At 8 p.m. every Sunday, a dozen or more educators log in to a Zoom “meeting” from locales as far-flung as Oregon and Florida, and it’s quite unlike their other weekly meetings. A calming voice leads them through breathing exercises and reminds them to be safe, healthy, strong, and kind to themselves, to take a pause, and to remember that pausing is “an act of self-care that you can access throughout your day.”
The voice of Baylor Associate Professor Dr. Bradley Carpenter is familiar to them. He is their professor, colleague, collaborator, co-researcher, former coworker. On Sundays, he is their reminder to start the week on a positive note.
As a leadership scholar in K-12 education and former elementary principal, Carpenter has long been aware of the stressors affecting teachers, principals, superintendents, and graduate students. He has studied educators’ responses to stress and published articles on burnout. Now he’s doing something about it.
Carpenter and fellow faculty members in the Department of Educational Leadership are building a focus on self-care and flourishing into the curriculum of programs that prepare leaders for K-12 education — both the EdD in K-12 Educational Leadership that Carpenter leads and the department’s new MA in School Leadership.
Faculty include Dr. Jon Eckert, Copple Chair in Christian School Leadership and director of the MA; Dr. John Wilson, Clinical Professor, founding director of the EdD, and a former superintendent; Dr. Angela Urich, Associate Professor, who publishes widely on effective school leadership and teacher turnover; and Dr. Herb Cox, Clinical Assistant Professor, who joined the MA faculty after a career as a principal.
Carpenter said that, as a principal and then a researcher on school turn-around and anti-racist leadership, he saw a lot of educators suffering. “People were beat up, quitting, self-medicating, getting divorces. And I wondered if it has to be that way,” he said.
Addressing well-being is part of preparation programs for nurses and social workers who face known stressors on the job, Carpenter said; educators are similarly at risk. But Carpenter is not aware of other university programs that have explicitly built well-being into the curriculum.
“Yes, we cover the foundations of law, management, facilities — there is a lot to cover,” he said. “From the day students start, their well-being is a focus at Baylor; they don’t have to sacrifice their sanity to be successful.”
It seems to be striking a chord with students; already, four EdD dissertations have tackled topics related to burnout, well-being, or mindfulness. Carpenter finds the same resonance when speaking to groups of principals. “I’ve never presented this information to school leaders and not had someone come up afterward in tears,” he said.
Educational Leadership faculty — including sport management Associate Professor Dr. Mar Magnusen, who studies leadership skills — worked with Region 12 Education Service Center to survey educational leaders this fall, with more than 600 respondents, providing a rich data set about how educators assess their own well-being. Next on the agenda is introducing concepts of collective leadership and community empowerment to this group.
“Live well (physically and spiritually), love well (nurture relationships), and lead well” is now the Baylor mantra for school leaders. “These are core foundational components of what it takes to be a successful person and leader,” Carpenter said.
For more resources about stress management for educators, see the WEB EXTRA
To learn more about the weekly online mindfulness gathering, contact Dr. Carpenter:
@Brad_Carpenter on Twitter