Five ways to support the wellbeing of school leaders

Radhika Zahedi

Leading schools can be immensely fulfilling. It is a joy to be able to shape young minds. But school leadership is also emotionally exhausting because of the responsibility, complex decision-making, constant pressure, and demands of emotional support that come with it. If school leaders are to be able to channel their full potential in service of their students, their well-being must be supported by schools. It may be tempting to believe that leaders always have everything together or need to have everything under control. But leaders need supportive environments to thrive too.

Wellbeing support is more than just recreational opportunities

Often, wellbeing supports are attributed to breaks and leisure activities, but it’s important to recognize that a comprehensive approach to wellbeing for school leaders should encompass not only rest and relaxation but also ongoing professional growth, meaningful connections, and the development of a supportive work environment, as these factors contribute significantly to their overall health and effectiveness.

I have seen, in my own experiences, that for both leaders and teachers, exhaustion is usually a symptom of other underlying issues. The deeper issues are usually related to feeling unsuccessful or overwhelmed in their roles, interpersonal conflict, feelings of not belonging, or lack of autonomy. Supporting the wellbeing of school leaders is essential for fostering effective educational environments. Here are five key ways to ensure the wellbeing of these leaders:

1. Support professional growth

School leaders thrive when they experience competence and continuous growth in their roles. To support this, provide ongoing training through workshops, seminars, or courses covering topics like effective communication, conflict resolution, and data-driven decision-making. Encourage them to enroll in leadership programs, such as master’s degrees or certificate programs. Regular coaching and feedback sessions can help leaders reflect on their performance and set improvement goals.

2. Support community connection

Community connection and belonging are critical for school leaders. Encourage leaders to actively engage with students and teachers, fostering open communication, collaboration, and trust. Building strong relationships with parents and the broader community enhances support for the school’s mission. Foster partnerships with local organizations, businesses, and nonprofits to provide additional resources and support.

3. Create think time

Leaders need time to step back and think strategically or creatively, engage in self-reflection, or simply rest. Scheduled reflection periods in their work schedules, designated quiet spaces for undisturbed thinking, and mindfulness practices like meditation and journalling can help leaders gain fresh perspectives, prevent burnout, and make informed decisions.

4. Set up peer learning communities

Promote interactions among school leaders to create a sense of camaraderie and mutual support. Encourage the formation of learning communities within and outside the school. Engage leaders in online forums, webinars, and communities dedicated to educational leadership. Promote networking events or conferences to facilitate knowledge sharing and peer learning.

5. Build cultures of trust and autonomy

School culture plays a crucial role in empowering leaders. Trusting cultures that grant autonomy alongside responsibility enable leaders to reach their full potential. Empower school leaders to make decisions at the school level, minimize micromanagement, and reduce bureaucratic hurdles. Develop a culture of supportive leadership, where leaders trust and empower each other, creating a positive and less stressful work environment.

Supporting school leaders in these ways enhances their wellbeing, effectiveness, and job satisfaction, benefiting the entire school community. Whether you’re a school leader, educator, or concerned community member, we all have a role to play in supporting those shaping the future of our students and society.

The author is School Director, The Green Acres Academy, Chembur, Mumbai.

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