There’s no denying that School Leadership is a difficult job.
With the pressures of Headship increasing all the time, is it any wonder that Governors are finding it incredibly difficult to recruit new Heads and that schools may be facing a shortage of upto 19,000 School Leaders by 2022?
While there’s nothing you can do about the external pressures of Headship, you do have control over how you respond to them — and that’s what will save you from burnout.
But what are the major causes of Headteacher burnout and how can these be tackled before they begin to affect your ability to lead and inspire?
1. Bad habits
One thing that is so striking about Headship is how very easy it is to normalise really crazy behaviour. You work 60 hours one week thinking that it’s just a one off, until it’s 70 hours, and so on… So many Heads don’t even stop to eat during the day, much less go to the loo or do any of the things that we as humans need to do to be healthy, much less happy.
The fix: Look at your daily actions and see which ones are serving you and which ones aren’t. If there are some that aren’t, then choose one and take one tiny step towards fixing it today. Don’t worry about changing everything at once — start very small, you’ll have some powerful momentum going before you know it.
2. Ignoring your body
Headteachers are notoriously bad about ignoring themselves, often because they just don’t listen to their bodies, which are amazing sources of information about health and wellbeing. The truth is, your body will keep trying to get your attention any way it can until you listen, even if means you end up having a heart attack, cancer, or a nervous breakdown.
The fix: Listen to your body! That persistent headache, those aching shoulders, that eczema … all can be signs of stress and burnout, so pay attention. If you don’t, you’ll be like someone trying to run a marathon with a bad knee. You might make it for a while, but eventually you will break down, and the longer you leave it the worse it will be.
3. Living outside your values
This is a subtle one, but just as destructive. Whenever you start doing things that aren’t in line with your moral compass, you wear yourself down. That niggling feeling that something is off, that sense that you don’t recognise yourself when you look in the mirror? All signs that you might be living outside your values.
The fix: Reconnect with what your values are, then see how you can incorporate them in your day to day. You’d be surprised how often you can do this even within the boundaries of harsh objectives and regulations — try to think about how you can make them work with your compass, in your school.
4. Managing your masks
In life, most people have to put on maybe three “masks” a day — one for their partner, one for their colleagues, and one for their children. But as a Head, you’ve got to play a different role for the kids, the staff, the inspectors, the Governors, and the parents, often all in the same day!
The fix: Realise that this is going to be a part of the job. People are always going to project roles on to you, but when you have a solid grounding in who you are, this becomes much easier to manage. Remember, you always have the chance to take back your power in the interaction: just because you’ve acted one way in a particular role before doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it.
That quiet (or not so quiet) voice that’s constantly saying “You’re crap. You’re rubbish, what were you thinking, applying for this job? You can’t do this. There’s no point, what with all these new regulations. You’re useless” — that’s an enormous drain on your energy and happiness!
The fix: Recognise it for what it is — just a voice saying things that aren’t true — and build up a healthy supply of self confidence. Practice focusing on your strengths, and get some outside support to keep you in perspective.
Tackling the Causes of Burn-out
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.
Having been a Head myself, I know all too well what this feels like and equally what must be done to prevent it!
It is for this reason, that I 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
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!