For principals, the work has gotten even more difficult with the huge number of evaluations to write and meetings to be held with staff Our job is to cheer on the adults and keep them coming to school each day with fresh passion to perform their best for each and every child in their care. The task is exhausting and we are the first ones to espouse to our staff to find a balance and we don’t manage it ourselves.
I liken the time from spring break to June like running a marathon with high hurdles. I encouraged my staff to cheer each other on, pass out water and bananas and make sure that we all crossed the finish line together. One particularly stressful year, I actually put a banana in every staff box and wrote on it: “Only 10 days left, hang in there!” As the main cheerleader, the principal has to always maintain an affirming, positive, and cheerful attitude and this can be stressful and exhausting..
Todd Whitaker reminds us that we need to treat each person, with respect, EVERY day, EVERY time! You and I both know that there are some people that we work with even on a good day that can try our nerves. If we are in the heat of the moment, it can be very difficult to maintain composure, patience, and understanding. So what do we do? How do we care for ourselves and manage our personal stress in this lonely position at the top?
As a principal, not having to make the race this year for the first time, I wanted to share some helpful tips to remember:
§ Eat lunch and snack healthy!- I know many principals who choose not to eat lunch. They feel they are too busy. I was never one of them. A close associate of mine told me to always take a ½ hour lunch, out of the office and away from the fray. It was good advice. Leaving for a brief period of time meant an opportunity to think, adjust attitude if need be and return with a fresh mind.
I always kept a fruit basket in the outer office to grab a healthy snack when necessary, instead of grabbing for the stale donut left in the lounge! Other principals I know, would pack carrots in small baggies and leave them near their desk to snack on.
§ Exercise daily! When life is most stressful, we often decide to cut out the one activity that we think will save us time-exercise. Big mistake! As you know, exercise has been shown to raise oxygen levels to the brain, reduce stress, and provide an opportunity for better sleep. Actually making us more productive. Maybe you can’t fit in a full one hour routine, but a brisk walk, bike ride, or run can really help provide good think time, surface priorities, and allow for creative thinking.
§ Go to the B.A.R.! I learned this acronym years ago at a MEMSPA conference from a presenter. Not to get a drink of course, but to Breathe And Relax! Many companies have taught their employees meditation techniques and calming techniques that have shown to lower heart rate, cortisol levels, and help focus the mind. Daniel Goleman in his new book, FOCUS reminds us instead of always doing, spend some time just being.
§ Talk to your mentor-this work is lonely and there is no one to share the stresses of the work with. Your significant other listens to what you tell them, but they don’t UNDERSTAND! Besides they are tired of hearing about school, because it steals you away from them! If you don’t have a trusted mentor/coach or person to talk with, you need one! Many high level executives meet with a psychotherapist on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to provide perspective and insight.
§ Be affirming! When we provide affirmations to others, they come back right at us! Study after study shows that those who are able to remain positive in situations can overcome adversity and learn from situations to move forward with integrity.
§ Have a carrot opportunity ready! I live for vacations! My motto is: “Work hard and then play hard.” As a teacher, after progress report time, I would always rent a special movie or something to reward myself for all the extra work. We are motivated by rewards. What will you do for yourself that is special when you are done with the school year race? A special vacation, massage, time with family? Having a reward can be motivating, put a picture of your reward as your screen saver or frequently visit the bookmark site for motivation.
§ Just say, “NO!”-We are expected to be all things to all people but we have to have the courage to set boundaries for ourselves. Many principals only consider saying yes, if the activity directly relates to the well being of their students.
§ Set Priorities!- Prioritize work in small chunks-do something you don’t want to do first, then do a menial task that provides some motivation and accomplishment. Schedule work time out of your office to complete state reports or better yet, do them with a colleague during a scheduled meeting time. Doing work you don’t like to do with someone makes the tediousness of the job easier to handle.
§ Find your best time-I am a morning person and I am sharpest then. There were less interruptions at school and I was able to accomplish more. Which set me up with a positive frame of mind for the day. What is your best work time?
§ Give yourself an out!- Don’t expect to always have an answer- it is okay to tell someone when you are a little off edge that you need to think about what they are asking and you will talk to them later. Cool down time is important, so you don’t say something or do something you don’t mean to do or say. Same with a child, if one is pushing your buttons, find another adult to intervene to give you some time to cool down and assess the situation.
§ It’s about relationships!- Remember what is important-relationships, relationships, relationships! Your students, teachers, and community will remember you for how you acted, how you treated them, and how they felt being around you. Never forget that everyone’s eyes are always on you as the major role model for culture and climate!
If you have ever run a long distance race, then you are familiar with what runners’ term, “hitting the wall.” A time, when the entire body, physically, mentally, and emotionally just shuts down and leaves you ready to quit. In the marathon race to June, this is the time when emotions are running high; cortisol is flowing through the body, creating a highly stressed emotional and physical environment. It is when, we can either perform our best or our worst. You will be pushing your staff to make it to the end. Who is going to watch out for you? If you need a boost, some encouragement, someone to listen or even just a banana, contact me! firstname.lastname@example.org