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How and Why to Look After Your Wellbeing as an Education Leader

Approximate reading time: 8 minutes.

Being a leader in education is a tough job. Both pupils and staff rely on you to provide leadership and to create a positive trust or school environment. While the pressure to deliver for pupils and teachers might drive success, it can also have a negative impact on overall education leader wellbeing. 

Data consistently shows that leaders' mental health and wellbeing is poor. For example, the 2023 Education Wellbeing Index found that 95% of head teachers experience regular work related stress, while NASUWT has found that 84.3% of head teachers felt work-related stress had negatively impacted their mental health

These statistics highlight the importance of focusing on leader wellbeing. As an education leader, it's essential that you address wellbeing issues head-on — It matters for your own health and sets an example for your school community. 

Why does education leader wellbeing matter?

As an education leader, you are one of a key focal points of your school or trust. Staff, pupils, and parents all know who you are — and they all have unique demands. You do your best to juggle your job responsibilities and meet expectations, but it's tough in today's challenging school environment, which can lead people to feel run down or worry that you don't have the energy to do your job. 

Such feelings are common among headteacher and trust leaders. After all, the load on your shoulders never seems to get lighter. The more you advance in the education profession, the more responsibilities and duties you take on. But, if you don't prioritise your own wellbeing now, you risk burnout or may find yourself struggling with work-related depression.

Resist the urge to feel selfish for taking care of your wellbeing. You deserve to be happy and enjoy a good work-life balance. Your education staff and pupils also deserve to work with the best possible version of you. That can only happen when you've prioritised personal health and wellness.    

Acting as a role model for wellbeing

Learning how to manage stress and prioritise yourself protects more than just your own wellbeing. It also sets an example for education staff on caring for their own physical, mental, and emotional health. Wellbeing leadership should be one of your top priorities. After all, you know that role models are important for personal and professional development. 

When you care for your own wellbeing, you're modelling positive behaviour for staff and pupils. The old saying actions speak louder than words is certainly true in school settings. If you ignore your own wellbeing, education staff at lower levels may feel that they're expected to do the same. That can lead to a negative school culture and high levels of burnout among staff.  

Understanding education leader wellbeing challenges

Education leaders face significant challenges when it comes to caring for their own wellbeing. Some of these challenges arise from the nature of the job. As a leader, you might be expected to work longer hours than other staff. You have significant responsibilities to education staff, pupils, and parents. Other things contribute to your wellbeing challenges too. 

External and internal pressure

According to the 2023 Teacher Wellbeing Index, 84% of senior school leaders experienced an increase in work-related stress over the 12-month survey period. Much of this stress comes from external pressure from high-ranking education leaders, education staff, and parents who make performance demands on leaders. You might feel overwhelmed at times by this immense external pressure. 

Education leaders tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves as well. You entered the education field because you care about others. You want to succeed, but you may be your own hardest critic. This internal pressure can undermine your wellbeing just as much as pressure from outside sources. 

Lack of personal time and space 

Leaders also often lack both personal time and personal space. You likely see teachers, support staff, pupils, and parents in your office throughout the day. That leaves you little personal space and uninterrupted time to work on important projects. You might even find your lunchtime or a personal break interrupted by someone who needs your assistance. 

A lack of personal time can also be an issue when you leave work and head home. Maybe you feel that you must complete some of your at home. You might also have a family and children who rely on you for emotional support, meals, and other care when you get off work. The combined demands of being a carer both at work and at home can be hard to deal with.  


When surveyed for the Teacher Wellbeing Index, 61% of senior leaders said that they felt they should go to work even if they weren't well. The urge to 'be at work' physically is called presenteeism. While showing up for your job is important, it shouldn't come at the cost of your physical health. This toxic presenteeism not only drives increased stress and anxiety levels, but may also undermine your productivity in the long term. 

Challenging educational environment 

The culture in your school has a significant impact on the welling of everyone who works and studies there. Unfortunately, school culture is suffering throughout the U.K. Results from the 2023 Teacher Wellbeing Index show that only 22% of leaders felt that their institution’s organisational culture
has a positive impact on their wellbeing

5 myths about leader wellbeing

Myth: If I show emotion or vulnerability, I'll be seen as weak and won't be respected by school staff or pupils. 

Truth: Staff and pupils are more likely to respect you and feel connected to you when you show vulnerability. It allows them to see that you're a compassionate, thoughtful leader who is likely to be invested in their wellbeing too.  

