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WA school principals’ leadership and wellbeing enhanced

A Murdoch-led Mindful Leaders Program aimed to support principals’ leadership and wellbeing

Western Australian school principals have described the personal impact of a Mindful Leaders Program as "profound", which could have positive outcomes on their interactions with staff, students and parents.

In partnership with the Western Australian Department of Education [1], Murdoch University [2]launched the Mindful School Leaders pilot program, which involved 30 principals from primary, secondary and education support schools. The program aimed to support principals’ leadership and wellbeing.

Data collected through the pilot revealed this sample of principals reported significant increases in mindfulness, self-compassion and professional efficacy to perform their roles. Importantly, it also revealed a heightened awareness of mental strategies to enhance their personal and professional lives.

"Participants felt more in control and less overwhelmed by their workload, and they had a significant reduction in mental exhaustion that – left unchecked – could lead to burnout," said doctoral researcher Johanne Klap from Murdoch University's School of Education. [2]

"The ability to develop a mindful way of being allowed them to be "one second ahead" – such that they are taking better care of themselves, and have improved the way they "show up" at work – which could have a positive ripple effect on their interactions with staff, students and parents."

Ms Klap said her research was significant as there was limited information about mindfulness practices for principals.

"School leadership has become a priority policy agenda in education systems both internationally and nationally, and it is well established in the education sector that leadership matters," she said.

"Supporting data from the National Principal Wellbeing Survey indicate that principals experience high levels of work related stress, competing demands and work overload, all which have a negative impact on their health and wellbeing."

Mindfulness programs have become increasingly popular in workplaces as a way of assisting people to manage stress and enhance performance. Preliminary findings from Ms Klap’s research suggest this is the case for this group of principals.

"Mindfulness practices can enable people to develop the capacity to be more focused, calm and clear in their daily lives. Effective leaders need space and time to work at optimum levels. This can be provided externally through resources, policies, and support systems, and from an internal personal perspective," Ms Klap said.

The research forms part of a doctoral project investigating how principals’ work and wellbeing may be supported by mindfulness training.

The study was approved by Murdoch University’s Human Research Ethics Committee and by the Department of Education.