The ongoing issue of teacher and principal burnout has sparked demands for urgent reforms to allow educators the opportunity to reduce administrative work and focus more on their core role – and most importantly – their health and wellbeing.
Over the years, various initiatives have been launched to answer this call to action and ensure that the heat is turned down on Australia’s struggling unsung heroes.
One of these initiatives is Happy School, launched by former principal Steve Francis, who has led several schools across Queensland, as well as an international school in Hong Kong.
Drawing from his own experience and his work with schools across Australia and New Zealand, Francs shared some learnings that beginner teachers can use to manage the stress and anxiety that is often associated with the role.
“The workload in teaching can be overwhelming, especially for those early in their careers. There is so much to be done that it is vital that teachers prioritise and make sure they are using their time well,” Francis said.
“Teachers often ask themselves: ‘What is the most important thing that I should be doing at this time?’”
However, Francis said it is also important for teachers to have realistic expectations of themselves and monitor their self-talk.
“The work in teaching is never ending. There is always more that ‘could’ be done, and we can be our own harshest critic,” he said.
“Try to keep things in perspective, will this really matter a year from now? It is therefore important that they set boundaries to limit the impact that schoolwork has on the rest of their lives”.
Francis said it is therefore vital that teachers put strategies in place to periodically disconnect from schoolwork.
“Some strategies include scheduling time for themselves, such as exercising, watching a movie or walking the dog, limiting the number of times checking work email or other platforms and only looking at email when you have time to take action,” he said.
“Scanning the subject lines just adds more stress; quarantining a complete day free of schoolwork – every weekend; and looking after themselves – exercising daily, stopping to eat lunch and drinking eight glasses of water per day”.
Navigating the ‘stages of concern’
Francis also shared some strategies educators can use to manage change and develop stronger resilience.
In managing change and building their resilience, Francis said educators should be reassured by the Predictable Stages of Concern provided by leadership guru Ken Blanchard, who argues that people naturally progress through stages of concern during a change process.
“Just like psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief which people progress through when they experience a loss, Blanchard argues that people progress through stages of concern. These stages are normal and predictable,” he explained.
Francis said the first stage of concern about a change is the information stage.
“People want to know about the change, what it is and why it is necessary,” he said.
The next stage, says Francis, is the ‘personal stage’.
“What does this change mean for me? Will I still have a job? Will my hours be changed? Are my skills still relevant? Will I need retraining?” he said.
Francis said that in the third stage – ‘implementation’ – the concerns are related to how educators are going to implement the new initiative.
“Until their concerns are addressed at the information and personal stage, staff are not ready to be involved in the implementation phase,” he said.
“The next phase is the impact stage where concerns arise when we start to implement the new strategy, and the phase after this is where we collaborate with others who have already implemented the change”.
Francis said common concerns in this phase are related to finding time to work with others.
“The final stage of concern is refining,” he said.
“What do I need to tweak or do differently for this to be even more effective the next time that I teach this unit? Understanding and recognising that our concerns about a change are normal and predictable can help us build our resilience”.