We offer something a little different this week – a link to a discussion we had with Justin Baeder from the Principal Center. Justin is based in Seattle on the Pacific Northwest coast of the U.S.A. where he is the Director of the Principal Center, an organisation that aims to help senior leaders build their capacity as instructional leaders.
One of the channels he uses to share information is the Principal Center Radio which is a podcast that has featured a wide variety of educational leaders. This episode it was our turn for a chat and you can click the image below to hear it.
This week we have a guest post from Stephanie Thompson who is the principal of Beach Haven School in sunny Auckland New Zealand. Stephanie has a wealth of leadership experience in many educational settings and graciously agreed to share some thinking about life in the swivelly chair.
I found the above meme when I was doing one of those mindless scrolling sessions one does when one has a few minutes to check their Facebook feed. It gave me pause for thought, and it resonated. It resonated hard.
Here in the beautiful Aotearoa, we are heading back into our third term after a two week ‘non contact’ (code for holiday) break. Term Two found itself to be long (ridiculous when you know that logically, it was a standard issue term, no longer than any other), a little fractious, and most certainly, tiring. Initially I thought it was just me, but after numerous conversations with colleagues, it appears I am not alone! The need for some down time, to refresh and to recharge, was most welcome.
The discovery of this meme was timely.
It arrived at a time where leaders, myself included, felt like one of those hamsters on a treadmill – going flat out, but not feeling like you were getting anywhere. It served as a gentle reminder to take pause and consider this notion of ‘best’. It speaks to the very essence of leadership, and our need to ‘do our best’ and run flat out on that treadmill at an unsustainable pace. More often than not, what we consider to be ‘our best’ is set at such a high level of self imposed expectation, that is, in reality, hard (if not impossible) to achieve at the same level, every day.
The thing about driving the leadership swivelly chair is that it is not predictable, or static. No two days are the same, and our context can change quickly and often without warning. What looks like our version of ‘best’ today could look quite different tomorrow, because the conditions will not be the same. The variables you are working with today are unlikely to be the same tomorrow.
For me, this means the best leadership mode I can employ to navigate the unpredictable is to be agile. An agile leader is one who is adaptable, thinks strategically, works from a place of resilience and can quickly move across the shifting sands of context in a consistent, dynamic way. Perhaps, this requires us to think about the expectation we place on ourselves in regards to what we think ‘best’ is.
As an agile leader, maybe we need to readjust and adapt this understanding of ‘best’ to better meet the challenges of the day, rather than try to adhere to a ‘one size of best, fits all’ expectation. If we refocus our mindset from this agile perspective, then we can recognize and understand that it is ok for our best to look different each day.
This new understanding gives me hope, and helps take the pressure off of my own self-imposed expectations. The biggest lesson for me is that it is time to be kinder to self! Time to tell the nagging voice in my head to quiet, and to rejoice in the day-to-day achievements, big and small – irrespective of which level of ‘best’ they are at.
It is important to remember that we are not a machine. We are sentient beings, capable of operating at multiple levels of ‘best’!
I couldn’t help but wonder about my own leadership expectations around ‘doing my best’. I know I set high expectations for myself and for others, and it gave me pause to consider if those expectations are realistic for every context and situation I face.
I put myself into the role of coachee and I imagined what questions I would ask of myself, if I was self coaching.
Are my expectations realistic and fit for purpose?
Are they helpful or harmful and can you tell the difference?
What does your internal dialogue say? Are you thinking in the present (what can I do, what will I do) or are you thinking more in the future (what should I be doing) or are you thinking in the past (what should I have done)?
Which thought process, the past, the future or the present, helps you with the context you are currently facing? Which are unhelpful and why?
What small wins did you make in this situation and how might you celebrate them?
Am I playing to my strengths?
I am I being respectful of the amount of time I need to accomplish something? What does that look like?
Am I protecting, and valuing MY time , so that I can be a more present family member, friend, leader? (this is my favourite)
As we move into the second half of the year, I would urge you all to consider the expectations you place on yourself. To remember that it is perfectly ok for your ‘best’ to look different, to be agile in an ever changing landscape, and finally, that reframing how you see your ‘best’ is about looking after you!
You are worth it, and you are not a machine!
If you have any feedback for Stephanie, you can leave a comment below, or head over to the 40HP Facebook page. And as always, by adding your email address below our weekly posts will be sent directly to you.
This week we are sharing a guest post from a fellow principal in New Zealand, Saira Boyle from Willowbank School. As an experienced principal, Saira has been become increasingly conscious of the demands that our leadership roles make on us, and has generously shared some thinking and tactics that are worth considering.