Myth: The wellbeing of my staff and pupils is more important than my own wellbeing. 

Truth: Many headteachers fall into the trap of thinking that the people they serve professionally matter more than themselves. This simply isn't true. Your wellbeing matters just as much as the wellbeing of education staff and pupils. The greater your wellbeing, the better you can meet school challenges.  

Myth: I don't need to worry about finding a good work-life balance. 

Truth: It's easy for education leaders to overwork. You have a lot to do. But a strong work-life balance is essential to your wellbeing and long-term productivity. If you don't find balance, you're likely to feel the strain of stress and may experience burnout.

Myth: Education leaders don't have time to look after their wellbeing. 

Truth: Your schedule is full. But no task is as important as ensuring that you'll be content, productive, and healthy in the future. Looking after your wellbeing today helps prevent burnout and can help positively change the culture in your school.  

Myth: My school won't function if I spend time attending to my own wellbeing. 

Truth: Your insights as a school leader are irreplaceable. It's okay to delegate tasks though. Cross-train other leaders so that they can cover your duties as needed and vice versa. 

How to look after your wellbeing as an education leader

It's easy to say that headteachers should look after their own wellbeing, but how do you actually do that? Start by learning more about education leader mental health and assessing your stress level. Then, try out some of these positive wellbeing strategies. Remember that prioritising yourself isn't selfish — it's a smart choice for your health and professional productivity. 

Build positive relationships with education staff

Strong relationships with family and friends might help carry you through the stresses of being a leader. Having positive relationships at school is important too. Spend time getting to know the education staff who work at your school. 

Check in with them about important life events, like a child's graduation or the passing of a parent. When education staff know that you care, they'll support you as a leader. Having your staff behind you can make an immense impact on wellbeing. 

flexible approach to managing staff can also positively improve the wellbeing of both leaders and teachers. You can build positive relationships by allowing teachers to attend important family events and showing compassion when they're struggling. You should also work with other school leaders to craft a wellbeing policy if your school doesn't already have one.  

Be active around school

Sitting behind your desk all day can be tiring and discouraging. It's also bad for your health. Prolonged periods of sitting have been linked to:

  • Slower metabolism
  • Poor blood-sugar regulation
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels
  • Excess weight gain 

Instead of sitting all day, try managing by walking around. It will get you out of your office for some much-needed physical exercise. It also gives you an opportunity to connect with education staff and pupils. 

Prioritise a healthy diet and exercise 

Do you find yourself skipping meals or eating too much processed food because you're so busy? Maintaining a healthy diet can be difficult on even the best days, and it only gets harder with a demanding schedule. However, you should do your best to eat a well-rounded diet that provides you with the energy you need to make it through a busy school day. 

It's essential to get regular exercise too. Being physically active is connected to increased wellbeing and a reduced risk of chronic disease. It's okay if you don't love running or lifting heavy weights. Going for a daily walk is a great way to stay physically active and connect with nature. 

Never stop learning

It goes without saying that you love learning. But did you know that you can boost your wellbeing simply by learning a new skill? Try out a new hobby, or take a class in something you've always wanted to master. The act of learning something is invigorating and can help you reconnect with your inner passions. It doesn't matter what hobby you choose. Anything that you're excited about and look forward to doing will work.  

Connect with other leaders 

Some school leaders feel lonely because they don't have other leaders to talk to. If you feel isolated, try joining an educator's organisation or networking with other leaders that you've met throughout your career. Talk frankly with other education leaders about the challenges you're facing and how they've impacted your wellbeing. Having someone to talk to who personally understands what you're going through can be very helpful. 

Schedule time to disconnect

You handle a heavy workload during the school day. It's important to give yourself time to disconnect, relax, and heal on a daily basis. During this time, resolve not to do any work and put down your electronic devices. You can meditate, journal, or just lounge. This is a time to reset your mind and focus on your own feelings. 

Finding time in your schedule to disconnect might prove difficult. Try the chunking technique to manage your schedule and find more time for yourself. When you chunk, you:

  • Prioritise the tasks you must complete 
  • Break down a complex task into pieces
  • Schedule time to complete each portion of the task
  • Work on the task only during that scheduled time
  • Allow overflow time for unfinished tasks the next day 

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Making your wellbeing a priority

Headteachers face many wellbeing challenges — and they need resources to handle them. Why not sign up for your free Welbee Wellbeing Toolkit today? It includes tons of videos, resources, and courses designed to help education leaders better c are for their own wellbeing and improve the environment in their schools.  

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