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,” 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 pre-school 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 empowering suggestions. 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. These were the suggestions that stood out most to me:
- Take Time to Reflect. What do you like about the job? What do you dislike? 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. Store it on your phone, computer screen, or a frame on your desk for easy reference.
- 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 personal care or health-related appointments. Get annual check-ups for your health.
- Set Work Hour Boundaries. Don’t answer emails or 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 or delegate the workload. Make breakfast your non-negotiable time with different students every two weeks. Give yourself a change of scenery by going out of your office before or after school and during recess and lunch breaks. Visit different classrooms every day. 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.
- Gain Knowledge from your Colleagues and Resources. Connect with other Principals. Read “Balance Like a Pirate” and “Compassion Fatigue”. Attend “The Breakthrough Coach” training.
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!