Teacher voice: 3 ways principals can create conditions for joy

Serving as a school leader must be so demanding. I’ve not experienced first hand what it feels like to sit in the principal’s seat. As an educator however, I have experienced the incredible power principals have to make teachers feel cared for and valued as human beings, not just as teachers. I wanted to share three authentic steps a school leader or administrator can take that has made a significant difference for my close colleagues and myself.

1. Model joy

The number one thing administrators can do for teachers is model joy. It sounds simple, but your own joy can feel so permission-giving to teachers. Teachers feel the disconnect when a leader says, “Take care of yourself; self-care is important,” but the leader appears run-down and stressed out. If self-care is really valued in your school community, modeling it is a powerful way to communicate that core value.

I have an incredible principal who masterfully models the importance of enjoying time with family, making time for special events, and setting boundaries to protect her joy. When she comes back to school after time away, she shares, “I enjoyed doing this fun thing with my family.” She often says she’s a principal 24/7 and  she’s also a human 24/7. It gives me a visual example of what it means to show up for students and educators with energy, working from a place of authentic joy. 

2. Collaborate to enable teachers to care for themselves

My daughter is a student at a different school in our district, and my principal knows how important my own child is to me. When I’m challenged with timing during the school day, needing to head across town to my daughter’s school, my principal will take on that challenge with me. She’ll say, “Oh, yeah, we need to problem-solve this so you can be there for her.” 

It’s one thing to tell your teachers that they should make time for self-care and personal priorities. It’s altogether more meaningful when you demonstrate your willingness to collaborate with them to make that time.

3. Celebrate when teachers make time for themselves 

Another way my principal shows up for me is by expressing genuine interest in what I have going on in my life. After a teacher takes time off, you can ask them about their lives and really listen to their reply. When a teacher with a new grandchild tells you she’s considering taking some time off, you say, “Absolutely. Take time off and go enjoy that baby.” 

When you’re modeling your own joy and taking concrete action to enable teachers’ self-care, you can authentically celebrate the time they make for themselves to recharge.

As a teacher who has worked with inspiring and dedicated school leaders, I’ve seen up-close how much this work can demand of you. I’ve also seen the ways that you can transform school culture by making wellness a true priority for yourself as well as for your staff. I hope these steps inspire you to pause for a moment and think about how you can facilitate and protect the joy in your school community in the weeks ahead. Which teacher needs a little more support making time for themselves? Which teachers have already taken important self-care steps you can hold up as models? And perhaps most importantly, where are you making time for the things that fill your cup and give YOU joy?