We’ve all been reading articles about burnout, and this feeling applies to folks in many roles, including school district and site-level leaders.

But what can executives really do to assuage this feeling and keep the good work going? Mahfouz, Kathleen King and Danny Yahya of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, have some ideas. Pro tip: Many involve promoting self-care.

Currently, though being “burned out” and “busy” seems to be equated with “productivity” in the field of education, staff who are stressed and overworked are actually less effective. That’s why we should start shifting that culture away from holding our state of stress as a badge of honor to one that honors free time and appreciates calm.

In a new, healthier culture, self-care is not a selfish act. You don’t expect a car to operate without gas. Similarly, you cannot serve from an empty vessel. School districts, school boards, professional associations, colleagues and staff can support employees’ well-being by sending messages that confirm the importance of self-care for school leadership.

While these ideas apply to people in all kinds of roles, the people at Greater Good had these suggestions for principals in particular.

District leaders can lower expectations that principals will answer their emails on weekends or after school hours, unless there are true emergencies. This may seem like a small step, but it can be a huge support to principals. Wellness programs for self-care also can help school leader stress,  since a work-life balance can increase productivity and positivity while also providing a model for staff and students.

Mindfulness can be another effective tool of self-care through development of perspective, being present in the moment, and increased resiliency for effective problem solving. Carving time for connections with people we care about, whether it be through a virtual Zoom call or on a nature hike or over an outing, can help boost mental health, improve our quality of life beyond school or work, and amplify our sense of fulfillment and gratitude.

In the business world, many corporations provide opportunities for leadership teams to participate in social-emotional learning (SEL) programs. In the field of education, however, most school systems do not provide such opportunities for their leaders. Professional development programs must be created to cultivate principals’ own social and emotional well-being and help them develop the skills necessary to effectively lead SEL implementation.

Although short-term professional development programs may support principals’ social and emotional well-being, the learning-application process requires sustained support over time. It may be helpful to establish local networks for school leaders to help them connect with others who face similar demands and challenges and with mentors they can trust.

Guidance and support from peers may help prevent isolation, which has become more pronounced in recent years as the role of the principal has become more complex. Mentorship programs that partner veteran principals with novice principals may also promote well-being. By providing ongoing professional development opportunities and establishing mentorship programs, schools can help principals attend to their own well-being.

Principal turnover is a serious concern, given the critical role school leaders play in implementing long-term school improvement efforts. The numbers of principals and superintendents retiring this past year has skyrocketed with the spread of the pandemic.

However, evidence shows that schools with high turnover exhibit lower commitment to improvement. Moreover, principal turnover can lead to teacher turnover, thereby increasing levels of dissatisfaction and burnout and decreasing the likelihood of cultivating satisfying, caring relationships.

In neighborhoods with high levels of student mobility and poverty, principal stability is especially important. Schools can support the creation of environments that promote and prioritize well-being for all school stakeholders by creating greater stability for principals through longer-term assignments.