In December, Donnie Dicus shared his blog, “The Broken Teacher Re-focused.” I had read other blogs by Jess Leddbetter and Treva Jenkins and countless articles about teacher stress and how the teaching profession has broken many teachers and we need to find ways to keep that from happening. All the time my focus was on the teachers at my school and what could I do differently to help support them or how could I re-adjust the schedule to give them more time, but today when I read Donnie’s blog, I read it from a different perspective. Maybe it was actually having a few connected days to spend with my family and not think about school. Maybe it was a new year’s resolution to find work-life balance or maybe it was reading this blog on Monday morning, a vacation day. Regardless, I read it as a principal and related it to the stress I carry each day, each night, and each week.
As I was reading I found myself getting anxious and becoming overwhelmed. I thought about emails from last week and this weekend which I had not replied to, emails with attachments and requests. I thought about teacher evaluations, data reflection meetings and portfolio meetings. My mind began to spin, days and weeks were flitting by and all things clear were becoming blurry, thinking about testing and mandatory professional developments, mid year data analysis and newsletters, school board meeting presentations and leadership day, parent meetings and cursive writing mandates, teacher interviews and new students, staffing paraprofessional positions and principal PLC notes, growth mindset and fixed mindset, school improvement goals and wildly important goals, student leadership roles and site council meetings, school calendars and IEP meetings, and on and on.
Then in the midst of my thoughts running this way and that, I stopped and and took a breath. I closed my eyes to hold back tears, tears of failure, tears of fear, tears of not being true to who I am. Then I realized I can do this and I will, I just need to get out of my head. I need to find that balance. And right now I am still on vacation, at least for another day or so. So I read on and came to a few strategies and changes that helped Donnie separate school and life. I have modified those and added a few to meet my needs:
1. I will only stay late when I have a pre-planned meeting or an emergency. Most days I stay until 4:00 or 5:00. When I leave school, work stays there and I go home, spending time with my husband, dogs and friends doing things I enjoy.
2. On holidays, my work stays at school. I am not so sure I can leave my bag there, not just yet. Holidays are meant to be spent with family, dogs and friends. Family and friends are my priority during holidays.
3. I will power down my phone and computer once I leave school. Any emails, other than emergencies will be answered the next day. My down time is important and cannot be consumed by work. I will take time each evening to answer reflective questions to evaluate my day and begin to plan the next day, taking time to visualize interactions and conversations, clearing my mind to sleep.
4. I will plan time for things I enjoy and I do not let work take that time away. Every “school day” morning I wake up at 4:00 and run with my dogs. They keep me present and focused, otherwise we get tangled up and that never ends well. On the weekends, I plan longer runs or hikes to stay active. This helps me get out of my head and start the day with a positive attitude and reduce stress.
5. I will practice meditation in the morning to quiet my mind allowing me to begin each day relaxed and focused. I will begin to notice what I am grateful for and anticipate things that are yet to come like new possibilities and new connections.
6. I will help prepare three Blue Apron meals each week with my husband. I will be fully present and enjoy our time together learning new ways to cook kale or beets and realize that we really do enjoy cod and catfish. Maybe one day we will actually prepare the garlic as instructed and not use the garlic from the jar.
7. I will focus on being a human being, not a human doing. I will ask questions and stop to listen for responses. I want to learn about the people in my life and who they are and I will have the courage to be fully present.
Although these changes are small, when I adhere to them I will reach work-life balance, more time to be a human being and not a human doing. I am hopeful that I can organize and commit to leave work at work and at the end of the day walk away more inspired and motivated. More focused on the bigger picture, a well-rounded, better version of me. I wonder how other principals and administrators stay focused on the present and keep from spinning out of control. What strategies or tricks do you have to maintain your work-life balance?