How School Leaders Can Stay Resilient Right Now

The last months of the school year are in sight. Here’s how leaders can manage stress, maintain focus, and continue to create a school environment where everyone thrives.
children on a school bus
3/29/22
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Spring is almost here, and while it’s the last quarter of the school year, we know it can also be the toughest. Between ensuring standardized testing is successful, providing teachers and staff with the support they need, and managing parent expectations, there’s a fair amount of pressure on school leaders in the present moment. 

These challenges, added to the myriad of situations school leaders have faced over these two years, have made resilience one of the most important tools to have in your toolkit. Resilient leadership is the act of demonstrating self-awareness, ongoing learning, and resiliency in the service of continuous improvement for you and your school. It’s not simply bouncing back when times are hard. It’s “bouncing forward.” 

Resilient leadership is the act of demonstrating self-awareness, ongoing learning, and resiliency in the service of continuous improvement for you and your school. It’s not simply bouncing back when times are hard. It’s ‘bouncing forward.’ 

Resilient school leaders have the ability to sustain their energy under pressure and not only cope with changes but adapt to them. They have a level of optimism and growth mindset that sees setbacks as temporary and challenges as opportunities to learn. 

However, we also know that even the most resilient leaders may need an extra dose of perspective and inspiration at this point in the school year to counter any emerging stress and burnout that might be on the horizon. We’ve assembled a few strategies to keep resilience at the forefront of your leadership efforts as you and your team continue to move through the year:

Lean into your support network
One of the practices that can make difficult times a little easier to go through is when you know you’re not alone and someone has your back. Cultivating meaningful relationships with other leaders you trust and prioritizing those interactions during this time is an essential way to gain much-needed social-emotional support—and valuable insights into how others work through adversity. Whether it’s through phone calls, video check-ins, or in-person meetings, your network is an often underestimated form of self-care and resilience. 

Not only does this type of care benefit you, but modeling it also has a positive impact on your teachers, students, and others in your school community. When you signal that your own emotional, mental, and physical well-being is important, it’s a reminder that others should take care of themselves as well. Self-care looks different for everyone and can include everything from connecting with peers and working with a coach to simply checking in with yourself and making time for thoughtful reflection—anything that helps you center yourself so you can center others.

When you signal that your own emotional, mental, and physical well-being is important, it’s a reminder that others should take care of themselves as well. 

Make space for vulnerability and empathy
As DC Bilingual Head of School and New Leaders alum Daniela Anello notes, “We’re all experiencing trauma and hardship right now.” She says her job is “to notice, to listen, to understand, and to provide space for processing.” 

School leaders who create safe places for everyone in their community—staff, students, parents, and community members—and work to understand and empathize about what they may be going through—are building resilient communities that stay connected and unite even amid stress and adversity. In turn, you get to be a bit vulnerable with your community as well—something that can be powerful to lean into

Remember your own “why”
Your why—the reason you do what you do and what keeps you energized, focused, and grounded—is one of the most important motivators you have as an education leader. It can be easy in the thick of day-to-day work to temporarily misplace your sense of purpose. Returning regularly to what called you to be a leader and why you keep coming back can give you a boost on the days when things are tough.

It can be easy in the thick of day-to-day work to temporarily misplace your sense of purpose. Returning regularly to what called you to be a leader and why you keep coming back can give you a boost on the days when things are tough. 

Recently, New Leaders asked our alumni what is moving them forward when they’re feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. The answers we received—an emphatic commitment to students, the drive to create a more equitable education system, and a sense of responsibility to the educators that had made an impact on them—may prompt you to revisit your own why

Look to your school community for inspiration
In spite of all the challenges brought on by two years of pandemic teaching and learning, there’s been a substantial bright spot: the ability of students, teachers, staff, and parents to continue to adapt in the face of constant change. 

In particular, we’ve seen incredible resilience from students. The skills they’ve learned—maneuvering through remote learning classes and learning new technology platforms, adhering to wearing masks and other COVID-19 health guidelines, and leaning into a new era of agency with their learning—have all been inspiring to witness. They also serve as a needed reminder that in spite of the difficulties you and your team have faced this year, there are many successes worthy of recognition. 

Take time to recognize accomplishments — including your own
Celebrating wins—even the small ones—is a hallmark of resilient leaders. An effective leader knows that taking time to do so can go a long way toward making their teams feel appreciated and seen. It can be tempting to only workshop the decisions and initiatives that didn’t go quite as planned in order to learn key lessons for the future, but there are just as many learnings in the successes. 

As you’re taking stock of your school’s accomplishments this year, make sure you take a moment to recognize yourself as part of the equation. Although it might be tough to step back and give yourself credit, the truth is that you’re leading through an extraordinary time. You deserve kudos, too. 

As you’re taking stock of your school’s accomplishments this year, make sure you take a moment to recognize yourself as part of the equation.

It might be tempting to dive full-force into the last few months of the year and avoid your needs, knowing a bit of respite awaits in a few short months. However, your school community needs you at your best. Being deliberate about protecting your resilience is one of the best ways to care for yourself and the people who depend on you.

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New Leaders has worked with over 8,000 equity-focused leaders to develop their leadership capacity.

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