As an assistant principal, teachers come to me for advice about dealing with the difficult situations they face, many directly related to the sudden switch from in-person to virtual learning. The increased number of emails and demands upon teacher time that extend beyond the regular school day have created an additional layer of stress. Administrators need to be cognizant of this and make sure that our faculty are taken care of. However, we cannot take care of others if we are not taking care of ourselves.
Picture the old adage of a duck sitting on water, looking so calm but paddling frantically beneath the surface. This image seems to constantly come up when thinking about the current setting we all find ourselves in. The need to maintain a calm and collected demeanor when facing students and parents is a constant demand on teachers and administrators, but it comes at a price for all of us. Stress manifests itself differently in each of us. Our health and well-being directly impact the instructional setting.
Kids read stress on adult faces and in body language. My son is in preschool this year, and luckily, he has been able to go every day so far. When I pick him up in the afternoons, we get in the car, and usually the first words out of his mouth are, “So, Daddy, how was your day?” Such a loaded question during the pandemic, as I wish I could unload the burdens of my day, but it’s not the time or place. Even so, there are lessons I’ve learned from my four-year-old:
My son can usually tell by my responses and the look on my face if it was a hard day. It helps to hear him say, “It will be okay,” because it truly will be. He is a huge Daniel Tiger fan, and he often reminds me that when you are frustrated, angry, or upset, “Take a deep breath, and count to four.” Such a simple practice during these ever-changing times.
While breathing helps and allows for some release, just like my son at times a timeout may be appropriate for us all. Take a break from the work and recenter your focus on something else. The work will still be there (it’s not going anywhere), but our capacity to engage in it effectively is diminished if we are overwhelmed. Find a few minutes—or better yet, 15–30 minutes—to separate from the work and focus on you. Listen to a podcast, music, go for a run or walk, cook, do a crossword puzzle—anything that isn’t work.
Your time is just that—yours. Set a time to end your workday and stick to it. The emails are not going anywhere. Let me clearly state that you need to respond to emails, but not always immediately. I have found that responding within 24 hours allows me to clearly identify the need of the sender and develop a response that will be helpful. More often than not, we respond to emails so quickly we are not thinking about how our responses may be received.
Also, do not respond to emails after a certain time each day. For me, it is 6:00 p.m. Once we sit down for dinner, it’s family time. Better yet, do not read them unless there’s an emergency. Create that barrier that allows you to have your time.
Being able to be there for our faculty, staff, and students is a nonnegotiable part of being an administrator. Taking care of ourselves should also be a nonnegotiable, as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Take care.
Kevin Gideon is an assistant principal at Bartlett High School in Bartlett, TN, and the 2020 Tennessee Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow him and his school on Twitter (@drkagideon, @BartlettHS_INFO).