Trustee Table Takeaways: Prioritizing Health and Well-Being as a School Leader

Here are the top five takeaways from Episode 23 of the NAIS Trustee Table podcast, "Prioritizing Health and Well-Being as a School Leader." In this episode, Eleonora Bartoli, a licensed psychologist specializing in trauma, resilience-building, and multicultural/social justice counseling, examines what it means to be a trauma-informed school, how the notion of resiliency has shifted during the pandemic, and why school leaders must make their own health and well-being a priority.
  • What does it mean to be a trauma-informed school? A trauma-informed school recognizes the impact of traumatic stress on the community and supports opportunities for stakeholders to feel safe enough to allow learning and growth to occur. Given the stress all school community members have endured in the past year, using a trauma-informed lens demonstrates school leaders understand the psychological and physiological implications and that safety is not just a priority, but a prerequisite for learning.
  • What steps can heads of school take to support the health and well-being of their faculty, students, and families? It is important for school leaders to remember their stakeholders come to school, whether in person or virtually, carrying everything they have experienced with them. Acknowledging emotions and feelings will go a long way in fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging. Leaders should also provide opportunities for connection. Encourage dialogue about how your community is experiencing the world and their school; soliciting feedback helps people feel heard and valued. Finally, leaders must be clear about what they can and cannot offer. Often, there is a push for heads of school to be everything to everyone at all times. Simply put, if a leader overpromises and under-delivers, stakeholders will view this as a betrayal.
  • How can school leaders support themselves? Being a leader can be a lonely proposition. Leaders often feel they don’t have the time or space to process their own emotions or experiences. Therefore, if a leader wants to show up for their community with intention, then self-care is not an option; it is a necessity. It is also important for leaders to connect with others in similar circumstances to reduce feelings of isolation. Cultivating joy is also key, whether it is spending time with family and friends, reading, exercising, or engaging in mindfulness.
  • How should we define resiliency during this time of extended crisis? Resiliency is a process more than an outcome. It is the courage to remain present and to empathize with others, even during times of intense stress. Self-compassion is also an important part of resiliency; being kind to ourselves when things do not go as planned. In order to cultivate resiliency, school leaders must be willing to ask themselves How am I doing? and then honor the answer to that question. A never-ending sense of urgency is not sustainable; school leaders must give themselves permission to slow down.
  • What kinds of questions should boards be asking in terms of community health and well-being? There are several questions board should ask as they move toward the end of the school year. What does our community need at this moment and how do we know? How can we put empathy and belonging at the center of what we do? What steps could we take to institutionalize this? How should our values inform our decision-making? Board policy and procedures?