For Sebastopol Primary School principal Michelle Wilson, gratitude, taking time to check in with colleagues, sharing highlights of their days and getting feedback from parents were keys to getting through the stressful months of remote learning during 2020.
A national survey of principals found the COVID-19 pandemic, bushfires and floods had an immense impact on the stress and workload of principals.
During 2020, almost all principals worked overtime and close to 70 per cent worked more than 56 hours a week during school term, and 25 hours a week during holidays.
The main sources of stress were the sheer quantity of work, the lack of time to focus on teaching and learning, the mental health issues of students and the expectations of the employer.
Ms Wilson said 2020 was a year like no other and both staff and students needed extra support.
"We had a big focus on wellbeing and engagement," Ms Wilson said. "About 90 per cent of my staff had their own children at home learning as well as teaching a class so it was a constant juggle, and a number have older family members ... to support."
Although there were plenty of challenges in supporting teachers and pupils in remote learning, the extra involvement of parents was welcome.
"We feel parents really stepped up on the whole and really engaged with us around their student learning. That period offered them greater insight in to the expectations and complexity around teaching and learning.
"Some parents would contact us saying their child didn't want to sit down and do the work, or struggled with the task, so we shared strategies we would use in class ... and assure them that sometimes that happens at school too."
Younger classes at Sebastopol continued to receive hard-copy work throughout lockdown, with the school running a drive-through pickup for work packs and family food packages.
"Many people in our school community experienced some hard times and we were checking in and supporting and using allied health in our community to connect with families, but services in Ballarat were very stretched, working in a very restricted way and working from home so they were not able to do normal home visits."
The school had support from education department regional support staff, made use of extra resources developed to support families, and took on extra professional development around mental health and wellbeing.
The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey, run by Australian Catholic University and Deakin University researchers, also shone a spotlight on violence in schools.
More than 40 per cent of the 2248 school principals who took part had been a victim of physical violence or threatened with violence during 2020 - a rate up to nine times greater than the general population.
While several categories of offensive behaviours decreased in 2020 due to reduced face-to-face contact with parents, over the 10 years of the survey principals have reported a steady increase in bullying, physical violence, slander, sexual harassment, threats of violence and verbal harassment.
Deakin University's Professor Phil Riley said the survey shone a light on "a year like no other" for school leaders.
"Last year was one of unimaginable horrors for Australians and the global pandemic had a life-altering effect on us all," Professor Riley said. "But 2020 showed us that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
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"As well as needing to quickly develop on-line learning practices, school principals were faced with managing COVID-safe processes to protect their employees, students, and parents from a global pandemic.
"Although schools were classed as essential services, and told to stay open to protect the economy, they were not privy to vital information. Particularly at the start of COVID-19, school leaders had to listen to the news to find out what to do with their schools' operations."
Professor Riley said there was a bright spot.
"The survey has shown us the pandemic's lockdowns and restrictions reminded communities about the vital role school leaders play. Ironically, COVID-19 could herald a positive shift in community attitudes towards school principals."
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