Principals and assistant principals experience many different pulls on their position as leaders in their building. We wear different hats as leaders. The principal is the managerial leader who ensures that the building operates as efficiently as possible; the instructional leader who evaluates and coaches staff to improve student achievement; the motivational leader who maintains and improves the culture and climate of the building, both with staff and with students; the political capital leader who is the face of the school, even at its highest and lowest times; and the ethical leader who balances their personal life with the multifaceted demands of the principalship.
While the demands of the principalship can be very rewarding, it can also take a toll. A 2017 national survey of public school principals found that, overall, approximately 18 percent of principals had left their position since the year before. In high-poverty schools, the turnover rate was 21 percent. There are fewer teachers who are pursuing the principalship; and school districts are often caught in a revolving door of principals who stay for a short time, return to the classroom, or leave education altogether. While there are national, state, and local efforts to recruit and retain principals, one often overlooked strategy is self-care.
With the increasing demands of mental health on students and staff, the principal also becomes the mental health leader. This is challenging when we are not trained as mental health professionals. It is important for leaders to understand and develop these strategies before they actually need them. Our district faced a student suicide in the 2019–20 school year. While we would like to say we were prepared, we were left with tears and looking at a sea of faces that desperately needed our leadership, guidance, and support.
We not only looked to our close colleagues for support, but we began to look for ways to take care of others. Self-care became our mantra. Self-care can take so many different forms. For us, it is learning at local, state, and national conferences; it is learning from others on the same journey. Join us at NPC20 for “Leaders Deserve Self-Care, Too!” Because if there is one thing we have learned: You have to take care of yourself, so you can take care of others!
Chérie Austin is the principal of Monett Intermediate School and Jay Apostol is the principal of Monett Middle School at the Monett R-1 School District in Monett, MO.