The best advice I ever received about working as a school administrator came from a great friend and colleague in Idaho’s Treasure Valley. My friend had attended a retirement reception for a gentleman that had been in education for over 40 years, 30 of which as a building administrator. My friend asked him, “How were you able to keep this fire and passion day in and day out in a job that can be so negative and draining?” The answer changed how I thought about my role and what faces me every day at school. The outgoing administrator said, “Discover what gives you energy in your work and do it every day. Be intentional about what you do.”
That’s not getting any easier. Jamie Vollmer, author of the highly acclaimed book Schools Cannot Do it Alone, came up with a list of governmental and societal responsibilities that for one reason or another have become part of the to-do list for school administrators. Since the late 1980s, Vollmer estimates that at least 51 new school initiatives have been added to that list, and the trend is not slowing down. Using Vollmer’s data, by the time this new rising generation of school leaders reaches retirement age, approximately 30 more items will be added to the principal job’s description, with the assumption that not a single minute will be added to a school calendar that is over six decades old. Beyond this growing list of responsibilities, national statistics cite a risk of higher burnout and growing rates of depression among school principals. With this in mind, we must ask whether this new generation of administrators will even make it to retirement.
How do we keep our passion and energy and reduce the risk of burnout, while handling the ever-increasing pile of responsibilities and state and federal mandates? I think the retired educator from the Treasure Valley found the two things that can lead to successful and long-lasting careers in school administration. First, find what gives you energy at your job and do it often. Second, be intentional about your work.
For example, if being in classrooms gives you energy, intentionally put it in your weekly work schedule. If finding ways to recognize students for good behavior, grades, or attendance gives you energy, make it a must-have in your monthly list of things to get done. If just being around kids in any capacity is what excites you to come to school every morning, make it an untouchable and sacred part of every day. Accept invitations from your teachers or just invite yourself to participate in mock job interviews in speech classes, judge history projects, be part of reading day, or be present when students present their business ideas to the simulated Shark Tank investors. Whatever gives you that fire and reminds you why you got into education, you must do it!
We have a tough job as administrators, and it is only getting more stressful and more demanding. We have to be more purposeful about what we do each day and specifically add things that will give us the desire and ability to be the administrators we need to be for our students and teachers. As the veteran school leader said, “Discover what gives you energy in your work and do it every day. Be intentional about what you do.”
Andrew Wray is currently the vice principal at Burley High School (BHS) in Burley, ID, and has been in that position for five years. He was recently named the 2019 Idaho Assistant Principal of the Year. Prior to joining the administration at BHS, he was a junior high school social studies teacher for seven years. In addition to working at his current job, he is also an online principal for Idaho Digital Learning Academy and the Director of the Idaho Association of Student Councils.