If School Leaders are to maintain our vocational vitality, one of the most important things they can do is care for the well-being of their inner self; their world of thoughts, feelings and emotions.
For to underestimate the importance of taking care of the person in the role, is to forget or misunderstand what the role is asking of educators. The role asks that you not only drive school improvement, but that you meet the emotional needs of others, who may tussle and argue with directives for improvement.
It is a role that demands an enormous amount of emotional energy to be expended on a daily basis. For this reasons, actions need to be taken to balance the books and replenish that energy to support oneself in the role. On top of this, habits need to be developed that will sustain our leaders for the long haul as they pursue the best futures for their children.
Those who don’t make their well-being and renewal a priority, however, can find themselves end up carrying a huge emotional debt, becoming increasingly overdrawn and with no readily identifiable means for bringing their emotional account back into credit.
When this happens, these leaders can find themselves heading on a path toward burn-out, a situation which can culminate in one’s passion and performance both suffering as a result.
So what are the habits that can serve to nurture our Headteachers and their vocational vitality?
Well I believe that there are 4 habits that can help to support the well-being of our School leaders…
Habit 1: Learn to accept praise
Most school leaders that I have come across are fantastic at celebrating the strengths and achievements of their students, but many struggle to accept praise that is directed at them. However, when you do this, you help to build your own levels of resilience, which arises from a strong sense of self and a grounded appreciation of your strengths and abilities.
To build this habit you need to begin by checking your thoughts. What do you say to yourself when someone congratulates you on an achievement or praises your leadership? Do you find yourself thinking, ‘They don’t really mean it’ or ‘I’m not really as good as they think I am’? Thoughts like these will only serve to diminish your resilience.
To change this pattern of thinking, simply begin by thanking whoever paid you the compliment. Don’t diminish the power of their words by saying, “It was nothing” or “It wasn’t only me.” If they are praising you, accept it. Learn to welcome the good feelings that arise when you do.
An often-voiced fear is that accepting praise can somehow lead to arrogance. However, when you are in the service of others and rooted in your values and beliefs, accepting praise is simply another way of shoring up your roots and ensuring that your behaviours are aligned with the vision that you have for yourself and the pupils that you teach.
Habit 2: Learn to reflect
Reflection enables you to deepen your connection with your values and brings insight to both your personal and professional development. One way to support this habit is to keep a reflective journal as a way for you to process your private thoughts. Commit to writing in your journal at least once a week – the end of the week is usually the best time. Write down your responses to the following questions:
How much of myself was given expression to this week in my role as a school leader?
This question allows you to begin to discover what aspects of the role help you to be your best. This deepens your connection with your vision, passion and purpose.
Were there any circumstances which limited full expression of myself? How did I address them? What did I learn? What important aspects of me haven’t been given expression to this week?
It is all too easy for school leadership to become all-consuming. This question helps you to think about meeting your needs on a holistic level. It reminds you that you have external needs, outside of your role as a headteacher, that must be met for you to remain healthy.
How will my reflections impact on my role in the forthcoming week?
This reflective process should create a higher level of self-awareness and could also help you to develop other habits that will bring greater balance to your life.
Habit 3: Learn self-compassion
Proper self-compassion involves showing ourselves the same levels of kindness, love and understanding that we would display towards a friend going through hard times. When we are compassionate towards ourselves, we experience much greater degrees of happiness and wellbeing. In these present times of high levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability, it is a must for any headteacher.
To develop this habit, you need to know where you are in the self-compassion stakes. Review the five questions below and using a scale of 1-10, (where 1 equals totally unable and 10 equals very able), give yourself a score.
1. To what degree am I able to let go of the need to be perfect?
2. To what degree am I able to talk to myself kindly when faced with difficult emotions/circumstances?
3. To what degree am I able to silence my inner critic?
4. To what degree am I able to stop comparing myself to others?
For areas where you have scored below a six, ask yourself, “What can I do to raise my score and what difference will it make to my overall wellbeing?”
Habit 4: Learn when to ask for Help
When I first became a Head, I looked at all the other Heads around me and firmly believed that no matter the circumstance, no matter the cost you had to soldier on no matter what.
I wasn’t aware that there was another option and that was, to ask for help. Well, that’s not right. My belief was rightly or wrongly that if I asked for help, it would either be a sign of weakness or it would be used against me.
I see many school leaders adopt this position, in today’s high stakes/high risks educational landscape it is understandable. However, it doesn’t mean that we should accept it as the norm. Too much damage is caused when we do.
We have to recognise that asking for help can be one of the bravest things a school leader to do. It takes courage, it takes bravery, it takes honesty and integrity, it can also lead to the path of greater personal and professional authenticity.
Whatever our goals, whatever our ambitions, we need this help, so that when the going gets tough, as it always does, we don’t fall down and remain on the ground, but are supported, so that we can get back up again and, with renewed focus and energy, carry on towards our dream.
Without support, the experience for a school leader can be both lonely and after time, can begin to hinder one’s growth.
Particularly amidst the growing emotional cost of leading, the complexity of the role and heightened pressure of being a school leader, support is increasingly becoming vital if our leaders are to sustain consistently high levels of effectiveness and develop.
Yet school leaders remain endemically under-supported and, as a result, many leaders 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 for school leaders to ensure that no School Leader finds themselves in the same situation as I was as a School Leader.
– Talk through the challenges you’re currently facing in your role
– Get support in locating next steps and solutions to help you overcome the issues you’re experiencing
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they have had on you as a leader and as a person.
– Gain clarity in your thoughts and your current situation
Places are limited – so if you are determined to take charge of your own well-being, book today to avoid disappointment.