PMP:064 Five Tips For Finishing Strong

During my daughter’s first year in high school, I drove to the local lake dam spillway to meet her teammates for a weekend track workout.

Photo by Chris Maki – Creative Commons Attribution License

After twenty minutes of warm-up running on the grassy path to the spillway and back, they lined up for drills. These included twelve sprints up an intimidatingly steep grassy incline to practice increasing speed.

It was a joy to watch all of the students working hard and pushing themselves. As they neared their tenth sprint drill, their legs began shaking, their shirts were lined with sweat, and their chests heaved with every breath. Their movement was a mass of arms pumping, legs kicking up the hill, bending over to catch a breath, standing up tall before making the climb down to run up again.

One upperclassman who is known for excelling in running, began talking to himself. He was saying, “I am going to break the school record this year. This is where I come to become great!” The young man’s voice echoed off the grassy hill, and his teammates alternately laughed, gasped for air, or ignored him. He stood at the top of that hill with his hands raised and yelled, “This is where I come to become great! This IS where I come to become GREAT!”

Running The Final Stretch

This is the time of year where I am reminded that we have almost reached our end of the school year “race”. When you started your new season of school, you were fresh and eager, warmed up and ready to run. That first surge at the starting bell was exhilarating. But as you turn the corners of the school-year track, you begin to feel the strain of muscles being pushed to their limit, you begin to gasp for breath, and if you’re lucky, you glimpse the finish line with a prayer of relief.

Our high school track coach told me once that runners often ignore important factors that can make them successful competitors (other than just natural ability): Healthy food choices, solid sleep patterns, smart warm-up and cool-down routines, correct technique, and proper hydration play big roles in helping runners finish strong. If you’re like me, you may be feeling the edge of fatigue as you look down the road to the finish of school. But the same advice that enhances a runner’s ability may also apply to us.

So here are a few quick reminders on finishing strong in the last leg of your school race:

1. Maintain solid routines when you may be tempted to begin coasting.

Think back to the routines, expectations, and strategies you implemented at the start of the year. How are those still important, relevant, and essential? For me, one of those is being present and visible. It is a small gesture but one that is easy to replace with meetings or other important to-do’s. My students need my visibility now as much as they did at the start of school. As I’m finishing my second semester, I am realizing this is a goal where I have not been as strong as the start of the year. What is an area where you may see yourself losing stride? I am trying to stay focused on those areas where I need to recommit to goals. What is an area where you may need to recommit to the motivation to maintain that goal?

2. Encourage healthy day-to-day choices without ignoring priorities.

For me, following up on parent phone calls, filing reports on time, staying up-to-date on signing requisitions, or having those tough conversations I would rather avoid-–these are as important now just as they were at the start of school. Completing those important day-to-day tasks protects the integrity, support, and progress of our school as they were day one of school. Think about your list of to-do’s and don’t ignore important tasks. Take them one at time, but do them with the kind of attitude you would want when others are helping you.

3. Stay the course even as you feel the pull of fatigue calling you to slow down.

There are some tough decisions or tasks that must be completed before wrapping up the last leg of the school-year-race. As you feel the pull of fatigue, think about the healthy habits that provide you more energy. On a personal level, are you still caring for your own body, mind, and soul so that you can be a resource to others? In my own habits, I’m still trying to keep my goals for exercise and nutrition that add energy to my day. How can you maintain healthy habits that will contribute to more energy?

4. Share out an end-of-the-school-year calendar.

We put together a calendar for teachers detailing every activity scheduled for the final four weeks of school. Here’s a sample of our SHS end of the school year calendar Yes, our teachers can see our district, school or activity calendars. But we print out a summary of our final month of upcoming events and share a copy with every teacher in the school. In addition, our superintendent’s office sends out a checklist for the end of year deadlines as well. We also share a checkout list for teachers as well for the final day of school. These kind of calendars and checklists are great ways to keep a grip on the many to-do’s you’ll manage in final weeks.

5. Compile and share a final to-do list for closing out for the summer.

Using Google Docs, I share 2016 Summer To Do’s for my office staff and I to work on after teachers have checked out. This list keeps us from missing deadlines or priorities in reporting grades or data. At my school, I keep my office staff together for ten days after teachers check out. This shared Google Doc helps us wrap our minds around those very tasks involved in finishing school.

Let’s Wrap This Up

No matter whether you are finishing a season of school or a season in a sport, staying focused on the goals always helps you finish strong. Just like the young man who was shouting motivations to himself, we sometimes need to remind ourselves of best practices. That same year I saw that young man talking to himself on the hill workout, he also set a new school record in the 100-yard dash as well as won a gold medal in long-jump at our state track meet. I have to believe that his grueling workout on the grassy hill will play a big part if he breaks the record. More importantly, his attitude on that hill had already made him a winner.

Now It’s Your Turn

As you face your own climb over the final weeks of school (for those of you at the end of a school season), instead of dreading the strain, keep your eyes on reaching your goals. Give yourself permission to relish the dream of a well-deserved summer vacation. But also accept the challenges of the next few weeks with a mindset of not just surviving, but thriving as you wrap up another school year. What are some end-of-the-year strategies you use to keep yourself, your students, or your team motivated to finish strong? What ways are you communicating end-of-year deadlines and calendars with your teachers, students, or parents?

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker