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Caring for yourself and other adults

Leading mentally healthy schools also means caring for your own mental health and well-being. By recognizing the significance of self-care, you can model healthy behaviours, enhance resilience, and cultivate a school environment where everyone thrives.

Why this is important

  • Prioritizing self-care allows you to nurture your own mental health, reducing stress and burnout while fostering a sense of balance and fulfillment in your professional and personal lives.
  • When you prioritize self-care, you set a positive example for the entire school community, demonstrating the importance of taking care of oneself to maintain overall well-being.
  • By practising self-care, you can enhance your ability to lead effectively, make sound decisions, and effectively manage challenges and conflicts.
  • Taking care of your own mental health allows you to approach student and staff needs with empathy and understanding, creating a supportive environment where individuals feel valued and heard.
  • Engaging in self-care activities replenishes energy levels and boosts motivation, which can help you maintain your dedication and commitment to your role over the long term.

Tips for caring for your well-being

Finding healthy outlets for processing stress and prioritizing your own mental health and well-being can have a profound impact on leading mentally healthy schools. Here are some suggestions:

Self-compassion is defined as giving ourselves the same kindness and care that we would give a good friend. When you treat yourself with compassion, it allows you to be accepting of yourself, set reasonable expectations, and give yourself permission to focus on what you need. Extending compassion and kindness to others, in turn, can help you feel good. Small acts of kindness, in fact, are not small – they can have a ripple effect that extends from yourself to others. Remind yourself that you are worthy of your own care.

Questions to consider:

  • Do I lead with compassion and empathy, starting with myself?
  • Have I been gentle and kind to myself today?
  • How do I practise being gentle with myself and my expectations?
  • How do I show care for those around me? My family, my students, my colleagues?

Understanding yourself is being attuned to your feelings and the connections between your feelings, thoughts, and actions. Self-awareness can help you better understand your expectations, boundaries, and needs. While it is normal at times to feel depleted, it is important to notice what lifts you up – and similarly, what drains you. It is only when you are aware of how you are doing that you are then able to take steps to care for yourself, and to ask for help when needed. Taking a moment to ask, “How am I doing?” is essential to taking the next step, to understanding “What do I need?” so you can take the final step to restore yourself.

Questions to consider:

  • Am I aware of how I am doing, and do I know the actions and habits that replenish my wellness? Do I have a circle of support to help me when I need it?
  • Do I ask for help when I need it?
  • How am I doing today?
  • What do I need?
  • What are those actions that will restore and fill me up?

When you become aware of how you are feeling and thinking, you can take action to restore balance. Restoring yourself can come from small or large actions. What works for one person may not work for another. Explore the emotional (positive thoughts, optimism, gratitude), spiritual (faith, traditions, culture, beliefs), physical (nutrition, sleep hygiene, movement), and social (healthy interactions and connections) factors that help you feel restored and replenished. Having a range of strategies that are flexible and can be used at work, at home, by yourself, or with others provides options for how you restore and balance energy.

Questions to consider:

  • Do I prioritize my own mental health and well-being so I can flourish?
  • What works for me personally to replenish and restore my energy?
  • How do I advocate for what I need?
  • How do I prioritize ways to replenish myself?
  • Do I know where to go to seek the support I need?

Taking care of yourself is not an event, but rather a process and is best practised as a regular commitment. Daily practices such as deep breathing, quiet-reflection moments, positive affirmations, or movement breaks can help to build the skills and resilience to manage the day-to-day stressors that come your way. Try to cultivate personal habits that you incorporate into your daily routine – they can be brief moments but yield significant benefit.

Questions to consider:

  • How can I protect and promote my well-being with personal everyday practices?
  • What do I do daily that brings calm to my day?
  • Where are there opportunities for me to build personal wellness habits into my daily routine? What is one commitment I can make to increase my daily wellness?

Each district will have policies and procedures in place regarding workplace health and safety. In addition, employees, including principals and vice-principals, can access counselling and wellness support through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, reach out to a colleague/mentor, the district leadership, your local provincial association representative, or your provincial association for guidance on where to go for help.

Supporting staff mental health and well-being

A key responsibility of school administrators is to foster a positive and supportive work environment, including supporting the mental health and well-being of staff members. In doing so, school administrators can create a nurturing environment that benefits everyone involved in the education journey.

