PMP219: Pause. Breathe. Flourish. Part 2 with Jen Schwanke

This week Jen Schwanke continues asking me questions about my new book Pause. Breathe. Flourish. Living Your Best Life as an Educator. Jen Schwanke is the principal of Indian Run Elementary and author of two books, You’re The Principal, Now What? and The Principal Re-Boot: 8 Ways to Revitalize Your School Leadership.

Photo by Andrew Neel – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions

In Part 2 of our conversation, Jen asks me to explain my writing process and asks me questions about remaining positive during challenging times. Here are some takeaways:

Jen: You’ve written three books now and two of them while still a principal. I’m curious what is your writing process?

WDP: Every week for almost seven years, I have been sharing content on lessons learned in my education journey through my blog. I try to write 500 to 1,000 words each week as a way to journal my experiences. Over the years, I have taken that content and shaped into the books I’ve written. I look for concepts, themes or lessons that might help others. I encourage school leaders to have a way to log the lessons you’re learning. When you look back at previous challenges, you can apply them to ones you’re currently facing.

Jen: Recently, I shared a post about a teacher at my school who was working on the weekend. Then I was criticized for promoting ‘toxic’ positivity. You are such a positive and empowering leader. You always root for others. You seem genuinely happy when good things happen to other people. Is this something you need to work toward, or does it come naturally?  How do you remain positive while also being authentic and not be accused of ‘toxic’ positivity?

WDP: That’s a great question, but first of all, let me say how sad it makes me that people have started weaponzing social media instead of using it to encourage others. If you haven’t seen the documentary Social Dilemma on Netflix, I highly recommend it for understanding how this is happening on a global scale.  

To answer your question, though, I’m not sure if my positivity is natural. Let’s face it. In school leadership, we manage negative situations all the time. But if we only amplify the negative, how do we ever amplify the overwhelming positives that are also happening? I don’t want leaders to be fake or inauthentic. It’s important to be honest about our struggles, but what you publish in newsletters or social media should highlight the reasons people want their children attending your schools. 

Also, one of the reasons I choose to celebrate the work of others is that I believe all boats rise with tide. In other words, when I take time to share out the success or achievement of someone else, everyone benefits, including me. That may seem selfish, but I believe in the principle that you reap what you sow. When we are willing to encourage the work and success of others, we will inevitably see our own work improving as a result.

Jen: You have built an impressive professional career outside of your work as a principal and principal leader. You write, you podcast, you mentor, you present… Do you think having “something else” is important?  Why? How has it helped you grow as a professional and on a personal level? 

WDP: We don’t have time to unpack that question fully this episode, but I will just say here that I know many school leaders who yearn to help others outside their normal school work. Years ago, I heard an author and education leader who was asked how could other educators learn to do the kind of work he was doing. He said this work is not for everyone –  just be good at your work and eventually you might have an opportunity to do something like he does. His answer was not helpful. The truth is that if you want to grow in your professional outreach, there are practical steps you can be taking to reach those goals. Yes, I think it’s important to keep stretching yourself professionally. I’d love to unpack that more in a future episode. 

Let’s Wrap This Up

This week’s episode was recorded before the recent national elections. We unpack a lot more than in this short post so listen to the conversation for more takeaways.

Elections, pandemics, and just managing school – you have a lot of stress and anxiety in the important work you do each day. In the middle of it all, however, do not forget the reason you show up to school. You can still take one step to help someone today.

No matter what else is happening that you cannot control, choose to amplify the positives happening in your own school community, and thanks again for doing what matters!

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker