Staying Focused During Difficult Times

The other day, I had someone tell me, “I would never want your job.”

Optical Illusion (student work used by permission)
Optical Illusion (by student Daniel Eckenfels. Used with permission)

On the one hand, that may be true. Sometimes the negatives can be overwhelming.

When it comes to the part of my job involving student discipline, for instance, I have conducted hundreds of suspensions for drug/alcohol violations, fights, and weapon violations.

I have administered literally thousands of other discipline actions for offenses like truancy, harassment, obscene language, driving violations, bus violations, thefts, vandalism,  computer hacking, and just about every other teen misbehavior you can imagine.

I am not alone. All principals manage a myriad of student and personnel issues, complaints, custody disputes, Facebook and texting dramas that involve both students and parents at times. We counsel students wanting to drop out, those grieving over deceased parents, and ones afraid for their safety at school or at home.

Of course, our position also means scheduling our free time around supervising ball games, dances, concerts, contests, banquets, and fundraisers–all of this while trying to stay focused on the main purpose of school: educating students (not to mention being held responsible for their standardized test scores).

The most difficult part of being a principal, of course, involves death. I have lost students to wrecks, illness, suicide. And I have mourned the deaths of my students or my student’s and teacher’s family members.

My heart goes out to fellow school leaders who have managed much more tragic crises by losing students to school shootings or campus suicides.

So, yes, some people would not want our job.

Having said that, for every negative, we must also remember the positives that outweigh them.

While walking through our school in just one class period recently, I saw Trigonometry students learning about inverse functions, computers students using Photoshop to build layered visual images, an Algebra I student demonstrating the solution to an equation on a Smart-board, FFA officers practicing speeches for upcoming state elections, English teachers co-teaching on avoiding plagiarism, chemistry students solving solution equations…all in just one hour of school!

Principls experience years of last-second, cliffhanger victories (and defeats) at athletic events, watch impressive marching band routines, view beautiful student art shows, visit FFA shows at county fairs, and listen to rousing choral concerts.

We observe great teachers, work with team members who promote incredibly creative ideas, and network with education partners around the world.

We even enjoy spontaneous moments of hilarity with students and school colleagues.

Isn’t it more satisfying to think about these positive moments multiplied over and over again every day rather than the difficulties?

So, if like me, you sometimes wonder if it’s worth it, let me make some suggestions:
1. Get out of the office as much as possible and into classrooms where the most positive school energy is found.
2. Allow yourself to learn from the difficult moments and turn them into learning opportunities for yourself and others.
3. Treasure the time you have with the valuable students and staff in your school. It will go by faster than you think. And taking time to enjoy the small moments will help the difficult ones be more bearable.

Keeping the difficult moments in perspective can be like trying to view an optical illusion. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the incredible mix of colors, but when held in contrast to the positive reliefs, it is easier to see the beauty of it all.

It doesn’t mean ignoring the negatives. It just means keeping them in perspective.

Now it’s your Turn: What are some other suggestions you have for keeping a positive perspective while being a school leader? What are some of the better moments in your position that help you keep perspective during the difficult time? Share with the rest of us!

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker