7 Tips for Healthy Principals

Maintaining your own well-being is the first step to creating a healthy school.

January 2017, Volume 40, Issue 5

The principalship is simultaneously one of the most rewarding and demanding professions in education. Dedication to students and the school community often comes with the cost of working long hours. But principals who start paying more attention to their personal well-being aren’t just helping themselves. Students and staff benefit when principals are at their best—modelling healthy behaviors is good for the school at large. Here are seven strategies for becoming a healthier school leader:

1. Get moving. Being inactive is one of the most serious threats to your health. The best form of exercise is the one that is most accessible and that you are most likely to engage in. For most of you, that means walking as much as possible. Walking is easy because it can be done on the job while walking around the building to visit classes, holding “walking meetings” with staff members, and remaining visible and interacting with students in the cafeteria and on the playground.

Additional walks with your friends and family members in the evenings or on weekends can supplement this, to reach the recommended 10,000 steps per day. If this seems unrealistic, weigh the relatively brief commitment of your time and effort against the effects of weight gain, work missed due to illness, unchecked stress, and ultimately, the potential for a diminished career and lifespan. Also, the message that it sends to students and staff when they see you modeling regular physical activity cannot be overstated.

2. Establish a healthy nutritional environment in your school. Unhealthy food choices are everywhere in most schools. High-calorie, sugar and carb-laden food in the break room; birthday and holiday snacks shared by well-meaning students and parents; and fast food consumed in the few minutes before evening meetings are no doubt occupational hazards in your life as a school leader. Taking the time to bring healthy snacks, foods, and home-prepared meals to school can help you avoid the “grazing” culture of our environment. This mindset can and should be translated to the entire school. Nutritional policies should encourage healthier school lunches, breakfasts, after-school and birthday snacks, and vending machine options.

3. Find knowledgeable and helpful mentors. Principal stress is often tied to a deep sense of professional isolation. Being ultimately responsible for creating a safe environment, as well as for the professional development of staff and academic development of students is quite daunting. Especially for newer administrators, having a trusted mentor is an important way to gain professional confidence and competence, and of limiting professional stress. If mentors are not assigned as part of the onboarding process, new principals should seek out individuals with a track record of success for counsel.

4. Collaborate with your peers in the profession. Every principal should also establish and maintain a strong professional network of other administrators. If you work in a large district, formal, regular working groups or professional learning communities comprising principals from multiple buildings may be the norm. However, even if you are in a smaller or rural district, social media and other technology can facilitate the joining of digital professional communities in which you can interact, discuss issues of concern, and stay informed on reform initiatives and best practices.

5. Adopt a more collaborative leadership style. Whether or not you have an inclination to lead collaboratively, advancing such an approach has become a de facto survival skill in today’s school settings. If you have not already done so, consider refining your professional learning community framework.

For students to learn at higher levels, teachers in your building should have regular, cooperative, job-embedded opportunities to learn, plan, and analyze student data. You will also benefit greatly from a strong, well-established, and well-defined team structure. It should include building leadership teams, student assistance teams, and social committees that allow delegation of responsibilities, promote empowerment, and advance leadership development.

6. Improve your modeling of healthy behaviors. With the credibility of research showing the benefits of healthy behaviors on learning, principals and school staff can no longer in good conscience ignore the charge to model healthy behavior in children in every way possible.

7. Become more intentional and mindful. Overcome the professional excesses of the job by finding coping mechanisms such as carving out time each day to work out, eating regular healthy meals, finding quality time with friends and loved ones, and maintaining a sense of hope and perspective. Remain purposeful and intentional. Don’t waste time dealing with things that have little to do with improving student learning. Resolve to not take your job home with you, and to understand what you have control over (and what you do not); focus on the things you can impact.

Excerpted from “Here’s to Your Health,” by Sally Beisser & Randal Peters. Principal, November/December 2016.

Copyright © 2017. National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP’s reprint policy.