While there have been some efforts by education departments to help alleviate the burnout and stress of teachers and principals in recent months, there are concerns that the measures don’t go far enough.
One example is the Victorian Government’s state-wide strategy to improve support for principals, which professor Phil Riley – lead researcher of the Australian Principal Health and Well-being Survey – called “very short on detail and research evidence”.
Steve Francis is the managing director of Happy School, an organisation that helps principals and teachers boost morale and reduce stress. The company was launched in 2012 with 9,550 teachers across Australia receiving handwritten postcards, containing positive affirmations, from their principal.
The response has grown each year. This year more than 16,000 teachers will receive a handwritten card from their principal.
Francis said while it’s encouraging that some education departments are acknowledging the need to address principal well-being, he continues to hear from many in the profession that little progress is being made.
“The increasing complexity of the role of principal and the unrealistic expectations of society on schools and staff in schools is a key issue,” Francis told The Educator.
“Principals and other leaders in schools need additional administrative support to allow them to focus on their key priority, leading teaching and learning.”
School autonomy requires support
Francis – a strong advocate for school-based decision-making – said that increased school autonomy ensures that school communities, led by principals, are in the best position to make decisions about the use of resources to improve learning outcomes for students.
“However, it is essential that this increase in responsibility is accompanied by additional administrative resources to deal with the additional tasks and supports principals to deal with the ‘Administrivia’,” he said.
“It is also important that education departments with rising numbers of staff working outside schools are reflective on whether they are in fact providing support services that schools value or are themselves creating more compliance and duplication that is adding to the stress in the role.”
Francis said that auditing the ‘red tape’ required of principals and streamlining communication is essential as principals often end up being ‘funnels’ expected to meet multiple expectations from many well-meaning bureaucrats.
Practical strategies to avoid burnout
Francis, together with Louise D’Allura, developed the WELL Productivity program, which provides practical strategies for principals and teachers to avoid burnout and improve happiness at work.
The response from schools so far has been great, Francis said.
“The feedback from staff in schools providing the program is that they love the practical strategies that are provided and appreciate the accumulative effect of accessing the short videos and activities at a time to suit them,” he said.
“A number of schools are using the videos as part of a reflection process at the end of staff meetings to support staff to not only improve their well-being but also increase their efficiency.”
Francis said he also recently accredited the first schools in Australia to be recognised as Happy School Employers of Choice, which recognises schools which potential and existing employees want to work for, over and above others.
“School leaders know that great staff make a huge difference to both the outcomes achieved by a school and the school’s culture. However, attracting and retaining great staff can be challenging,” Francis said.
“Dedicated, hardworking, talented staff who have a great work ethic and a terrific attitude are very much in demand and can afford to be choosey. They can ‘pick and choose’ where they would like to work.”