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:
- 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 an element of the mundane and tiring in every job.
Consider the cabin crew on my morning flight to Houston: the majority of their work consists of the repetitive, and exhausting task of wheeling trolleys down narrow aircraft aisles while repeating the same lines, ‘chicken or beef’...
The aircrew who chooses this role imagines a life story of travel perks and adventure around the world.
They don't spend much time thinking about handing out bottled water, blankets, and sick bags. The day-to-day reality of their work could provide an ideal environment for breeding discontent and misery.
Still, I've experienced so many crew professionals who are sparkling and thrive in their jobs...
The flight attendants who find joy in their work, compared to those who don’t, have found a way always to remember they’re making a difference.
The joyful air host finds ways to bring more of who he is to his role. He looks for opportunities 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 tried to help me make my tight connection (I didn’t), by moving me to the front of the aircraft to disembark. And the stewardess who found me a pair of airline slippers to change into just in case I missed the flight and got stuck in the airport (I did).
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 bring more humanity to work.
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.