We’ve heard all of the sayings. We’ve felt the sting of their actual meaning play out in our daily work. We accept it as part and parcel of the job. Being a school leader is lonely.
In many ways, it is an inevitability. (There’s a reason why adages and quotes about the isolation of leadership proliferate.)
We can’t take the isolation out of the job itself. You will still be the one who ultimately needs to make tough calls, who will be held responsible for results, who will be the face of everything that happens in your building, good, bad, or ugly. You will still need to shelter your team from tough issues that would only serve to distract them from their work with kids in classrooms. You will experience issues with your own co-workers that you have no peers to talk to about.
You exist in your own head much of the time. Playing out scenarios. Strategizing. Finding solutions. Uncovering root causes. Making trade-offs and compromises. Preparing how to deliver messages (and, often, bad news) to be heard and understood. Balancing delicate interpersonal dynamics to create and maintain a cohesive team effort.
This is hard stuff! And it is the nature of leadership.
But if these isolating effects are an inevitability of school leadership, giving yourself no productive outlet to deal with this isolation doesn’t have to be.
Recently, we gathered the principals and instructional leaders from all of our school partners for a community appreciation event. No agenda. No professional development aims. No expectations for next steps. No judgement. Just being in each other’s company and connecting.
The gratitude our school partners expressed for this time and space was remarkable. For at least one evening, they didn’t feel so isolated. They could talk freely and openly about the challenges they were facing and the successes they’ve seen. They received understanding, empathy, and fresh perspective.
Often, principal support, management, or mentorship can overly formalize these aims or unintentionally undercut their larger purposes — our work included. That doesn’t mean these efforts should be abandoned in favor of free-form community building as the best way to support school leaders, but we cannot forget the power and importance of peers, of an outlet, of the permission to be unfiltered and unguarded.
So go to that Happy Hour, principals! Call up that education friend who you can vent to! Grab a coffee with your old friends from your principal prep program!
And, support organizations, find ways to give principals this space without any other agenda attached.
Finding this community might just be the only way to deal with the inevitable loneliness that comes with being a school leader.