As a principal, you wear many hats on a regular basis. Creating professional development plans, attending district-wide meetings, observing and evaluating teachers, and providing discipline are just a few examples of the daily duties of a busy principal. Clearly, these challenges all have the potential to create a lot of stress.
Providing balance and structure to your day can certainly help you be more productive. But, just as organizing and planning each day is critical to your overall productivity, adopting a healthy lifestyle in your personal life will make you feel more energetic and—as a great byproduct—allow you to set a good example for students.
A Weighty Issue
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine highlights that one-third of the world’s population carries excess weight, fueled by urbanization, poor diets, and reduced physical activity. This means that more than 2 billion adults and children worldwide are overweight or obese and suffer health problems because of their weight. While this is a worldwide problem, keep in mind that the United States has the greatest percentage of obese children and young adults at 13 percent. In addition, according to recent statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 1 in 5 adults and high school students fully meet physical activity guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
A Little More Like the Energizer Bunny
So, where do you start? You are already very busy—to find time in your day for yet another “activity” may seem almost insurmountable. Well, research by Jack Groppel, co-founder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute (HPI), and his team over the past 30-plus years has shown that focusing on your health and well-being actually provides you with more energy and helps you be more productive and successful in all you want and need to achieve.
Much of the information has been developed by years of study by the HPI. The Institute’s premise is that performance, health, and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy. Achieving a level of sustained high performance requires an increase of energy capacity in four key areas, with physical energy at the base. Next up the pyramid is emotional energy, and then mental energy. Spiritual energy is at the top.
Starting with improving physical energy should be your first step. And yes, I mean first “step.” Walking is easy to do and provides a great way to break up long amounts of time for those of us who sit at a desk. The benefits are significant. In fact, instead of feeling more hungry or tired, most people actually feel the opposite, with the additional activity allowing them to feel more productive. Using a step counter allows you to track any improvement you make. Certainly, you can use the school’s exercise facilities (track, fitness room, etc.) for your own personal benefit when it doesn’t conflict with other activities or your work time.
However, there are also some very simple things you can do during work that can provide a direct professional benefit. For example, devoting as little as five minutes every hour to physical activity—whether you walk up and down a staircase, along the hallways, or just pace around your office—gets you moving. In addition, you can regularly observe your teachers in action and improve student interactions by increasing the time you patrol the hallways. These two activities have clear physical benefits; plus, the increased interaction with both teachers and students will provide the additional benefit of supplying you with greater emotional energy.
Spending quality time with both teachers and students is bound to have a positive effect on them, but don’t overlook the clear benefits to your own emotional energy. One sometimes—overlooked aspect of developing positive relationships with students is the confidence you build by showing support for their emotional maturity, growth, and development.
By showing consistency, interest, and appreciation for their educational success, you will be recognized as a true, caring leader. In this day and age, it is critical to provide a safe environment for both students and teachers. Your frequent visibility and attention to all aspects of a safe school environment will be noted and appreciated. As a mentor for the teaching, coaching, and administrative staff, you become an example for them to follow and support. Each of these efforts, as they become habits, will add to your own emotional energy and resilience.
Sounds Like a Plan
Planning is a key component of being a successful principal. Being able to develop and follow measurable goals helps in prioritizing each day’s activities. This is a critical component of managing mental energy, which is concerned with cognitive processes such as thinking, concentration, analyzing, and decision making. As you develop plans for the school year or even day-to-day activities, consider specific solutions to likely problems you might encounter. Proper time- and stress-management tactics will help in dealing with the mental challenges related to staff as well as student issues as they come up.
Encouraging others to focus on being more physically active and eating healthier meals will be reflected in their mental energy as well. Provide opportunities such as healthy snacks at meetings (instead of vending-machine fare) and develop a specific planning time during regular staff and faculty meetings to address health and nutrition to help to get buy-in from all involved.
Spiritual energy is at the apex of the pyramid for a reason. This does not mean sharing personal religious beliefs, but instead involves sharing and modeling your own values and beliefs (such as honesty, caring, passion, honoring diversity, and showing respect for one another). These should be your compass to success.
As you share your thoughts with staff and teachers, it will become clear to them that you walk the talk. As the leader of the school, you are, in essence, the CEO of that “company.” Everyone should know and clearly see that you value the health, wellness, and safety of the students and staff under your supervision. Being positive and consistent in implementing policies and activities will go a long way toward improving all your interactions.
Helping the (School) Environment
Your overall goal is to create a healthy school environment. As principal, you can take the lead in this effort in a variety of ways. The four “components of energy” outlined here can guide you in a reflection of your own health and wellness. Even small changes in each area will allow you to reap significant overall benefits for you and your school environment. I wish you renewed energy for the remainder of the school year.
E. Paul Roetert, PhD, is an independent researcher who is currently focusing on physical literacy. He is the former chief executive officer of SHAPE America (Society of Health and Physical Educators).