Earlier this year, the Australian Primary Principals Association warned the stress and burnout caused by COVID-19 could see school heads walk away from the job once the pandemic ends.
The most recent national report into principal occupational health and wellbeing has found that nearly one in three principals face stress and burnout, as well as high levels of threats and physical violence by parents and students.
In response to the findings of these annual reports, a collective of educators initiated the Flourish Movement, which addresses principal wellbeing in a constructive, positive and proactive manner.
The research-based program – developed by Dr Adam Fraser in consultation with a leadership group from the Shellharbour Primary Principals’ Council – has since achieved significant results, including a 56% increase in positivity at work and a 20% decrease in stress levels.
Below, The Educator speaks to program’s new facilitator, Bob Willetts, about the latest research to come out of the program and the outlook for principal health and wellbeing in 2021.
TE: Congratulations on being named the new Flourish Facilitator – it’s a well-deserved appointment! Can you tell us about your aspirations for the role and what you ultimately hope to achieve?
I am truly grateful for the opportunity to work with Dr Adam Fraser and his amazing team facilitating this brilliant program that has already had such a profound positive impact across Australia. My aspirations are simply to expand the reach and availability of the program in order to maximise the positive impact on the health and wellbeing of Principals and school leaders. Ultimately a focus on Principal health and wellbeing will enhance the wellbeing, performance and positive culture in schools which will improve student learning outcomes.
TE: Flourish has generated one of the most comprehensive and detailed data sets on school leader wellbeing anywhere in the world. Are there any new developments within the Flourish Movement that you can share?
The data both on the complexity of the Principal role, and the positive impact of the program continues to amaze everyone. Dr John Molineaux from Deakin University and Dr Adam Fraser both note that being a school Principal is the most complex and dynamic leadership role they have encountered. Of late, one of the focuses of Flourish has been how the program increases people’s longevity in the role. In the last four groups we have been measuring the impact of the program on the following areas:
- I am considering leaving my job due to high work pressure and/or stress – (Following the program this reduced by 23%)
- I am considering applying for work leave due to high work pressure and/or stress – (Following the program this reduced by 28%)
- I have or will seek medical care for symptoms caused by high work pressure and/or stress – (Following the program this reduced by 27%)
- Work pressure and stress levels impact my ability to have an adequate level of sleep – (Following the program this reduced by 27%)
- I am overweight due to workload and/or stress - (Following the program this reduced by 19%)
- My Doctor has advised me that I am in a high risk category for heart disease and/or stroke - (Following the program this reduced by 26%)
These results show that Flourish has a significant impact on the likelihood of Principals staying in the role.
TE: COVID-19 has clearly had a massive impact on principal health and wellbeing. While there is obviously no crystal ball for future-gazing, what kind of outlook do you see for Principal health and wellbeing in 2021?
It’s called the Flourish “Movement” for a reason. There is a growing movement of Principals and school leaders who are taking personal responsibility for initiating ways to enhance their wellbeing. They are rightly starting with health and wellbeing as a key driver for staff performance and enhancing student learning outcomes.
I see a future of revised expectations and priorities starting with personal health and wellbeing because without that, nothing works! Put simply if you don’t take time to manage your wellness, then you’ll have to take time to manage your illness.
More and more we are seeing Principals sharing wellbeing strategies and performance enhancing behaviour changes. It’s time to start celebrating effectiveness, impact, and life in healthy balance; rather than who works the longest.
On the other side of the coin is the need for systemic improvement, support and increased resourcing. COVID-19 has certainly presented challenges but also some incredible opportunities and new ways of working which have the capacity to improve wellbeing. Principal associations also continue to work with Department senior leaders on refining policies and procedures focused on reducing the administrative burden on Principals, increasing resources, managing workflow, as well as continually improving data systems and tools. This is equally important work, and it is an exciting time to be a Principal.