The Importance of Self-Care for School Leaders

Summer is here!

The 4th of July has come and gone. Students have culminated or graduated.  Teachers are on their summer breaks. Summer school is moving along and the building is getting a deep cleaning. The rhythm of summer has set in on campus.

And you – what are you doing during this season of preparation and renewal – is it business as usual?


An Introduction

This blog post is for you especially if you are:

  • In your office on your computer reading this blog right now
  • Not sure of when, or if, you will be taking a summer vacation
  • Always thinking about the school, the kids, the families… 
  • Feeling like you don’t have enough time to get everything done
  • Trying to manage every aspect of running the school


The Situation

“It must be great working at a school and getting summers off. I am so jealous!” How many times have you heard this? Contrary to popular belief, summer is often a school leader’s (or any member of the school leadership team’s) busiest time of the year. For many school leaders, the arrival of summer is accompanied by a long to-do list that is not limited to: analyzing data and planning schedules, classes, PD; hiring, running summer school, and a summer meal program; meeting in-coming/prospective students and their families, as well as progress check-ins with continuing students and their families; monitoring that club of students and teachers/chaperones who are on the EF trip to Europe; etc. 

Don’t forget that you need to attend the leadership retreat hosted by your district or charter management organization and read the requisite companion literature. 

As a school leader, you have a lot on your plate. You have our kids’ futures in your hands. What an awesome responsibility and privilege. However, even working with the best team of professionals, the job can be daunting and can become all consuming if you don’t consciously and purposefully make time to take care of yourself. 

School leaders need to take some time for themselves away from the business of running a school. They need to step away from the work and recharge themselves in order to be able to continue to be the best leaders they can be.



Right about now you might be thinking: “I am the leader and I am responsible for ensuring that everything in the school is done the right way. It’s my job.” This ultimately leads to you thinking you need to be involved in every school related. And true, school leaders have a lot of responsibilities and commitments to many different stakeholder groups. The thought of slowing down could mean not completing your work, the feeling of not giving your all, or worse, an uncomfortable conversation with your supervisor. I know the thinking.

After several years of running a high-performing school in a low-income neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles, I had to figure out a way to stay in the game and continue to devote myself to my kids and my school, but also take better care of myself. Stress was a big factor in my having been put on blood pressure medication three years into the job. Fortunately, my doctor, a big fan of educators (and of keeping me alive), said, “I need to help you take better care of yourself so that you can continue to take care of our kids. LA needs you!” She not only gave me the meds I needed to keep me healthy, but also the wake up call that I needed to force me start de-stressing my life.

Fact: You cannot be your best self if you are tired and/or nearing burnout. A quick internet search reveals a plethora of articles pointing to the benefits of work/life balance and taking time for yourself. It just takes doing it.In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), Steven Covey lists the seventh habit as “Sharpen the saw.” Simply put, take care of yourself.

What Can I Do?

If you employ one of the strategies below today, you will be on a path to self care and a more enjoyable summer. 

  1. Play with Your Schedule 

Change your schedule for the summer. You are most likely working well over 40 hours in a week. Do yourself and your team a favor and change it up a bit. Everyone can still put in their time, however, since it is summer, you probably have some flexibility if you choose to exercise it.

Create a schedule that allows for you and your team to have alternating late arrival days. This will give you the flexibility of, perhaps, sleeping in one day a week, making a medical appointment, meeting your mom for breakfast, or spending some extra time with your kids. Whatever it is, take it easy because in this day you don’t have to be at work until 10AM (or whatever time your team agrees on). 

If you have someone who commutes to work, coming in later may not work for them, but allowing them the opportunity to beat the traffic, let them leave early. Be flexible. It’s summer!


  1. Delegate

Use your teams talents wisely. Ensure that all members of the leadership team are sharing in the responsibilities of running and maintaining the school in areas that suit their talents and skills. Detailed job duties with  clearly defined benchmarks and expectations, followed up by regular check-ins with feedback on progress and potential areas of development are key to having the most productive team. 

Summer provides you the opportunity to discover hidden leadership talents that may exist outside of your team. By enlisting aspiring/potential leaders from your staff (both classified and certified), your student population and your family community to take on summer assignments, you can free up some time for the leadership team while creating a pipeline of future leaders.

Examples: let a teacher leader or a small cohort of teacher leaders run your summer school program, train a group of high school seniors to be mentors for entering freshmen (or eighth graders as mentors for sixth graders), enlist parents to assist with summer room preparation and family event planning. 


  1. Meditate or Do Yoga

Take a meditation or yoga class.  Seriously! You can find meditation and yoga studios in every city that offer classes throughout the day for all experience levels from beginners to long-time practitioners.

Honestly, meditation had somehow worked its way into my negative schema of everything New Age, hippy, and guru related. It took me six months to attend a meditation class after I initially decided to try it out with a friend. I didn’t think that I would like it or that it would not be my thing.

I was wrong. It may not be for you, but if you don’t try it you will never know. You might only get a really good nap out of it, but that might be just what your body needs.

If you are not afraid of falling asleep with your colleagues in the room, sharing a meditation class could be a good team bonding experience, that could possibly give you some mindfulness ideas to incorporate into your team meetings or even school wide. Or bring in yoga for some physical benefits along with mindfulness and relaxation.

Below are some links to a few meditation studios in California and Texas where many of the school leaders we work with are located. If you live in a city that is not listed, Yelp! or Google can help you find a class near you. 


Los Angeles Area

The Den – LA

Unplug Meditation

The Tree South LA


The Bay Area

The Art of Living – Berkeley

Berkeley Meditation


San Antonio

Free San Antonio Health Events – Eventbrite

San Antonio Meditation Group of Self-Realization Fellowship



Kadampa Meditation Center Texas

The Refuge Dallas

Dallas Meditation Center



Stress leads to physical and/or mental burnout, lower productivity, reduced effectiveness and maybe a lot worse. How engaged and helpful can you be with your kids and school community if you are not able or don’t want to be at school?

Take some time today to make some time for the rest of your summer. Your kids, your city, and this country (our democracy) need you.


If you’re interested in learning more strategies to re-energize as a leader or discussing your own plans, reach out to me, James Waller, a principal coach here at Ensemble. If you would like to explore how your school, district, or CMO can partner with Ensemble to support effective leadership, reach out to our CEO, Elise Darwish.

Related post

SHARE this