As a society, we talk a lot about teacher and student mental health and well-being. But what about school administrators?
Being a principal or administrator is one of the most challenging roles that one can hold. Not only are you dedicated to helping transform school cultures and meet student needs, but you also need to ensure that your teachers and staff are happy and fulfilled. It’s a lot to balance for anyone, and you’re doing the best you can.
But all of these responsibilities can, understandably, start to wear on your mental health. For most of your work day, you are busy focusing on how others are doing – your students, their parents, and your teachers. But how are you doing? How are your stress levels?
Mindfulness isn’t a magic cure-all, but practicing it regularly can help you reduce stress and be more in-tune with your own emotions. We’ve already written about how administrators can use mindfulness to create a better school culture. Today, we’ll focus on how school administrators and leaders can use mindfulness to improve your own well-being and mental health.
School principals are burning out, too
It isn’t only teachers who are experiencing burnout – reports show that administrators are burning out at record-breaking rates, too.
A 2022 RAND survey showed that over 85% of school leaders report experiencing job-related stress, compared with around 75% of teachers. In addition, around half of principals of color experienced racial discrimination at work.
The top 3 sources of job-related stress for principals were:
- Supporting teachers’ and staff’s mental health
- Supporting student learning (including making up for learning lost during the pandemic)
The increased stress that principals are facing is getting so bad that it’s making them consider leaving the profession altogether. In the 2022 survey, around a third of principals reported that they were considering leaving the profession – an increase from only 15% in 2021.
Luckily, actual principal turnover rates haven’t increased by much, which could mean that these reports have more to do with how stressed and dissatisfied principals are feeling than whether they’ll actually leave. But if we don’t change things now, then we could see a mass exodus of principals from the profession.
The positive news is that both principals and teachers report coping well with the increased stress of the job. Principals, in particular, showed remarkable resilience – 65% of principals reported that they felt resilient against the stressful events they face at work.
In short, principals and other school leaders are facing incredible challenges and stress at work. You’re often pressured to make changes and prioritize teacher well-being, which we all can agree is important – but who is taking care of your well-being?
Mindfulness practices for principal and administrator well-being
Although there isn’t much research out there on mindfulness and school administrators specifically, we do have some research on mindfulness and leaders. One study found that practicing mindfulness lowers stress, depression, and anxiety for CEOs, middle-level managers, and junior-level managers. It also helped these leaders have more hope, optimism, resilience, and efficacy.
Plus, mindfulness also improves relationships – and having positive relationships with other adults at school is one thing that helps principals be more resilient against workplace stress.
These are all changes that could make a remarkable difference for school administrators. And the good news is that anyone can practice mindfulness – even if you’ve never practiced it before. It’s just about bringing attention back to what’s happening in the here and now. Even if you feel like you’re too busy or that your mind is too active, you can practice. With time, mindfulness gets easier and easier.
Try these simple mindfulness activities to start. You can practice them during your work day or after you get home. Start with just a minute or two each day, and increase the time slowly as you feel more confident.
If you’re a teacher looking for simple mindfulness exercises, you can go ahead and use these as well – or read our blog on quick mindfulness practices specifically for teachers.
Mindful breathing isn’t about clearing your mind of all thoughts – this is a myth. Instead, it’s simply about the practice of returning to your breath over and over again. This practice strengthens the mindfulness muscle in your brain and makes it easier to stay centered during real-life challenges.
Wherever you find a moment – even 30 seconds will do – turn inward and rest your awareness on your breath. You don’t need to breathe any differently than you are; just pay attention to it. Follow your breath all the way in as it enters your lungs, and all the way out as you exhale. When your mind starts to wander, don’t judge yourself – simply return to the breath when you notice.
Use mindfulness cues
As a principal, you’re probably getting a billion notifications a day. Things like your phone ringing, an email dropping into your inbox, or someone knocking at your door can become cues to practice mindfulness rather than stressors.
Make a list of things that you could use as mindfulness cues. These could be bells, ringing, or anything that happens regularly during your day. You could start with just one cue, and increase them as you feel more confident.
Once you’ve decided on your cues, use them as a sign to take 1 to 3 mindful breaths. For example, let’s say your cue is your phone ringing. Every time you feel the phone ring, you feel like it’s an emergency – you must pick it up immediately.
But when you use the phone as a mindfulness cue, you remember to take some mindful breaths before answering the phone. The phone ringing becomes an opportunity and reminder to practice and become fully present in the here and now.
So many educators – both teachers and administrators alike – work through lunch. And we get it – sometimes, this is unavoidable, and we won’t be the ones to tell you that you need to take a full hour lunch every single day (although if you’re able to do so, please make this a priority!).
But you don’t need to take a full hour to enjoy a mindful lunch. It’s simply a matter of putting a halt to the multitasking that likely defines the rest of your work day and focusing only on what you’re doing in the present moment. This can be hard to do when you have a million things going on. But when you’re eating lunch, just eat lunch.
Savor your food. Notice its scent, flavor, texture, and temperature. Chew slowly and mindfully. This is very different to trying to finish your food as fast as you can. Even if you can only eat part of your lunch this way – even if it’s only one mindful bite that you take – it’s a great start.
Calm Classroom advocates for every person on a school campus – students, teachers, and principals/administrators. Our program is designed to make mindfulness as easy as possible, even for absolute beginners.
If you, your teachers, or your students could benefit from a stress-reducing mindfulness program, we can help.