As a school leader, I wear many hats. I am the instructional leader, a teacher of children and adults, a marriage counselor, a mediator, a social worker, a miracle worker, and an out-of-the-box thinker. I’m an email writer, a schedule master, a reminder, talent developer, disciplinarian, therapist, negotiator, mediator, and perpetual cheerleader. No two days are the same and a day is never dull, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But in our efforts to be everything for all of our kids and staff members, we end up not having enough left for ourselves. When we leave the building after a long day of taking care of other people’s kids, we go home to our own kids and continue the caring. What is generally left out in these short twenty-four hours is care for ourselves. How do we as school leaders take care of ourselves in a role that requires us to be the caretaker-in-chief?
As administrators, we have to do a better job at taking care of ourselves, so that we can continue to give our all to those we have dedicated our lives to serving. Here are three lessons I’ve learned about self-care for school leaders:
Find the Time
As administrators, we can find lost phones, shoes that have been thrown on roofs, missing homework, an extra desk for the classroom, and space at a lunch table for a new friend. If we can find those things, surely we can find the time to take care of ourselves. Block off regular time on your calendar just for you. Maybe it’s for a weekly cup of coffee with a friend or that painting class you’ve always wanted to try. Whatever it is, you’ll feel that much better to continue to care for others and to fight the good fight.
Enroll in CMTSU University
The successful leaders I know credit an amazing support system at work and at home in helping them to find balance and maintain their sanity. Suzanne Webb, in her ACSA Leadership Summit session, spoke about the need to have designated time with a group of colleagues at Can’t Make This Stuff Up (CMTSU) University. Time at CMTSU University is a time to vent, share, laugh, and cry at the daily happenings of school site administration. And while this university is fictional and intended to make you laugh, its purpose is honorable. We need time to let each other know that we aren’t alone and that yes, it does, in fact, get better.
There is a plethora of research on the benefits of exercise: it boosts your energy, helps you to lose or maintain weight, releases endorphins, and more. We can all recite the good exercise does. Whether it’s Zumba, running, or general gym attendance, make the time to engage in some sort of physical activity. Even I, who cringed at the thought of working out, have taken up yoga. I find peace in the deep breathing and poses. I am far more relaxed and am able to center myself more easily than before. And the added bonus is…me. I do it for me, by myself, and for that hour and a half, I can’t focus on work, that student, that parent, or that other thing that just has to get done. I focus on me. Because if I’m not my best self, then I’m no good to anyone.
In this high-stakes world of education and preparing students today for the betterment of tomorrow, we have a big job on our hands. And who better to do it than you? We need to take care of ourselves. So do it, find the time, get your own CMTSU group, and get a healthy dose of exercise. The children will be grateful, and you are worth it. How do you find work-life balance as the school leader?
Mistee Hightower Guzman is the proud principal of East Avenue Middle School in Livermore, CA. She is a wife and mother, and a daughter of a former Alameda County Superintendent of Schools. She is also a yogi in training. Mistee is the 2018 California Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @MisteeGuzman.