Wellbeing a "major concern" for principals - Education Matters Magazine
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Wellbeing a “major concern” for principals

The role of school principal is a rewarding, yet challenging, leadership career. The breadth and magnitude of responsibilities can weigh heavily on a school leader, from student wellbeing and discipline to staffing issues and teaching evaluation, plus being in charge of budgeting and resource allocation, legal responsibilities, change management, community engagement and public relations.

It’s an immense workload for an individual, and many principals are reporting that they feel stretched to the limit.

Principals Australia Institute, the national professional services organisation supporting principals and school leaders, has identified principal wellbeing as a major concern requiring immediate attention. To address this, PAI has developed the Principal Wellbeing Workshop, the first round of which will be delivered across Australia in July and August.

The one-day, face-to-face workshop will address current health and wellbeing issues for principals, which have also been raised in recent research and media reports.

The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey, led by Dr Philip Riley from the Australian Catholic University, is a key piece of research informing the wider community about the challenges and struggles facing Australian school leaders. Its 2016 report found principals experience high levels of job demands (1.5 times the general population) and emotional demands (1.7 times higher), as well as high levels of burnout (1.6 times the general population), stress symptoms (1.7 times higher), depressive symptoms (1.3 times higher) and difficulty sleeping (2.2 times higher).

The two greatest sources of stress for principals were identified as the sheer quantity of work, and a lack of time to focus on teaching and learning. In addition, 44 per cent of survey respondents had received a threat of violence at work in 2016, and 34 per cent had experienced actual physical violence, which is 8.6 times the prevalence within the general population.

“These statistics, though not surprising given what we’re hearing from the principals PAI works with, are unacceptable and deeply concerning,” says Paul Geyer, PAI’s Chief Executive Officer.

“While important work is underway by schools, associations and education departments to improve broader issues that impact on the principal’s job, PAI is focussed on working personally with principals to help support and boost their mental health and wellbeing.

“We’re inviting principals to take this day and quarantine it as an important time to come together with peers, reflect on their experiences, recharge their batteries, then go forth with strategies to look after their own wellbeing, as well as that of their organisation.”

PAI’s Principal Wellbeing Workshops will launch later this month in Melbourne and Canberra, with more to follow in Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney by the end of August. Perth, Hobart and Darwin can expect to see the workshop offered in their city by the end of the year.

The workshops will be facilitated by Lynne Symons, a former principal who is now an educational leadership consultant. Lynne hopes the workshops will lead to principals considering their own wellbeing as a higher priority. “As they say on planes, secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others,” she says. “The same must become true for principals.”

Lynne will bring her personal experience and expertise in school leadership to the discussion. “Too often it takes a personal crisis for a principal before they recognise they have their own major health or wellbeing issue. We must become proactive rather than reactive. The PAI Principal Wellbeing Workshops are a proactive strategy for principals.”

The Principal Wellbeing Workshop takes a quality, evidence-based approach to achieving a resilient mindset and developing problem-solving strategies particularly targeted at principal health and wellbeing. School leaders will consider how they can better manage their own wellbeing, how they can develop their resilience and adaptability in stressful situations, and how they can support the health and wellbeing of their team. Participants will develop their own wellbeing plan and identify supports and stress management strategies, as well as contemplate ideas for organisational wellbeing at their workplaces.

The understanding and acknowledgement of the demanding nature of school leadership roles, and the development of this workshop specifically for their issues and needs, has been welcomed by principals. Dr Philip Riley, in the summary of the Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey, wrote, “Principals, deputy/assistant principals and teachers deal daily with parents’ greatest hopes and deepest fears: the lives and potential futures of their children. While this is recognised in the law of loco parentis, the emotional consequences remain under-researched.”

As well as the personal benefits available to a principal who can look after their own wellbeing, it should be noted that a principal’s health and wellbeing has far-reaching impacts too – including the everyday running of a school, and the interactions between staff, students, and the broader school community.

“PAI is pleased to offer this product, designed specifically for principals, and through it give school leaders the opportunity to engage with current evidence and collected wisdom about the health and wellbeing of principals nationally,” says Paul Geyer.

“And as a result, we hope to help achieve positive outcomes for both principals and their schools.”

PAI offers a suite of workshops supporting school leaders and their communities, including Teacher Wellbeing, Graduate and Grow (mentoring and supporting early-career teachers), Leading Change (change management in schools), and more. Visit the Events Calendar at pai.edu.au to find a workshop near you, or contact PAI for more information on 08 8394 2100 or contact@pai.edu.au

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