This week I talk with Jeff A. Springer, Ed.D., Educational Leadership Coach from Spring Strategies, LLC, and 2013 TASSP Texas State Principal of the Year. In this episode, Dr. Springer turns the table and interviews me about my new book, Pause. Breathe. Flourish. Living Your Best Life as an Educator.
In his endorsement of the book, Dr. Springer shares, “Will Parker has discovered many truths along the way throughout his educational journey – all truths transferable and valuable to those areas of our lives that matter most. In his book, Pause. Breathe. Flourish., Will’s words offer transparency of both pain and victory, fears and faith. His style of storytelling creates a brilliant bridge between the writer and reader. Lessons learned and shared in this book are applicable to anyone in education; but also delivers the principles vital for all desiring to maximize balance, while infusing the power of play in their lives.”
Jeff’s Questions about Pause. Breathe. Flourish.
Listen to the episode for our full conversation, but here are some takeaways:
Dr. Springer: I earmarked 24 pages during my first read. Then I highlighted 17 specific areas that I wanted to ask you about. We won’t be able to cover them all. So I’ll start with your dedication to your parents, Jesse and Polly Parker. Can you tell us what motivated you to dedicate your book to them?
WDP: My mom and dad are amazing examples of people who have lived and modeled contentment. They live in rural northwest Tennessee, and although they were hardworking, our family always had limited income. I didn’t realize until I was a teacher that I was a Title I student. I always qualified for free and reduced lunches. But even with limited resources, my parents always provided me with a safe, nurturing environment. They also modeled finding joy and contentment, no matter what circumstances they faced.
Dr. Springer: You wrote in your forward that you had no idea this book would be published in one of the most monumental times in the history of education. What motivated you to write a book like this in the first place?
WDP: Over the years, I hear a consistent refrain from education leaders. Over and over, people have told me one of their biggest concerns is how to grow individually. Many principals are asking: How can I be a leader without losing myself? This book is a response to that question. It is a book for the heart of what you do.
Dr. Springer: When a crisis hits, who breathes first? You talk about the image of a flight attendant instructing others to place the oxygen mask on your own face first before helping others. Why is this such a hard message for education leaders to hear?
WDP: First, it was a message I needed to hear. When I realized in my early years of administration that I was burning out, I had to dig deeply into other areas of my life (health, learning, family, spirituality, and even finances) so my work would still have meaning.
Dr. Springer: Yes, when your wife told you that you were the shell of the man you had once been, how did you handle that?
WDP: That was the night I wrote my first resignation letter, placed it on my desk at school, and told myself I’d either find a better way to lead and take care of my own growth – or I’d find a different profession. I didn’t find a quick fix, but I began to slowly re-invest in what brought me joy. And I stayed in the profession with a newfound sense of purpose.
Dr. Springer: I remember a similar experience when I was an assistant principal. For me, that meant creating other activities within my day that brought me meaning. How many times do we not get to the bottom of our list but found something that reminds us of the meaning of our work? You talk about the importance of creating a mental playlist. Explain what that means.
WDP: As a person of faith, I’m often reminded of a scripture that reminds us to “renew” our minds (Romans 12:2). What we place into our minds will influence your heart, and what is in your heart will come out in your behaviors. As an educator, you are often called upon to manage crisis or difficult situations. If the only thoughts coming into your mind are stressful or anxious, those ideas will be what you communicate to others. So what are reading and listening to? What music do you choose to enjoy or podcasts do you frequent?
Dr. Springer: You also talk about being mindful and practicing mindfulness. Why is that important?
WDP: Let me give you an example. When you observe a classroom, before you pull out a checklist or begin an evaluation, are you looking into the eyes of students? Are you taking in the emotional atmosphere of the room? Being mindful allows you to find moments of meaning and practice gratitude. People are not distractions from your work, they are the purpose of your work. Being mindful helps you remember that.
Dr. Springer: I would often tell my senior students: Don’t count days. Make every day count. Being mindful gives me vocabulary for being present and in the now. You also talk about the importance of school leadership creating meaningful student outcomes. Why do you think principals struggle with feeling like they make a difference?
WDP: When I had the honor of being named a state assistant principal of the year, I remember realizing the powerful influence principals collectively have on their communities. Together we make positive or negative outcomes a reality for millions of students. If we are not reminded of how our work matters, then we may miss out on the vital importance of our influence on others.
Let’s Wrap This Up
At the end of our conversation, Dr. Springer reminded me that every day counts. By the time you are in your fifties, you’ve lived around 20,000. How many days do you have left in life? For most of us the answer is that we have fewer days left than we’ve already lived. Let’s make the most of each one by the way we take care of ourselves and those in our care.
Now It’s Your Turn
How can you reflect on your own practice this week? What is one action you can take today to experience joy even in the midst of all your other responsibilities? How can you invest in one area of self-growth this week so you have inspiration to serve others? A huge thank you to Dr. Jeff Springer for facilitating this week’s podcast episode and for agreeing to come back next week with more questions and feedback!