“The moment you want to retreat is the exact moment you have to reach in.”
As an administrator, I use this mantra when the work feels too difficult or the feedback seems too tough, to remind myself that the challenge is also a moment of opportunity.
For some school leaders, it is counterintuitive to think that they might need to ask for help. But in order to thrive, it’s vital that school leaders reach out and create pathways for support. How do they seek support?
Who are your supporters? Who can you trust to discuss challenges and solicit advice? Cultivating these relationships is important for any school leader. Online collaboration may be useful, and finding the right platform is critical. Voxer, a walkie-talkie app, allows me to ask questions of other educators and respond to their inquiries. I use Twitter and Facebook groups to find other leaders who are experiencing challenges similar to mine.
Don’t forget about opportunities for support in real life. Connecting with colleagues in your district or surrounding communities offers you an opportunity to discuss your situations and scenarios with someone who understands your context. About three years ago, I was struggling to figure out how to get it all done at school and at home. I contacted two other principals within my district whom I had admired throughout my career, to find out how they balanced school leadership and parenting. What started as a dinner to help me with immediate problems became a monthly event where we share our experiences.
Read to Learn
Reading up on best practices and tips from others can help administrators gain perspective.
- Making a commitment to a regular practice of reading gives a fresh viewpoint on ways to make your school better.
- Share your resources with your staff. In the weekly newsletter I send to my staff, I include a quote from what I’m reading. This has opened a door for staff to have conversations about what I posted or offer other reading suggestions of their own.
- Share with your students. Each week I post a #BookSnap—a short quote or image from a book that is usually shared on Twitter or Snapchat—outside my office. It’s exciting to see students’ reactions—to my social media skills as well as to the book.
Work stress often means stress outside of work as well. Recalibrating throughout the year is critical to stay focused and connected.
When was the last time you exercised? Read a book for fun? Went to the movies? Spent time with a friend? If the answers are distant memories, you may be in need of a self-care tune-up.
Build time in your calendar to commit to your passions. Attendance at school events, field trips, and board meetings may pull us out of balance, so it’s important to be intentional about our routines. Make time for exercise and family interactions. Good health is essential to the ability to do our job and must be a priority.
Reflect and Reframe
In those dark moments of doubt where you question your choice to become a school leader, step outside of your circumstances to see the bigger picture. Reframing a challenge is a useful way to gain perspective.
Each morning, I use daily journaling. On one side of a page, I write, “Grateful For,” and list my items of gratitude. On the other side I write, “Looking Forward To,” and reframe items I might otherwise avoid. For example, instead of writing, “yet another parent conference,” I write, “looking forward to creating a stronger connection with a parent through relationship-building at parent conference.” This daily reflection takes two to three minutes to complete and creates a sense of purpose for the day and gratitude for what can be accomplished.
As the adage goes, “Be mindful, even when your mind is full.” Incorporate simple mindful strategies into your day for shelter from the day-to-day stress.
Take a breath. The next time a stress-inducing email shows up in your inbox, take a physical inventory. Are your teeth clenched? Did you hold your breath? Are your shoulders tight? Making sure our physical response to stress doesn’t impact our emotional response to a situation is critical.
If you’ve been in a meeting or working on a project for some time, take a moment to stand up, take a deep breath, and stretch. Adding a quick walk for fresh air gives you new ideas for the challenges ahead.
At the moment we feel most challenged as administrators, it’s important to pause and remember the value of caring for ourselves as well as our students, staff, and schools.