Supporting Leaders for School Improvement Through Self-Care and Wellbeing

Edited by:
Bradley W. Carpenter, Sul Ross State University
Julia Mahfouz, University of Colorado Denver
Kerry Robinson, University of North Carolina Wilmington

A volume in the series: Leadership for School Improvement. Editor(s): Khalid Arar, Texas State University.

Published 2024

School leadership instability is particularly problematic for scholars and practitioners concerned with PK-12 school improvement, as second only to teachers, campus leadership has been identified as a primary factor in students' academic success (Young et al., 2007). Yet, while principals play an indispensable role in students' academic success, the job has become considerably more stressful as the role of a school leader continues to evolve. Specifically, added responsibilities, increased work intensity, and the ever-present menace of high stakes accountability have intensified the stress levels encountered by today's school leaders (Carpenter & Brewer, 2012; Chaplain, 2001; Darmody & Smyth, 2016; Wang, et al., 2018). This intensification negatively impacts a school’s teaching staff and its students, as the overall quality of the school experience can deteriorate if principals are unable to meet their potential due to the burnout and fatigue associated with chronic stress (Darmody & Smyth, 2016; Devos, et al., 2007).

For principals to fully realize their ability to serve as catalysts for school improvement, they should be allowed to prioritize physical, mental, cognitive, and emotional health. Desired levels of wellbeing occur in the absence of chronic physical, social, psychological, emotional, economic, and cognitive distress (La Placa, et al., 2013). As authors in this volume demonstrate, many school leaders have commenced specific practices targeting cognitive, emotional, and behavioral wellbeing to cope with occupational stress and flourishing- or, at the very least, surviving in such a challenging environment. Among coping strategies leaders have adopted include mindfulness and other wellbeing interventions/strategies intended to facilitate healthier lifestyles, relieve stress, and improve personal resilience (Aviles & Dent, 2015; Mahfouz, 2018; Wells, 2015).

Recently, there has been a call to consider educational leadership through a positive human flourishing lens. Research in this area focuses on integrating wellbeing practices in professional development programs for teachers and school administrators to highlight the positive effects of personal and collective wellbeing in schools (Cherkowski & Walker, 2014). For example, empirical studies have examined how incorporating mindfulness practice promotes positive adaptive skills, stress resilience, and social and emotional skills needed in a school environment (Abenavoli, et al., 2013; Benn, et al., 2012; Dvor a kova et al., 2017; Jennings, 2015; Meiklejohn et al., 2012; Mahfouz et al., 2018). New understandings about the relationship between school administrators' wellbeing and school improvement efforts should ignite interest within the field. As such, this book’s chapters are organized into four distinct sections that provide: (a) an overview of the field (Section I), (b) an empirical argument for why such research is essential (Section II), (c) wellbeing models to be considered for use in the PK-12 setting (Section III), and, (d) specific wellbeing practices and frameworks currently being in PK-12 (Section IV).

Overview and Introduction to the Project, Bradley W. Carpenter, Julia Mahfouz, and Kerry Robinson. SECTION I: PROMISES AND PROBLEMS—OVERVIEW OF THE FIELD. Exploring the Landscape of Educational Leader Wellness, Kathleen B. King, April Harris, and Angel Vales. School Leadership in the United States: An In-Depth Analysis of the Increasing Principal Turnover Crisis in America, Denver J. Fowler and Sarah M. Jouganatos. Considering How Professional Norms and Practices Influence Leaders’ Well-Being, Kara Lasater, John C. Pijanowski, and Joshua Ray. Building a School Leader’s Personal Well-Being Plan, Vicki Bautista and Gretchen Oltman. Flourishing as School Leaders: Perspectives of Canada’s Outstanding Principals, Benjamin Kutsyuruba, Terry Kharyati, and Nadia Arghash. The Future of Higher Education Is Human: A Call for Contemplative Leadership Preparation, Maryann Krikorian. Leading From the Center: Leadership Well-Being and Team Effectiveness in Education Agencies, Irma Eloff and Ruth “Molly” McGee Hewitt. SECTION II: EMPIRICAL REASONING. Promoting Well-Being in School Principals and Vice Principals Requires Structural Change, Not Just Self-Care, Cameron Hauseman, Katrina Pollock, and Fei Wang. Student Adversity and Leader Stress: A Critical Race Contextualization and Analysis of New York State Social Emotional Learning Policy, Melinda Lemke and Anthony L. White IIs. SECTION III: MODELS FOR WELL-BEING. THRIVE: A Guiding Model for Facilitating School Leader Well-Being, Connor M. Moriarty, Kimberly Joy Rushing, and Lisa A. W. Kensler. School Administrators’ Well-Being and Mindfulness as Critical Components of Leadership and Building Healthy Teams, Nancy Norman, Adrienne Castellon, and David D. Stinson. Positive Leadership for Flourishing Learning Communities, Sabre Cherkowski, Benjamin Kutsyuruba, and Keith Walker. Educational Leadership as Emotional Labor: A Framework for the Values-Driven Emotion Work of School Leaders, Kristina N. LaVenia, Christy Galletta Horner, and Judy Jackson May. An Urban District’s Approach to Scaling Up Social-Emotional Learning Competencies Through a Leadership Lens, Delia Estrada, Marco A. Nava, and Susan Ward-Roncalli. An Urban District’s Approach to Scaling Up Social-Emotional Learning Competencies Through a Leadership Lens, Jonathan Eckert. SECTION IV: WELL-BEING PRACTICES AND FRAMEWORKS FOR PRACTITIONERS TO USE. Applying Brain Research and Positive Psychology to Promote the Well-Being of Principals, Kent Divoll and Angelica Ribeiro. Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education: Caring for Yourself So You Have the Resources to Care for Others, Sebrina Doyle. Respecting Communication Skills: The Missing Link for the Well-Being of Educators and Their Schools, Deborah L. Schussler and Jennifer L. Frank. Caring for the Caretaker: Using Mentoring as Support for School Principals in Self-Care and Mindfulness, Sonya Hayes and Jerry Burkett. Soul of Leadership: Sustaining Principals Through Courage, Presence, and Integrity, Rick Rogers and Mary Watkins. About the Authors.