Finding a space of wellbeing in a busy leadership role is no easy feat. After living through two years of almost constant crisis, it almost seems an unfair expectation to have. Over the course of our interviews, the Women Who Lead shared a number of strategies that they find effective for supporting their own health and wellbeing.
In fact, they shared so much that I’m splitting this article into two sections: today’s is focused on actions you can take to support your wellbeing independently, essentially actions you can primarily do on your own. My next article will focus on actions that you can take that involve others to help create an environment for yourself and your colleagues that supports wellbeing.
Love Your Work
Overall, the biggest theme that emerged was that our Women Who Lead truly love their job, and because they find so much satisfaction and fulfillment in their work, dedicating time to being a successful leader is worth it.
Arden Tyoschin, Head of School, Harare International School, Zimbabwe, believes that if “deep down you love the challenge and you love working with people and with students, it doesn’t feel so much like it’s a burden, it’s something you embrace.” Her love of creativity allows her to see being faced with a really difficult scenario as an opportunity to go through the creative process, which doesn’t feel like a burden.
Similarly, Bin Li, Deputy Head of School, Chinese International School in Hong Kong, finds joy in the process of pursuing excellence as a leader. “A leader should be prepared to make some sacrifices, such as sleep, family life, social life and maybe your hobby.” She believes if you put it in the perspective that this is what you chose to do and this is what you enjoy doing, then you will do it well and you will manage it - and enjoy the process. When she can find time, she also enjoys tai chi and reading.
Find What Feeds Your Soul
Catriona Moran, Head of School at Saigon South International School, recognizes that when you become a leader, you have to define what balance means for you. Knowing that leaders have this huge commitment, Catriona says, “we all need to find what feeds our souls. We’re constantly giving to our organizations. We’re constantly giving to other people. And they need us. They look to us for compassion, guidance and leadership. The constant giving means we need to replenish our soul.” Catriona does that through singing, with a group. She finds that “music is a great equalizer - whatever culture I’m in, it allows me to engage with the local community in a way I would not otherwise be able to do.” Every leader needs to find what that is for themselves.
Prioritize Your Health
Kathleen Naglee, Head of School at Helsinki International School, notes that leaders are in a position of continuous stress, and cannot let their physical health deteriorate. For Kathleen, eating healthy and lifting weights helps protect her from the emotional stress she takes on every day. In the evening, she believes in sleep and tries to get to bed early every night. “Learning to stop is something we’re all learning.”
Dr. Nneka Johnson, Director of Innovation and DEI Coordinator at the International School of Dakar, has converted her basement into a gym and can sometimes find herself still working out at midnight. She finds training is essential for her wellbeing. She’s able to stay driven and motivated because she’s always focused on the outcome and her goals.
Find Your Flow
Similarly, Elsa Donohue, Head of School at Vientiane International School in Laos, feels most balanced when she’s doing what she loves, which is her work. She knows she needs to make time for movement every day, but also that she doesn’t have to be perfect every day. Just taking time to do some deep breathing can really help. As she has grown older, she has realized that balance may not be found in a specific period of time, like in a single day. If she can find a place of happiness and a flow sometime in the week, that’s enough.
Bridget Doogan, Educational Consultant, highlights the importance of daily practices like mediation, gratitude, and nutrition. She recognizes that you have to be intentional about self-care so that you can bring your best self to work. She intentionally seeks spaces where she can be calm and creative to build daily practices that include creative productivity. These are not indulgences, but intentional practices designed to enable her to be successful and productive when it’s time to work.
Everyone needs something different to find a space of wellbeing. Caroline Brokvam, Director of the American School of Antananarivo, Madagascar, has found that she needs time to “switch off” after talking all day. Listening to podcasts allows her to have that mental space without more screen time. Family time also helps her intentionally not think about work.
Madeleine Heide, Head of School at Lincoln American International School in Buenos Aires, finds that the weight of the position gets in [her] way and [she] hasn’t found a way around that yet. She continues to find the energy thanks to her own self efficacy. “You believe that you have something to offer. I believe that about myself, therefore I can keep going because I still have something that I want to make a difference.”
Take a Break
Many of our Women Who Lead also noted the importance of taking time to rest. Whether it’s an extended length of time or just a few minutes in the day, intentionally taking time to give yourself a mental (and physical) rest is essential. Liz Kleinrock, anti-bias and anti-racist educator, referenced Audre Lourde, recommending the importance of breaks, “the act of self care is an act of rebellion. White supremacy wants you to be exhausted, burnt out and disorganized. If there’s a day you need to stay offline, take it. Making sure you have people who are going to have your back and bring joy into your life, being mindful of who and what is giving from you and who and what is taking from you.”
No One Size Fits All
There’s no one way to find a space of wellbeing in a leadership role, and like almost all of the Women Who Lead have said, when you love your job, it doesn’t feel like work… but there are plenty of strategies you can apply to give yourself mental and physical space to do things outside of education. If you need inspiration, examples and personal stories of how successful women leaders are bringing self-care and wellbeing into the practice as educators, there’s so much more inside the Women Who Lead program! Learn from the stories of over 70 successful women leaders and build your professional learning network inside Women Who Lead! Our next global cohort begins in June, registration opens in May. Find out more here: https://edurolearning.com/women/.
*All professional positions cited in the article were ones held at the time the research was conducted. Positions and schools of those quoted may have since changed. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Kim has been an educator in international schools since August 2000. Having lived and worked in Germany, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan, Kim has had a variety of roles in international schools, including (her favorite) instructional coach. Now based in Bangkok, Thailand, Kim is the co-founder and CEO of Eduro Learning, which offers online customized professional development in a community-driven environment, including COETAIL, Women Who Lead and The Coach Microcredential programs. Kim is co-author of Your Connected Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers, as well as co-host of the #coachbetter podcast and YouTube series. Find out more about Kim at edurolearning.com.