It was my first week as a superintendent and I was still working in my school office around midnight. I was startled by a knock on the window behind me. I turned quickly to see the face of the district’s school board president staring at me. I motioned for him to go to the front door and I let him in the office. He was an elderly farmer who no longer had children in the school system but who was a very active school and community civic person. He told me to go home and he gave me sage advice: “No one will put on your gravestone that you were working at midnight.”
As I enter the twilight of my career I am able to reflect on both past successes and failures. Earlier in my administrative career I remember “elder” school administrators telling me to calm down because this crisis (you could insert any major problem school administrators have in this space) will soon pass. Of course, as a young, energetic and passionate school administrator I felt the need to solve the crisis now.
That board president was wise. I doubt if anyone at our visitation will discuss or remember the solution to the “crisis” we solved. My bet is that family, faith, friends and good times will more be the reflections that are shared. That brings me to the subject of this article: “Taking Care of Self.”
The message for those of us who are so consumed with our jobs is that if we do not take time to take proper care of self we will not be able to serve others – and that visitation mentioned above might come sooner than expected.
Educators spend an enormous amount of time doing their work if they do it well. During my administrative career I spent three to four nights per week at school activities, board meetings and community affairs, plus hours working in my home office for the school district.
As many of you know, I am an avid exerciser and I run at least three miles almost every day. I also lift weights two to three times a week and for the last several years I play or practice golf at every opportunity. Many ask me when I find time to exercise. I learned early in my career that the best time to exercise is early in the morning. If I wait to exercise in the evening it seems like something always gets in the way and school administrators have to attend many night activities.
The job of being a school administrator can be very stressful and exercise is a great way to alleviate stress. It burns the unwanted calories from poor eating habits due to snacks at meetings or a rushed fast food lunch. Exercise also allows the body to cleanse itself of conflicting thoughts and solutions and helps one focus on the real issues at hand.
Obviously, family conflicts occur due to the many hours worked by school administrators. These conflicts are sometimes harder to solve. It took me awhile to find solutions, but I would like to share with you some that have worked for me.
I was lucky enough to be able to work in the same district that my children attended. While this can have some disadvantages it definitely offers the advantage of attending games and concerts as both a parent and as a school administrator.
A practice my wife Linda and I started later in our marriage was the concept of a “date night.” The communities I worked in did not allow school activities on Wednesdays because of church and family activities. Thus, Linda and I would make Wednesdays our “date night.” This was time for us to spend quality time together. Recently I was mentoring a superintendent and offered this as a possible solution to his perceived lack of family time. He started this practice and found it extremely valuable family time.
Technology has become so important in our roles as school administrators that we let it dominate our lives. How many times do you check your phone when you should be spending quality time with your family or friends? Put the phone down and listen and talk to family and friends. The superintendent I mentioned in the preceding paragraph started a practice of putting his cell phone in his bedroom when he got home. He would only check it occasionally and this led to much better discussions with his wife and children.
Another superintendent (who, by the way, is very tech savvy) told me how he handled this constant flow of communication via technology. When he arrived home he did not check email until he returned to work either the next day or after the weekend. He did keep his personal cell phone with him and his top staff knew this number and how to contact him in an emergency.
You need to take care of self if you want to serve others. Start making plans to eat healthy, exercise at least 30 minutes five days per week, spend special uninterrupted time with family members on a daily basis, visit with friends on a regular basis and keep proper perspective of whatever faith you believe. The school district that you serve now will quickly forget the service you have provided them, but your health, family, friends and faith will be with you until the end.