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  • Writer's pictureFelicity Baker

6 Strengths of Resilient School Leaders

Updated: Sep 16, 2022

Through our work with staff in both public and private organisations we’ve witnessed how staff in leadership roles face a unique set of pressures and demands. And, that’s why we’ve been watching the BBC 2 documentary, School, with interest.

The programme provides a true insight into the particular challenges faced by school leaders. These include a rapid pace of change and major budget cuts, high levels of accountability and low staff morale.

During the series we’ve seen how the threats and pressures experienced by leaders can cause high levels of stress and burn out, sometimes leading to skilled and committed members of staff concluding that they cannot go on. This can have devastating consequences for the individual and the wider school community.

So, how can school leaders develop the skills to endure and withstand these pressures and demands without succumbing to stress and burn out?

What does research show us?

Research in this area has demonstrated that a focus on wellbeing and resilience is key. Indeed, the National College of School Leadership (NCSL) identifies ‘resilience and emotional maturity’ as essential for effective leadership. In a survey of school heads in the UK, 98% agreed that the role demands emotional resilience (Steward, 2014).

In fact, lots of resilience research has already shown that being aware of and managing emotions helps us to take control in stressful and challenging situations.

These skills of self-awareness and self-management are crucial to leaders. They are the core features of emotional intelligence, which Goleman (2013) identified as essential to being an effective leader.

More specifically, they also form the foundation for the 6 strengths of resilient school leaders identified by Patterson and Kelleher (2005).

What strengths do resilient school leaders have?

These strengths are described as the ability to:

1. Accurately assess past and present reality: making a realistic appraisal of situations and learning from them, while avoiding self-criticism and taking things personally.

2. Remain positive about future possibilities: staying optimistic and not getting caught up in negative or pessimistic patterns of thinking.

3. Be clear about what matters most: having a clear sense of your personal values and purpose, and prioritising what’s important.

4. Maintain a strong sense of personal efficacy: having self-belief and confidence in your ability to succeed.

5. Invest personal energy wisely: ensuring that you focus on your own wellbeing, balancing periods of pressure and demand with time for recovery.

6. Act on the courage of personal convictions: having a clear vision and knowing your own mind.

A study looking at emotional resilience in school leaders found that all participants were driven by a commitment to make a difference to the lives of school pupils. Those possessing many of these additional strengths, however, were more likely to deliver on this commitment by persevering in their roles even at times of immense pressure.

These findings suggest that supporting school leaders to develop resilience skills could help them to succeed in this current climate of challenge and change.

If you’d like to discuss how this can be done in the educational establishment where you work, please get in touch.

References Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R.E., & McKee, A. (2002). Primal Leadership: Realizing the power of emotional intelligence. Boston, Mass, Harvard Business School Press.

Patterson, J.L. & Kelleher, P. (2005). Resilient School Leaders: Strategies for Turning Adversity into Achievement. Alexandria, V.A., Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Steward, J. (2014). Sustaining Emotional Resilience for School Leadership. School Leadership and Management, 34 (1), 52-68. DOI: 10.1080/13632434.2013.849686.


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