  • When staff members experience a positive school climate and are able to engage in job crafting (balancing demands and resources, engaging in professional learning, relying on colleagues), their well-being benefits.
  • When teacher well-being is high, student well-being benefits via improved teacher–student relationships and teacher “presenteeism”. Depressive symptoms in teachers are directly related to lower math performance among students over the year, possibly through its impact on student attitudes toward learning.
  • Across cultural contexts, teachers’ job satisfaction is positively associated with the quality of their instruction in the classroom; this is partly a function of better teacher–student relationships.
  • Teachers who hold a positive view of the school climate and report greater well-being are more ready to help students with their mental health problems.
  • Promote a whole-school approach to mental health and well-being.
  • Engage in wellness-oriented activities, offering choice and gathering staff input as to preferred initiatives (e.g., lunchtime yoga, kindness jar, recipe club, snack potluck, wellness speakers).
  • Create a culture that supports staff to be open about their mental health.
  • Model a good work–life balance.
  • Be open to staff and show that their mental health and well-being matters.
  • Treat mental health the same way you treat physical health. Support all employees to achieve success in the workplace.
  • Be approachable and take steps to normalize conversations about mental health and encourage open dialogue.
  • Align professional development for staff on mental health and well-being with professional development about students’ mental health and well-being.
  • Be aware of and know how to access supports through the Employee Assistance Program.
  • Consider the emotional needs of staff.
  • Make sure that in cases of traumatic events, structures are in place to support staff with their emotions after the event.
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of emerging and escalating mental health problems (e.g., a change in behaviour like increased irritability or angry outbursts, changes in mood like persistent sadness or glee, difficulties with attention like focusing on tasks at hand, increasing problems in interactions with staff or students).
  • Be supportive of someone experiencing a mental health problem. Provide initial help and guide the person toward appropriate professional help.
  • Tackle the causes of work-related mental health strain. Help employees to manage their workloads and make reasonable accommodations for staff with mild-to-moderate mental health problems, in consultation with your human resources department.
  • Share available pathways to mental health support (Employee Assistance Programs and Occupational Health, Connex Ontario).
  • If needed, consult with your superintendent or human resources department about how to support your staff.
  • Promote the recovery of mental health through good work–life balance and prioritizing wellness.
  • Check in with staff members who have been experiencing more significant mental health problems to show your care and concern each day.
  • Offer the support that is reasonable for you to provide, mindful of boundaries in your professional role.
  • Support staff to reach out to employee services and to maintain professional and community connections that they find supportive.
  • Be knowledgeable about supports for staff prior to their return to work from a medical leave.
  • If a staff member experiences a mental health emergency at school, do not leave them alone. Call for help (from a mental health professional or emergency services as the situation requires) and offer calm assistance while you wait for support. Protect the individual’s privacy by ensuring that others are kept away from the unfolding situation. Support the individual through needed care, and assist with a respectful and thoughtful return-to-work plan in collaboration with the care team and human resources.

Resources to support caring for yourself and others

Dreer, B. (2022). Teacher well-being: Investigating the contributions of school climate and job crafting. Cogent Education, 9(1). Harding et al., 2019).

Harrison, M. G., King, R. B., & Wang, H. (2023). Satisfied teachers are good teachers: The association between teacher job satisfaction and instructional quality. British Educational Research Journal, 49(3), 476–498.

Harding, S., Morris, R., Gunnell, D., Ford, T., Hollingworth, W., Tilling, K., Evans, R., Bell, S., Grey, J., Brockman, R., Campbell, R., Araya, R., Murphy, S., & Kidger, J. (2019). Is teachers’ mental health and well-being associated with students’ mental health and well-being?, Journal of Affective Disorders, 242, 180–187.

Jeon, S., Jeon, L., Lang, S., & Newell, K. (2021). Teacher depressive symptoms and child math achievement in Head Start: The roles of family–teacher relationships and approaches to learning. Child Development, 92(6), 2478–2495.

Neff, K. D. (2023). Self-compassion: Theory, method, research, and intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 74, 193-218.

Sisask, M., Varnik, P., Varnik, A., Apter, A., Balazs, J., Balint, M., Bobes, J., Brunner, R., Corcoran, P., Cosman, D., Feldman, D., Haring, C., Kahn, J., Postuvan, V., Tubiana, A., Sarchiapone, M., Wasserman, C., Carli, V., Hoven, C., & Wasserman, D. (2014). Teacher satisfaction with school and psychological well-being affects their readiness to help children with mental health problems. Health Education Journal, 73(4), 382–393.