This column was published in the NT Sun on August 7 2018. While school leadership (and staff) stress is written about in terms of the Northern Territory, the issue is one with Australia-wide implications for school leaders, teachers and all school staff.
STRESS IMPACTS ALL SCHOOL EDUCATORS
The Northern Territory Government and Education Department have finally recognised an issue that has been dogging Principals and Assistant Principals for many years. Our school leaders are very stressed people.
This year it was agreed that Principals and Assistant Principals should be entitled to an allowance of $600 per year, to be spent on goods or services helping to alleviate undue stress. This can be used to fund course attendance, spent to assist in the purchase of stress reducing equipment and so on.
There are many factors driving stress. Possibly the most major issue is that of school leaders being required to be all things to all people. They are confronted by significant challenges in trying to meld the expectations of government, the education department, community, parents, students and staff. Developing an accord between these groups that fulfils expectations is a major task.
The NT Principals Association, teachers union, and other professional groups connected with the further development of education have known of the deep stress confronting educators for many years. It now seems that the education department has agreed that the existence of undue and “over the top“ work pressures is a reality.
Minimising unnecessary stress has been recognised as a necessary adjunct to promoting the physical health and mental wellbeing needs of principals and assistant principals.
However, this will at best be palliative. The intention is to dissipate the effects of a deepening and broadening problem. It would be altogether better if unnecessary stressors were identified and removed.
A great deal of the load placed upon school leaders is about accountability and “justification“. While responsibility for educational outcomes must be taken seriously, going over the top is problematic. The need to constantly justify one’s existence takes from what the prime focus of education for school leaders should be all about.
One stress area is completely overlooked. In terms of impact, the greatest level of school staff stress is that borne by classroom teachers. Curriculum and teaching demands placed on schools by departments is generally passed down to teachers. It is at the classroom level that expectations demanded of students must be met. Teachers spend increasing amounts of time in teaching, testing, measuring and recording results. Departmental recognition of stress and the offer of tangible support should be extended to all teachers in all our schools. Allowing teachers to teach rather than inundating them under excessive data demands would be a good start.
The stress relief program goes some way toward recognising and countering the issue. However, there is still a long way to go.