School administrators say the pandemic has disengaged and discouraged them

One study participant said he was on the verge of tears in his office, something that had rarely happened before.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the mental health and well-being of people running Quebec’s educational establishments, according to a study presented at the 89th convention of the Association canadienne-française pour l’avancement des sciences.

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“Uninterested,” “unmotivated,” “disconnected,” and “discouraged” are just a few of the words used by study participants to describe their experience during the pandemic.

“I had moments… of anxiety, of stress,” one participant told the researchers. “I was questioning my life.”

The same participant said he was on the verge of tears in his office, an experience he said had only happened a few times during a 12-year career.

Another participant had similar experiences: “I saw a huge mountain that I couldn’t get over. … I was in my office and I had tears in my eyes. … It is impossible, I will not achieve it, what they ask of us is not feasible.

“We are saluting the children who are afraid, the parents who are afraid, the staff members who are afraid, but you have to be strong, solid, confident. I found it difficult; we never stop”.

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Professor Emmanuel Poirel of the Université de Montréal and his colleagues asked 1,157 school administrators to respond to an online survey in 2019. In 2021, a panel of 20 people, six men and 14 women, were interviewed via Zoom. Sixteen of them worked in primary schools and four in secondary schools.

School principals questioned during the study spoke of “cognitive overload” and “a much heavier workload” where “40 people… want to talk to you at the same time and you can’t understand them.”

It wasn’t so much a question of working extra hours, but “the intensity of those hours,” some respondents said. One noted that it was not the workload that was excessive, but the nature of the work, while another described the work as “invasive”.

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Others felt they were perpetually “on call” with a phone that “could ring at any time,” including nights and weekends. “It’s always in our personal time…something happens.”

The researchers point out that being a school principal is already known to be extremely demanding. A study conducted between November 2019 and January 2020 showed that 98 percent of those surveyed said they worked “intensely”; 92 percent said they got their work done “very quickly,” and 87 percent said their work was emotionally demanding.

The pandemic aggravated that situation. Overtime has doubled since the start of the health crisis, directors have spent more time working nights, and 93 per cent admitted to feeling negative emotions in relation to their work.

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