on recent events and the impact they are having
–  Gain clarity around their thoughts and plan a way forward

Book Your Call

 If you’re keen for support and guidance in your current situation, please do book now!




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