In our work as principals we’re bombarded on a daily, if not hourly basis, with a diverse range of challenges, each one creating a stimulus inside of us; some physical, some emotional and others a combination. At the start of 2018 I developed a life threatening unprovoked blood clot in my leg; the cause – layer upon layer of work related unreleased stress stimulus as a direct result of ‘the job’ (which don’t get me wrong I LOVE, and am slightly addicted to!)
On and off for the last three years I’ve unsuccessfully dabbled with a range of different things to help deal with impact of the work stress; healthy food, drinking water, walking, gym memberships, early nights, leaving work before 6pm, leaving the laptop at work, taking email off my phone, and so the list goes on! When I say unsuccessfully I mean I started different tactics and strategies, usually at the beginning of a new term and as the pace and mahi picked up or the winter months kicked in, each one fell by the wayside. I mean, after a vexatious parent, a playground fight, an overwhelmed staff member and a pile of non NZ trained applications to read for a teacher vacancy, toilets to clean, grumpy neighbours, a teacher in tears due to the pressures of an under resourced child with non-typical needs, a board report to write and a late night PTA meeting to attend (in one day!) who can resist a sausage roll or two, binge watching Netflix until the early hours and an extra hour in bed in place of a morning walk, right? Snapback into old and trusted habits was strong and fierce, time and time again. Sound familiar?
Believe it or not it doesn’t need to be this way. A couple of weeks ago Steve’s blog made reference to a Stoic quote about responding to pressured situations by, “firstly not getting worked up and then by doing the right thing; being a good human being and speaking with kindness, modesty, and sincerity”. A fabulous outcome of living by this mantra is personal growth and wellbeing – the ever illusive holy grail. When I posted in the comments of Steve’s blog and he invited me to share with you, I have to say I put my new learning into practice, silenced the mind and responded with gratitude for the opportunity. So, here I am, and here goes.
. . . . .
I’ve been practicing something for around two months now, on a daily basis, which helps immensely to make that space between stimulus and response a space where one can manage the emotion to ensure reaction doesn’t occur, keep the brain out of the red zone reaction and develop stress mastery. It’s simple, effective and takes only one hour each morning. It breaks down the stronghold of mental models which lead to our ‘reactions’ (becoming worked up) to certain situations and in this space the ability to respond as a good human being – our purpose!
The brain is programmed from birth to around 7 years old and those programmes, (or cages) shape and set the stage for our five life categories ~ health, finance, spirituality, relationships and career. Our subconscious is strong and in many of us it is the boulder blocking the light to shifting habits which prevent our growth and stress mastery. This daily practice gently chips away at the boulder and develops in its place new pathways in the brain, which result in the ability to take perspective, remain calm, manage our emotions and respond in kind ways. It is AMAZING!
When you wake in the early hours, instead of spending time aimlessly ‘scrollaxing’ try this and watch the results. Set the day the right way with the Green Focused Power Hour (*Bill Cortright);
Ten minutes of reading ~ something for yourself; self growth input. If you want to master stress then daily commitment to self development is essential!
Ten minutes journaling ~ if you are taking in new information, then you also need to journal to make sense of and release the old thought patterns
Ten minutes affirmation ~ decide what you want to achieve and repeat out loud for ten minutes eg I am healthy, I am strong, I am inclusive, I am present, I am joyful
Ten minutes of visualisation ~ think of your ideal day in 3 years time and imagine it in detail
Ten minutes of meditation ~ to centre the mind and build new brain pathways
Ten minutes of physical movement ~ stretches, walking, yoga, running, putting the brain in the green zone
In the evenings I sign off the day with around 15 minutes of reflection on;
Triumph of the day
Challenge of the day
Idea to explore
Feeling of the day
Memory of the day
Within two to three days I noticed a difference! Joy, ease and lightness entered my life from all angles, it was remarkable! My teenagers started smiling at me, my husband made me laugh and danced with me when I arrived home from work, a vexatious interaction was greeted with calm and generosity and my team began to feel less bombarded! When a meeting became volatile, I was able to remain calm and respond effectively. When a child decided to slam his head into the window my presence was able to calm his anger. When an employment issue resulted in ugly action, rather than allow the what ifs and overwhelming thought patterns to invade my mind late into the evening and weekend, I watched my thinking and put it to one side, later responding with kindness. When I would usually be exhausted and counting down to the break, I am more energised than ever!
Catching the Habit!
I think the reason I am able to make this a habit is down to a few things, the first being my why. During lockdown in 2020 I noticed a dull ache in my right arm, which over the months resulted in my shoulder seizing up, permanent pain and limited use of the arm. Around the same time my Apple watch started telling me my heart rate would occasionally flutter it’s way up to 170bpm for no apparent reason. Then there were the usual female gripes for women of a particular age and then the big one, a beautiful member of staff in her forties was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer. Just like that, her life changed forever! She decided to eat clean and her surgeons explained to her the importance of daily exercise. I bought a book for her on food and read parts of it myself and that coupled with the podcast mentioned below made me realise we need to start with inside out. Suddenly my why was no longer about looking good, maintaining my youth and hanging onto the past.
My why was about being strong, in body and mind for me! Find your why.
I engaged a spiritual counsellor and then a personal trainer (only one or the other now!) and because I was investing in me and paying for this, it was also a motivator to stick to the plan! Having someone to hold you to account is essential! You invest in others every single day. Invest in you! You’re worth it. A coach of some sort is essential. If you want it you may need to give up something so the budget fits, but it is worthwhile!
Understanding how the mind works; getting through the first thirty days is the crunch, and then the next thirty, then the six month milestone and then the year! (I’ll let you know when I get there!) Make a plan and chip away, a little each day. When you wake in the morning your brain is in theta state; the most receptive state to change. So, if you can, set that alarm an hour earlier (go to bed an hour earlier – what’s going on at 10pm that’s so important?), let’s face it, many of us are awake and mindlessly running through the day before we begin the day anyway!
My crazy hormones and busy mind were waking me around 4.30am-5.30am and I would lie there trying to force myself back to sleep, or start ‘scrollaxing’ through mindless FB or Instagram feeds until it felt like an acceptable time to rise. So I decided to reframe my perspective and put this time to good use and now I wake excited to enjoy the process.
If you aren’t a natural morning person, why not just pick twenty minutes to start with and try the reading (self growth material) and journaling to start with? Maybe the affirmations could be said during your shower? Your visualisation during your commute and your mediation during a morning tea break? The other day I opened my curtains and watched the sunrise as I yoga stretched – what a way to put the brain into green and what a blessing to start the day in the green zone!
If you miss a day, don’t panic, just keep going. Consistency is key!
As part of living into our Mindfulness – Pause, Breathe, Smile programme (which is now funded in all schools) we meditate at the start of all meetings – our Catholic colleagues out there are blessed to begin with prayer. Whatever the name, it’s about stilling the mind, the endless stream of thought, throughout the day. This sets the foundation to create your new habit.
Love the process and notice the little things each day that change – this, in short is what keeps me motivated! It works. It works because it’s chipping away at the subconscious mind and changing the pathways to support new habit formation. It works because it’s little and often. It’s neuroscience. It works because it brings joy and emotion is contagious! Make sure you get hooked on the right one! Oh, and by the way, my arm is now moving again, my palpitations under control, my migraines less offensive and relationships deepened at home and work due to a new found headspace. Accepting the process as the goal is more important than an ‘end goal’ for me. The process is bringing daily joy in incremental measures. Starting the day with a daily reading from The Daily Stoic is a great reminder of the action we should take each day to bring us closer to ‘home’.
“Well-being is realised by small steps, but is truly no small thing” – Zeno, quoted in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 7.1.26
I have learnt the importance of;
Watching my thoughts and when a negative thought arises, reframing to the positive
Sitting with and feeling the emotions which arise from the daily challenges, excited that they give me an opportunity to explore where the emotion is coming from, in turn breaking the boulder
Observing the reactions and being still in my thinking mind, enough to create space to plan a calm and good response
If you are ready for human centred leadership in all areas of your life then give it a go! Remember growth is a continual process and when challenges come our way, it’s an exciting opportunity to practice smashing up that boulder, creating new habits and allowing the light to shine in and through our subconscious!
I’m sure so many of you have your own amazing ways to grow and lead the right way, this is simply something that works for me! If you’d like to know more about this and share experiences if you embark on the ride, be welcome to be in touch. Having a champion is always a bonus! Meanwhile remember, what you think you become, what you feel you attract and what you imagine you create!
“You could enjoy in this very moment all the things you are praying to reach by taking the long way around – if you’d stop depriving yourself of them.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.1
Freedom – that’s easy. It’s in your choices.
Happiness – that’s easy. It’s in your choices.
Respect of your peers? That too, in the choices you make.
All of that is right there in front of you. No need to take the long way to get there. (Holiday and Hanslem, 2016, The Daily Stoic)
Fabulous readings to get you started:
The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
Grit – Angela Duckworth
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
What Happened to You? – Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey
Stress Mastery – Living Right with Bill Cortright (podcast)
Recently I’ve been walking around thinking, “thank God it’s Week ten already.”
The problem with this thought is that it’s simply not true. We are just about to complete Week 4, and it already feels as though a full term has been completed.
It certainly didn’t help to have a very un-Forty Hour Principal like 14 hour day recently, where I was able to catch a 20 minute break somewhere around 4:30pm. I gave up counting how many unfinished coffees I left lying about.
The result of this big day has been a string of shorter, but yet really tiring ones. I’ve got no idea how some of our principal colleagues routinely pull out 70-80 hour weeks. More importantly I’ve got no idea why they would want to. I feel crap as a result of just one of these weeks. And when I say crap, I mean physically and mentally rubbish.
I’ve got to thinking that I still have to crawl my way through another six weeks, and so my approach needs to be different. I’ve been placing my money on a hunch that much of the tiredness and stress that I’m going through is self-inflicted and I’ve decided not to wait for the cavalry to arrive but to deal with it for myself. Parts of it I can’t control – for example a one off, busy busy, long long day – but a lot of it I cancontrol.
I’m going to start with my thought processes.
Recently I read an interesting study published in 2005 by the National Science Foundation. They found that the average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day.
An even more recent study (2020) suggested that we have on average 6,200 thought worms. How they measure these things I have no idea, but isn’t it fascinating?
Of these thoughts they were able to estimate that 80% were likely to be negative ….and a whopping 95% of them were repetitive thoughts from the days before.
My worries have a significant impact on the way that I see things and the way that I approach things. As a result I’m either trying to lock the world away, or I’m faking my emotions. Locking the world away is a diversion, faking it is an innovation. Both are exhausting strategies.
Of these 80% of our negative thoughts, 85% of them never amounted to anything. That’s 85% of the time worrying about something that didn’t eventuate. And, of the 15% of worries that did happen, a huge 79% of the study discovered that either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or that the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning.
The conclusion is that 97% of our worries are baseless and result from an unfounded pessimistic perception!!
They say that our thoughts are rehearsals for our actions. That’s a powerful line to consider. Our thoughts become what we do. So if our thoughts are largely pessimistic then our resulting actions are going to be fashioned on this pessimism. Ouch. No wonder people think I’m often in a bad mood!
Much of what we think is our way of predicting the future. This is what naturally makes us worry, because we are anxious about what might happen. In reality we have no idea what will happen.
“That kid in Room 10 – he’s going to explode and hurt someone very soon. I’m heading out of school for the next three days. I bet he explodes while I’m away. How will they cope, how will I cope!”
“My Banked Staffing account – if anyone else is sick this term it’s going to blow the budget – will my BOT understand that?”
“That teacher taking the kids down to the mountain bike course. Last time she was ill prepared and there was an accident. He’s going again tomorrow … “
These are all little snippets of worries that we might have in our professional lives. Worrying won’t help with any of these. A good plan will help. Put the plan in place. And then don’t worry about it. Trust that your plan is a good plan and that you have done all that you can.
Learning to control these worry thoughts is yet another important key that will help you get through. Understand that the vast majority of what you worry about is just fluff. And it’s that fluff that is getting in the way of you not just doing your job – but surviving and thriving in your job.
With this in mind I can get back to the process of enjoying the fact that I still have another six weeks of this term to work through.
We know you’re probably thinking, “is it Friday already?” But not this time . . . the Forty Hour team are heading to New Plymouth to share some thinking at the NZEI Rural Principals’ Conference and thought we’d drop the second in our 5 Minute Roadie series to celebrate.
This time Steve explains a phrase that can be provocative – Be Slacker Better.
This week we are sharing a guest post from a fellow New Zealand principal, Michael Fletcher.
Michael has worked in education for nearly 30 years, half of that in leadership positions. As the Principal of Chaucer School for the last 7 years he shared;
“There are days when I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this job . . . and there are other days when you couldn’t pay me enough to do this job!”
. . .
“My doctor has 28 principals on his books…”, I was told recently by an experienced principal. “Of those, 25 are on blood pressure medicine.”
Now, I’m not up to speed with the national statistics when it comes to what percentage of the general population has high blood pressure. However, I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s lower than 89%.
Sustainability. Our own. How can we prioritise this? For ourselves? I’m a believer in ‘put your own oxygen mask on first and ‘be kind to yourself. These sayings , mantras, reminders are all well and good. But what about tangible measures that we, as principals, can implement now to help make our roles manageable, realistic and sustainable? And what can Boards do in this space?
A key first step is to ‘get in on the table’. Principal health and wellbeing as a separate item on the BOT annual work plan. Then, listed on meeting agendas. For example Kahui Ako Principal meetings, Principal PLG’s, First time Principal hui, NZEI Principal network meetings.
Secondly, I’ve started canvassing colleagues to collate examples of measures they’ve put in place to directly support their own health and wellbeing. There have included: A period of discretionary leave, granted by the Board for the Principal to use to support their wellbeing; an annual subscription to a meditation app; 1-1 sessions with a counsellor/executive coach / professional supervisor; working a day per fortnight offsite; going in later one day a week; going in later on the day after a BOT meeting / late event.
Do you have other examples?
My next step is to ask colleagues if there is one new measure that they would like to see implemented this year to support their health and wellbeing.
Board of Trustee elections are coming up next year. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, at the NZSTA ‘Governance 101’ workshops, new Board members received a list of tangible ways that schools have supported their principal’s wellbeing? This would help to normalise the fact that principal health and wellbeing is its ‘own thing’, it deserves and needs to be discussed, supported and resourced.
At the recent NZSTA conference a principal colleague shared this thought with me, “Imagine if people thought of a principal as a taonga …”.
That stopped me in my tracks. Now let’s get thaton the table and talk about it.
You’ve found the Forty Hour Principal blog page and that is a good thing! We’re glad you are here.
Our aim is to create conversation about school leadership in an attempt to make the role more sustainable, healthier, and even more fun.
We’re positive about our jobs and know that we are privileged to be doing work that matters. However, many leaders in schools who echo this sentiment, also pause and add a “but” onto the end. It’s the ‘but’ part that we believe needs our collective wisdom.
The bits of school leadership that stop it being the perfect job are remarkably consistent from person to person – that is, they are not a reflection on any one individual, rather conditions that have developed over time. While there are no magic bullets, there are plenty of ways to re-frame what we do into a better reality.
Our intention is to trial the suggestions shared in the Forty Hour Principal and to keep the conversation going through this blog. We will post new ideas as time allows and invite you to follow us so that you get new posts directly.
We are also looking for comments on posts and suggestions for topics that need to be covered. Don’t be shy, new thinking is what is needed.
Simon Sinek, in his 2017 video clip called “Empathy“, makes an important point (among a host of other great thinking) that should resonate with many principals.
Firstly; “You’re not in charge, you’re responsible for those who are in your charge.” He likes this point so much that he says it again; “Great leaders aren’t responsible for the job, they’re responsible for the people responsible for the job.”
As a principal, the easiest way to look after the children in our charge (especially if you have a large school with a huge roll), is to look after the teachers responsible for the face to face mahi at the chalk face. One important way to achieve this is to have a very clear understanding of what our teachers are going through. It’s vital to be empathetic about their role.
Primary School Teacher and Kahui Collaborator, Sarah Spittal, wrote a great piece for us calledWork Smarter Not Harder – a teacher’s perspective way back in October 2019. So we thought it a good idea to catch up with her and hear how things have been going in her classroom.
. . .
“More than six months on from my previous guest post, and it’s time to take a look at how time has affected the ways that I work and live. But more than just the passing of time really, the affect Covid-19 and a forced break away from the classroom has made for me.
You may remember that I was aiming to work smarter, not harder. I was achieving this through maximising the use of time, not taking work home with me in the evenings, and most importantly, rejecting the mindset that working longer and harder, ticking off every single thing, every single day made me a better teacher.
While lockdown was undoubtedly physically restful, mentally and emotionally it was exhausting. In my case, caring for and home-schooling my own 4 children, while reaching out to and responding to my class was quite the juggle! The line between work life and home life was well and truly blurred to the point of being invisible. This I found hard.
However, there was definitely extra time available to me. I was determined to use this gift of time to grow my skills in Digital Technology. I thought of ways I could make things easier and more enriching in the classroom and created a heap of resources to suit. I’ll admit, I was a bit obsessed and spent long hours on this, but it was OK – because I was excited and passionate about it. I think if you’re lucky enough to feel passionate about your work, it really doesn’t seem like work!
Then came the announcement that we were all heading back to school. It was actually quite exciting at first! Without a doubt, it was awesome to see my friendly colleagues again and connect face-to-face. We teachers are certainly social creatures! Spirits were high and nobody seemed stressed – He Waka Eke Noa!
I feel happy at work. Paperwork feels manageable and I feel blessed with the wonderful children I teach. Our principal decided that not only would we not have to back-track and provide written reports for the time spent in lockdown, but we wouldn’t write reports for the whole of Term 2. I think this has made a huge difference to the workload and pressures of us all and I am grateful for this. The well-being of staff and students has been prioritised and as far as I can tell, student learning won’t suffer as a result.
For the most part I’ve upheld my goal of leaving work at work on weekdays. I’ve re-started my sport (roller derby!) and believe the measure of when I’m doing well is when my life feels balanced and I feel happy. Sleep has been well and truly prioritised and I get lots of early nights – the difference to how I feel in the morning is undeniable, as are my energy levels as the week goes on.
But it’s Week 10 now and I feel like things are beginning to get a little harder. Twelve weeks in a Term is very long – even if 5 of them were spent teaching from home. People are starting to look a bit weary and we are heading into the ‘getting through’ stage of the Term, where we may need to be more careful that we look after ourselves and one another just the little bit more.
I really hope that the lessons learned in lockdown don’t fade away. That we continue prioritising our health and well-being. That the parts of our job that don’t contribute to or improve student learning are identified and weeded out. And that we remember that no matter how much we enjoy teaching, it is but one part of who we are.
The biggest take-away for me is to treat every single day as a gift – even Mondays! With the unpredictability of life, I think every day spent earth-side is a good day! And I will endeavour to remember this when I feel myself getting stressed over things that really don’t matter.”
This is a guest post by a principal colleague, Mike Hope, from the Rangitikei.
With the excitement and nerves of starting a new principal role at the beginning of this year, the last thing I needed was to be dealing with a pandemic in my first term. The year started really well, with routines being set up, relationship building in full swing with the staff, children and the community, a successful community barbeque, the best swimming sports I have ever been a part of, student leaders announced and leadership training organised, preparations for this year’s big production etc…
Then bang! In Week 8 we’re notified that Aotearoa is moving to Lockdown Level 4 due to Covid-19. As all principals are now aware, this was a stressful time for children, staff and the community. I felt a huge amount of pressure from all angles, but felt lucky planning had begun a week prior, thanks to the support and wisdom of the leaders in our PLG meeting the week before. A discussion was initiated around planning for a pandemic and each principal shared their thoughts on what their schools would do. This got me thinking about what we as a school would do, and started checking our policies, procedures and begun planning as a staff. We decided to get the ball rolling with both hard copy and digital learning packs. By the time the announcement was made, each class was ready to go.
The following weeks are somewhat of a blur, with the amount of information coming from the MOE, MOH and the media, it made life at home that much harder. I found myself getting caught up in the moment, trying to listen to what everyone was saying, trying to keep our school community, BOT, children and staff all informed and supported. After 2 weeks in Level 4, my mind finally started to clear of the Covid-19 mist. It was my lovely wife that reminded me, that we’re all in this together and to try and keep life entertaining and fun for the children (both at home and at school).
From this point on, I stopped checking the news apps every 10 minutes, I stopped checking the Principal Facebook page every 5 minutes and I stopped checking my work emails continuously, waiting in anticipation for Iona’s bulletin at 7 or 8 o’clock at night. It was here I started spending and enjoying more time with my own young family. This helped me to refocus and formulate a plan, to not only inform the school community, but to boost morale. This came in the form of the weekly ‘Bluey’, a newsletter basically.
In the Bluey I started winding up the community about their support for the dismal Hurricanes, trying to drum up support for the mighty Highlanders. I tried to use a bit of humour when discussing life at home in lockdown, supported by photos of what I was doing with my family at home. I know, this isn’t an original idea, but the feedback I started getting helped with my own confidence.
As a staff we started having Zoom Meetings (which I had to learn how to use). Here we supported each other with each wave of distance learning packs. It was during these times, I begun to realise what an amazing staff I have. Their drive and commitment to support their children throughout lockdown, was above and beyond. They were in constant touch with the children and parents in their class, provided high quality learning experiences using a range of platforms, all while trying to look after themselves and their own families.
The icing on the cake came when one of my teachers mentioned making a music video for the children. With the staff we have, I knew this was a great idea and we made a very entertaining lip sync music video of ‘We’re not gonna take it!’. This brought not only the staff closer together, but also brought our whole community together. The last time I checked, we had over 3,000 views on our school Facebook page.
The life of being a principal in a new position, went from being full on, very busy and stressful, to being a lot more fun and positive. Through having a little fun and humour, our staff as a team has grown stronger and our community has come together. The staff were more eager to get back to school to be with their class and I know the children were missing being at school too. Not to mention how excited the parents were to send their lovely children off to school.
So yes, it all seems a little cheesy really. But the time in lockdown gave me time to think about what I value most, and for me that was family. I treasured my time with my 2 young children and my wife. It made me reassess where I was in life and what I needed to do. The following questions keep running through my head:
Do I want to continue to be overwhelmed by what principals have to contend with each day?
Do I want to carry on going home with a full head and not sleeping well?
Do I want to enjoy life more with my family?
Do I want to enjoy work more?
I need to change the ‘normal’ and start enjoying life more. Now I just need to figure out how.
With the adventure of 2019 nearly behind us and the possibility of 2020 still to be considered, Steve and I are clocking out until later in January.
The 40 Hour Principal project has taken on a life of its own, and we will be back in the New Year to share ideas and provocations that just might lead to positive change in the world of school leadership.
Thanks for your interest and support up to this point – we are going to need your input when we kick-off again. Take it easy, be really kind to yourselves and enjoy the opportunity to freely do the stuff that makes you well and happy. Merry Christmas to you all.
