This summer while I was attempting to mentally prepare for the upcoming school year, I started reflecting on my current level of exhaustion. As I surfed the internet looking for helpful suggestions on how to revive my enthusiasm, I came across an awesome Facebook group, “Principal Life.” (Principal Life is a private group for school principals, vice-principals and other members of school admin teams to ask questions and share advice.)
Curious about what kind of response I might receive, I posted the following question on the group:
I’m entering my seventh year at my current school and fear that I’m at the point of burnout. After three weeks of vacation, I’m still fighting a lot of fatigue and anxiety about returning for my preschool prep next week. I love my school, my staff and am very passionate about the vision of the school. However, after six years of 60+ hours per week, my reserves are empty. Any suggestions?
To my shock and absolute delight, dozens of principals piled into the discussion thread promptly, all offering the most empowering suggestions. Truthfully, the words of wisdom and support from these complete strangers buoyed me up and gave me the courage and strength to start my year with renewed vigor. Now, I would like to share with you, the wise and kind suggestions I received from our principal colleagues all over the world!
Take Time to Reflect. What do you like about the job? What are the issues (what do you hate)? What are your capabilities? What do you need to do to take care of yourself? Create a personal vision board to help you stay focused and keep your balance (for easy reference, store it on your phone, computer screen, and/or frame on desk).
Take Care of your Physical Health. Eat lunch every day. Exercise. Plan a date with a friend (preferably, one who does not work in education, so you can get a professional mental break). Never miss medical/dental/eye/massage appointments. Get annual check-ups for your health.
Set Work Hour Boundaries. No emails/phone calls between 7 pm and 7 am (when you go home: go home!). Leave your computer at school. Don’t discuss your work problems at home.
Establish Flexible Work Practices. Determine your annual goals, and then eliminate any tasks which may interfere with that or over-load you. Pick leaders and create committees to share/delegate the workload. Encourage a change of scenery by staying out of your office during, before or after school, recess and lunch breaks (in hallways). Every day, visit other classrooms. Give yourself permission to miss some deadlines when you have too much on your plate. At the end of the day: write down three accomplishments as well as any issues that consume you and give yourself permission to let them go for the evening. Make breakfast your non-negotiable time with different students every two weeks.
Gain Knowledge from your Colleagues and Resources. Connect with other Principals (“Principal Life” is awesome!). Read “Balance Like a Pirate” and “Compassion Fatigue”. Attend “The Breakthrough Coach” training.
What I learned from this experience was that it’s important to remember that there are others that have gone before us and are in the same trenches. Rather than remaining in isolation, reaching out and asking for help is not only important, but it can be critical to maintaining your stamina and sanity!