Principals: Don’t forget to take care of yourself!
Monday, October 19, 2020
It’s the start of what will be another busy week, and you’ve just opened your computer to find a flurry of emails that need your attention. As you scan through them, you can see that some will be quick responses, but some will involve much more than that. The phone rings, and you learn that one of your teachers has a family emergency and will need to take a couple of weeks off.
You’ll have to figure out coverage, and fast. Luckily, your budget was due this morning to your superintendent, but you submitted it a week early. Wait, nevermind. One of your emails is from your boss, and she was breaking the bad news to you that the school board would like you to go back and find another 2% in budget cuts and you’ll need to update them on where the money will come from tomorrow.
As you look out your window, the school buses are pulling into the driveway, so you decide to make your way to the door to greet them with a smile. Wait, why are three of them walking into the school crying? You’ll have to investigate. Oh, and to top it all off, there is a pandemic going on and several parents would like to speak to you right away because they are not happy with the plans the school has put in place to address pandemic concerns. It's only 8:30 a.m. on a Monday, and you are already spent for the week.
Principals, does this story sound familiar to you? Even on an average day, the challenges a principal can face can seem daunting. Add a global pandemic into the mix and one piece of bad news can be enough to make principals feel helpless, lost, or ready to throw in the towel. Don’t let yourself get to this point, because your school and your community are counting on you to shepherd them through what has been arguably one of the most stressful and contentious times in all of our professional careers.
As we celebrate National Principals Month, we need to remember to take care of ourselves so that we don’t fall victim to the challenges that will prey on our weaknesses, if we allow them to. As a fellow high school principal, I feel your pain and I offer you these tips to help you keep your focus, momentum, and most importantly, your sanity through all of this.
Find an appropriate work-life balance.
Do you live to work, or work to live? In this Education Week article, Denisa Superville quotes a national survey that found more than half of principals spending 60 hours or more a week on school-related activities, and this doesn’t even count the time that is spent from home thinking about how to handle this load.
For many principals, the brain never shuts off from work, and this is problematic. Principals need to learn to prioritize their time on projects that are most important, delegate, make effective use of their calendars to stay focused, and tame email, which can become such a time drain when left unfiltered.
Focus on the problems and issues that you can control.
This advice is particularly true during the pandemic, when all of us feel as though we have less and less control over most things related to our job and our school. The reality is you simply cannot perseverate over issues for which you have no control. Your time is far better spent on issues that you can make a positive impact with.
What do you do with the other issues? Find the right people who can control those issues, and work with them to make those issues a priority if you believe it will help the greater good.
Take control over how you spend your time.
In this recent post from thoughtLEADERS, bestselling author and speaker Jon Wortmann talks about how a principal can burn out fast if they fail to do this. He writes, “Start recovering faster by planning both the way you work, when you work, and when and how you will get your juice back. If you live by other people’s demands, usually false sense of urgency, and stress reactions, how can you not feel tired, bitter, and a little bit doubtful that your work makes a difference?”
Celebrate victories, even the little ones.
Everyone needs a pick-me-up from time to time. In my school, we made a commitment to start every team meeting and staff meeting by spending five minutes letting participants share some positive news.
One year, I bought a pack of thank you cards to place on my desk. Each day, I vowed to write one thank you note at the end of the day to acknowledge one good thing I witnessed someone doing that helped the community. Taking time to celebrate these small positives builds momentum for a school community to tackle bigger and bigger challenges with bravery and a positive outlook, and this matters.
Focus on your mental and physical wellness.
In a recent National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) blog, Missouri principal Beth Houf offers these tips and tricks for this: Focus on your eating habits, and set a goal to drink more water. Find time in your day for physical activity. Find a support system — a buddy or a family member whom you can share your mental and physical health journey with.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to take a risk and try something new. It could be a yoga class, or a good book that you wouldn’t have necessarily thought would be a fit for you.
Principals, your health matters to all of us. If you can take to heart some of the advice noted in this article, you too will be able to continue to be the inspiration and beacon of light that your school community needs you to be.
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