Dave and Steve
Just for your interest, here are our top ten posts from 2019:
This week we’d like to introduce another perspective. The following piece is written by a teacher, Sarah Spittal. Sarah is one of those amazing teachers who appear to have super woman like capabilities. You’ll know the ones I mean; relentlessly passionate about their teaching career, a fabulous asset to your school both in and out of the classroom and at the same time balancing a home life of four kids (one who is still a pre-schooler) and a dedicated husband on shift work. Somewhere in between she fits in her own well-being … somewhere. People look up to Sarah as an inspiration! Hell – I look up to her as an inspiration! But I did wonder how this was all sustainable for her.
So it was with great surprise (and relief) to hear from Sarah when I returned from my sabbatical, that she had decided to make some changes. I came back to school with a whole heap of new thinking as to how I was going to make my job more sustainable. Sarah had been doing her thinking as well, and so I asked her to write down her journey to share with you. Her journey is well worth sharing because her words are relevant to teachers and principals alike.
. . .
“I’ve been a teacher for many years, and fully understand the demands of the non-contact side of the job – admin, paperwork, student profiles and assessments by the truckload! On the daily! Sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, so thank goodness for the late hours, when the kids are all in bed. The only thing THAT impinges upon is sleep – and 6 hours is the same as 8, right? I also work in an amazing school where everyone is as hard-working as me. Everyone takes up extra responsibilities to provide opportunities for the children we teach, everyone goes the extra mile. So great!
So you can imagine my surprise when I heard from a couple of hard-working colleagues that they …..DON’T TAKE WORK HOME. But how?…..seriously, HOW?? With all that needs done?! I’m embarrassed to admit that I wondered whether they were doing everything they should, to the high standard required in a hard-working school such as ours.
I decided to question them about this further and my only revelation was that they had some sort of separation between home-life and work-life, and the latter was not (to the best of their ability) to infiltrate the former.
So very idealistic, but achievable? I wasn’t sure. All I knew is that for me, the latter was very definitely infiltrating, invading, affecting and intruding on the former. And I needed to change this, for my own mental health and well-being. I had officially been diagnosed with ‘anxiety’ and I did not wonder why.
I needed to give it a go. With no tools, just an ideal. I made a few key decisions. 1) I would try, to the best of my ability, not to bring work home after school, 2) It would be OK and I’d still be a good teacher, 3) I would still do all my work to a high standard 4 ) I needed an out – I could go back to the way I was doing things if it didn’t work out.
I started at the beginning of Term 2. I didn’t bring my usual teacher basket home on the first day. I had a lovely evening with my family and slept well…but knew it was only day one. Then I was three days in, and the basket stayed behind my desk for the night. Before I knew it, I was a week in and wondering how long I could keep it up. All the paperwork was done and the meetings attended. And I was leaving work feeling free each day, rather than wondering when I was going to squeeze in my work between the demands of my 4 kids and the domestic stuff. I even picked up a sport! Something that would tick another box in the well-being department, and something I would never have thought I could possibly have time for previously.
So what did I change? Small things really – I work through a big chunk of my lunchbreaks, stay focused before and after school, use CRT’s more efficiently, prioritise work etc. I still work for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to help me focus and direct the week. I believe I work smarter, not harder…
But the biggest thing, the ‘secret’ to maintaining this, for me, was to shift my mindset – from believing that longer hours mean I’m hard-working, that bringing work home daily means I’m hard-working, that telling my colleagues how hard I worked the night before is hard-working. That in fact, the only thing about hard-working by that definition, is that it’s HARD. And I seriously wondered how long I could keep it up, and whether it was worth it!
It is now part-way through Term 3, and I’m keeping it up! I’m proud of myself and would happily challenge anyone who thinks I’m not doing my job well. It’s taken the test of time to be sure. With teachers chucking in the job regularly, due to workload and stress, I am hopeful that the ‘hard-working’ culture shifts soon, that more people make that separation and get their lives and mental health back.”
We are now eight weeks post sabbaticals and that time has simply disappeared! Both of us have current change goals that we are working on, and for your entertainment, we’ve written a short update on how it’s all going. Does the theory work in the “real” world?
It’s Week 8. There’s two and a half weeks to go until the holidays. I’m sure that I’ll make it, but I’m beginning to get pangs of “too many mountains to move” and it really does seem a long way off. Of course I will get there, and these feelings will be gone sooner than later, even if it is two weeks.
Time then to review the plan that I had in place to help me get through the term.
I started the term, as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, “…serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense”. It’s a good way to start any term, and, let’s face it, any day. But this term was special because this was the term that I’d come back with a super power – a whole term of sabbatical behind me. I was more ready than I’d ever been.
So how has it gone?
As I’ve written in our other posts, I decided to focus on three things.
Firstly, I wanted to leave each day and be done with it. I didn’t want to take the niggling, creeping insecurities of a job not finished home with me each night. Instead I wanted to look at each day from three points and base my own judgement of success on these.
