School Leaders, Burnout and Wellbeing


It was 6 am, and I had boarded the plane feeling grumpy and cold due to lack of sleep. "Hopefully, Houston will be sunny," I thought to myself. It would give me a short break from this year's dreadfully long winter in New York!🌵🌞

As I was buckling up the pilot was making announcements in the background.
I started scrolling through my wife and kids' pictures on my phone. I would miss them. But I was excited too.
I was getting ready to visit 20 schools in 10 days throughout Texas...

I would be visiting small and medium-sized private schools, large public schools and a couple of medium-sized charter school networks; schools that are thriving, schools that are facing declining enrollment, schools with worsening student outcomes or even schools that are still recovering from hurricane Harvey.

In any case, there is nothing like the feeling you get when you walk into a school and shake the hands of the administrators. The energy and dynamism the students give off are palpable. You can feel the determination in the air.

At the same time, I meet principals that are overwhelmed and exhausted. There are so many facets to their job that are not directly linked to student achievement:

  • budgets
  • community relations
  • dealing with parent issues
  • facility management/coordination
  • program/mission evaluation and strategic planning and the list goes on...

This is a short note to tell you, educators, that you are not alone!

There is a tiring and mundane element in every job.
For example, the plane's crew on my morning flight to Houston: most of of their work consists of the tedious, and exhausting task of pushing trolleys down narrow aisles while reciting the same lines, ‘chicken or beef’...

The aircrew who chooses this role imagines a life story of adventure around the world.
They don't spend much time thinking about handing lunches or refilling out bottled blankets, and sick bags. Their work is the perfect example of the contrast between aspiration and reality...

Still, I've experienced so many crew professionals who are sparkling and thrive in their jobs...

The flight attendants who find happiness in their routine, compared to those who don’t, have found out how to always remember they’re impacting people's lives.
The happy air host looks for ways to gain fulfillment from what he says and does and prefers to go ‘off script’ more often than not.

Like the stewardess on a recent flight of mine who helped me by moving me to the front of the plane after landing to make my tight connection (I didn’t), .

Similarly, what is the one thing that most successful school leaders I meet have in common?
They demonstrate an unwavering sense of mission coupled with a feeling of deep humanity towards their students.

In short, my point is that it isn’t only students who benefit when school leaders work with a sense of mission and purpose.
The more meaning you can find in your work as a school leader, the more you stand to gain personally. Research has proven time and again that meaningful work is good for our self-esteem, our health, our general well-being.