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‘I was surviving but I wasn’t thriving’: principals seek help on wellbeing

“Before I started doing this, I was surviving as a principal but I wasn’t thriving. The workload was hard, I wasn’t sleeping well and I didn’t have good boundaries between my work and personal life.

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“I now have a range of strategies to deal with things – breathing, using a mindfulness app, taking the time out to go for a walk, transitioning on the way home by playing loud music – so my family doesn’t get the leftover version of me.”

Surveys of participating principals before and after they completed the year-long program showed a 20 per cent fall in stress levels and a projected 11.6 per cent rise in job satisfaction, according to a report written by the organisers for the NSW Department of Education.

John Molineux, a senior researcher at Deakin University who analysed data on the principals throughout the program, said one of the areas of focus for principals and often teachers, who need to deal with unexpected challenges every day, is developing psychological flexibility.

“We gleaned from world-leading research what’s effective, and found we need to focus on psychology and teaching them to be flexible, to be able to be more accepting of what happens during a day and not take it personally,” Dr Molineux said.

“The noticeable thing we found at the end of the program was the drop in stress; even though they were doing the same work, they were experiencing less stress because they were responding to it better.”

The program is among the professional development courses that are accredited by the NSW Education Standards Authority and is also being used in a number of other states.

Mrs Lockrey was one of the first group of principals to participate in it while Dr Molineux was initially testing its impact.

She said she has since started promoting a focus on wellbeing among her own staff.

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