And for 6 weeks it basically was. I kept a record each day of how I was doing, simply highlighting (literally with a highlighter) three icons that represented my focus, which I called my constants.
As the term moved on I began to notice that of the three constants the one that began to fade away was my own well-being at school. It makes sense, engaging with the kids and keeping up relationships with everyone else saps the life out of you. These always come first in a school, and unfortunately the “looking after myself” component of my constants was the first to slip.
Ironically though, my well-being at school is the key thing that should fuel my drive to take on an energetic engagement with our tamariki, and to foster these great relationships that I so value!
Secondly I wanted to work on my mindset. Mantras such as “I am here because I want to be here”, “I come here every day because I want to help people” and “I get excited by the daily buzz of the place” were placed strategically as reminders around my office. Little label reminders for me and for me only.
As I found my school well-being plan diminishing I also found my mantra heading south. Recently old mindsets have made themselves comfortable again. And that’s not good.
The good thing is that it’s week 8, and I’ve taken the time to review where I am. I haven’t let this run for too long. So I’m going to refocus on my school well-being. I’m going to promote this to my staff and I am going to make a key differentiation.
There is a difference between your home well-being and your school well-being. Up until now I have confused them. They are equally important, but too often we talk about well-being for a principal as being those things we do when we leave the school grounds. That is well-being that we do for our whanau and for our private selves.
But what about re-thinking how we look after ourselves when we are at school? So I’m heading back to the Five ways of Being. I’m going to look at this as the major priority for the next two and half weeks. This I believe will see me make it to the end of the term, with energy to spare.
Thirdly, I cut out coffee. Prior to sabbatical I could easily clock up 6 coffees before interval. Don’t ask me how many more by the time I left school in the late afternoon. I now have only one at breakfast and a couple of teas throughout the day. The big difference I’ve made is the addition of a wonder fluid. You might have heard of it. It’s called water.
Plain old tap water at that. I’ve found that whereas coffee sped me up and my day ran at a million miles an hour that ended in a fitful sleep, water tends to slow me down. As a result I’m finding personally that my days aren’t nearly as manic and my sleep is much deeper. Yes toilet stops are more frequent with the increased water consumption but it does get me out of my office more regularly!
In a future post I’ll be back to review how things got on.
My current goals are all aimed at picking some “low hanging fruit” that have the potential to help me spend more time on what we are calling the “important” work and have more energy to do it.
Firstly – The way I handle email
I chose this one because email is like a time sucking monster that stretches my working day at both ends, diverts me from the important work, and just never stops coming. My solution, let go of the FOMO¹ and put some boundaries around the stuff!
The first thing I did was make all my email come to one place so when I did check it, I had a single stop to make. I’ve got three addresses that I check. My solution was to use Microsoft Outlook for all three (one’s a Gmail account) and add each of them to the favourites so they were super easy to check. This move has been brilliant – wish I’d done it years ago. 10/10 so far.
The second thing I did was set three times daily when I will check mail; 9:00am, 11:30am and around 2:30pm. To avoid temptation, I had to turn off all alerts and close the email window. I chose these times because each works around other predictable daily school events – this limits the time available. Can give this a solid 8/10 currently.
Secondly – How I get to the important work (or not get to it!)
My plan here was to use the “batching” strategy that we explained in The Forty Hour Principal. In a nutshell, it involves creating a regular block of time, with no interruptions, where you work on important tasks. You need your team on board with the plan so they help you protect the time.
There have been a few ups and downs with this part of the plan. Some days are simply impossible from the very start, and some look like it’s going to work right up until the time you close your door, then bang, a mini crisis pops up or something time critical takes over. When I manage to use the time as planned it is brilliant – I feel purposeful and productive and there’s a real sense of calm that comes from it. Definitely there are some tweaks to make, but over the eight weeks, I think a 6/10 – maybe nudging a 7/10 since today’s Friday.
Thirdly – Fitting regular personal fitness into each week.
Sketchy is how I would describe progress on this one.
In my defense, I did create what looked like a pretty solid plan at the start. I looked at the ebbs and flows of a ‘normal’ week and targeted forms of exercise into the times that looked like they fitted. For example, on Mondays I’m going to be home in the evenings so scheduled either some time on the spin bike or some stretching. On Wednesdays there a bit more freedom so either a run or a bike ride. Etc.
But . . . the fluid nature of life has meant that my scheduled plan has regularly taken a hit. It takes real discipline to prioritise fitness in the face of many competing demands for time. However, I know that this is an area that can’t be ignored and my intention is to re-tweak the plan in the holidays and toughen up on where I set my personal priority bar. Can’t afford not too! 6/10 as at today.