Reports show that school leaders are suffering from burnout, stress and depression on a national scale – an issue that has sparked demands for urgent reforms to allow principals some breathing space from burgeoning administrative duties.
In the meantime, various initiatives are underway to help schools reduce paperwork, streamline administration and allow principals and teachers to get back to what they do best – leading and teaching.
Happy School creator Steve Francis is an expert in the complexities of leading effective schools. He works with school leadership teams and staff across Australia and New Zealand to optimise their schools.
Below, The Educator asks Francis about the state of principal health and wellbeing, and what is being done in the year ahead to improve it.
TE: Based on the work you’ve done with schools and the discussions you’ve had with school leaders, what kind of year do you think 2018 has been for principal health and wellbeing?
SF: 2018 has been an important year for principal health and wellbeing. Awareness of the issue has certainly increased during the year and a number of organisations have committed to taking action. However, increased awareness is only the first step and it doesn’t reduce stress or improve wellbeing. The second step – and I think we have moved towards it in 2018 – is the acceptance that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. If organisations and the broader community don’t accept that principal and teacher health and wellbeing is an issue, then they are unlikely to take action to improve the situation. Whilst we have made progress there is still much to be done.
TE: In your view, what are some of the most effective ways for educators and school leaders to improve their health and wellbeing?
SF: According to the 2,100 respondents to my Status of Teaching survey the four biggest factors that contribute to stress continue to be Workload, Student Behaviour, Parent Behaviour and Lack of Respect. Workloads of teachers and school leaders continue to increase. Over 90% of the respondents reported that their workload had increased in the past 12 months. To improve their health and increase the effectiveness of schools we need to invest in additional support for teachers and leaders. Teachers need additional teacher aide and professional support to cater for students with challenging behaviours and to cater for the wide range of abilities in classrooms. They would also benefit from additional administrative support with the ever increasing demands of risk assessments, data analysis and accountability.
TE: Can you tell us about how you intend to build on the great work you’ve already done to help school teachers and leaders in 2019?
SF: My key focus in 2019 is reinstating the status of the teaching profession. Teaching and school leadership roles are very challenging but also very important. We are on a slippery slope and finding it difficult to attract and retain good people who are capable and up for the challenge. We are finding this both in attracting bright, talented people to become teachers and also in attracting the right people to become school leaders. Schools have a massive impact on our society. The work of teachers and school leaders is very important. If we can’t attract some of our best and brightest talent to take on the challenge, then we will pay the price as a society, in years to come. I don’t necessarily believe this is just a pay issue. As a society we need to respect and value the work of our teachers. Principals also have a responsibility to make sure that schools maintain high standards and quality teaching practices that deserve the respect of the community.