PMP153: Maintaining Balance and Focusing on What Matters, Part 2

When Principal Jen Schwanke was talking to one of her teachers about the importance of balance, her teacher asked an honest question. “Why should I do this when you don’t?” 

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Jen realized then that she had been modeling bad habits for her teachers. For instance, when she sent emails to teachers at 10:00 PM, she was demonstrating that work was happening when her teachers should have been resting.

All of us are guilty of not practicing or modeling the good habits of maintaining balance. And frankly, none of us will ever achieve perfect balance. But you can focus on areas of your life that need attention in order to keep those essential areas (your health, mindset, family, personal interests, etc.) of healthy and growing.

This week, Jen Schwanke and I explore Part 2 of Maintaining Balance and Focusing on What Matters/ Self-Care. Jen Schwanke is the author of You’re the Principal. Now What? Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders. She is also the Principal of Indian Run Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio.

You can check out Part 1 here for last week’s 10 Tips on Maintaining Balance.

Part 2: 10 (More) Tips for Maintaining Balance

1. Model what you expect. 

Othersare looking at us for the expectation we set for ourselves. So when you ask teammates to plan ahead, be in the moment, and “work smarter, not harder,” you must consistently reflect on your own practices and adjust accordingly.

2. Learn when it’s time to walk away. 

You can’t be everything to everyone, so don’t kill yourself trying. Yes, many situations and people will require investments of time, energy, and emotion. At the end of the day, however, you cannot control every outcome. Learn to accept that and turn your focus back to those areas where you can make a difference.

3. Recognize seasons. 

Certain times of year and seasons of life affect the stress of life and school. Be aware of new marriages, strained relationships, teachers as new parents, or those caring for aging adults. Just as school has seasons, so does life. So let others be vulnerable and honest about the seasons they are facing, and give them (and yourself) grace and support during the harder times.

4. Get help when you need it. 

One of Jen’s administrator friends relates a story about how hiring a cleaning lady completely relieved her of the stress of housework at a time when she was trying to manage too much. Sometimes you need to be willing to ask for help or seek therapy to talk through anxieties. Tuck in your cape and don’t pretend to be a superhero. 

5. Accept you are not always in control of your time. 

Yes, we can set priorities, but accepting the ebbs and flows of school and life will help you maintain poise when situations happen that detour of time and attention. Part of the challenge (and joy) of school leadership is the unpredictability of leading school communities. So embrace it.

6. Acknowledge when others need a break.

At times, your teachers need you to simply acknowledge they are overwhelmed. Perhaps you need to cancel a scheduled meeting to give them some time for other tasks. When it comes to assign tasks, duties, or initiatives, ask yourself what can be “taken off their plate” before “adding more to their plates.”

7. Use free time you are given when you need it.

Time is something you will never get back. Use your personal days, vacation days, etc. — and when you are sick, let yourself be sick. When you find moments of freedom (especially vacations), stop working and focus on those other areas and people who deserve your attention. A good friend of mine lost his wife to a rare disease. He told me that their vacations are now some of his fondest memories. In fact, he told me, to protect those times now because you never know when you may not have the opportunity to enjoy them again.

8. Make a calendar and use it flexibly.

Use your calendar to prioritize and schedule what matters. This allows you to say “no” to some good but optional requests. And then remember that a calendar is a guide, not a commandment. Remain flexible and accept some events need to be rescheduled, rearranged, or cancelled.

9. Use your team.

You have talented team members who can help fill in when you need them, and you can fill in when someone needs you. 

10. Consider the ups and downs.

As a school leader, one day you’re a hero, the next moment the enemy. This reality check will keep you humble and help you maintain perspective. Just like NBA superstars make mistakes, accountability and hard knocks help us remember our humanity and need for growth. 

Let’s Wrap This Up

A few weeks ago, I had an eye infection, and my doctor suggested washing my face and eyes with baby soap. When I did, the smell of that soap brought back so many memories of when my children were babies. I sat down and wrote an email to my oldest daughter as way to write down those memories and to reconnect with a relationship that matters. If you want to hear it, you can listen to me read that letter at the end of this week’s podcast.

Now It’s Your Turn

What is one action you can take today to reconnect with an area of your life that may need attention? Just take five minutes to focus on that area. As you wrap up this semester, remember your school community deserves the kind of respect, attention, and excellence you gave them during the first days of school. And you deserve that kind of treatment too. Stay strong, and thanks for doing what matters!

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker