It’s March, which means it’s that special time between President’s Day and Spring Break. If there was ever a time that “Survival Mode” is activated for an educator at the most heightened level, it is now. Mother Nature and the Groundhog can’t seem to come to agreement on what season we are in and what the weather will be like and it keeps changing, impacting behavior of kids and adults alike. For those who are into astrology, Mercury might be in Gatorade (is that the phrase?) It’s probably somewhere near a grading period, Parent-Teacher Conferences, and Progress Reports/Report Cards so there is more emphasis on grading and reporting. Testing is coming so there’s added pressure of covering content and looking at data to close gaps. Many, especially leaders, have one foot in this school year and one in planning the next. Some states (like mine) are in Legislative Session making lots of changes and/or decisions that impact us. Not to mention, just the everyday of all things education and our day to day. At this point, it’s not even burn-out for many, it’s just “survival”. It’s more important now than any other time in the school year that we have to mindful of shifting from surviving to thriving.
I put a lot of thought into this but I wanted to share 5 things that I have found over the years to be helpful for me to find joy and to keep and/or shift my perspective to help me to thrive and not just survive these potentially grueling weeks (and most of these are good for any time of year and just good practice).
1. Revisit and Focus Your Why: Being grounded in your WHY helps you to carry out your actions, your what. Simon Sinek speaks about the Circle of Why in his renowned Ted Talk. He speaks of using your why to drive the what and how. There’s another video
that I like to share when I am talking about finding your why and using it to drive your what. In the video Comedian Michael Jr. asks an audience member to sing Amazing Grace. The audience member delivers a nice performance. But then Michael asks him to sing it again but this time asks him to sing it with some purpose behind it (giving him some examples) and the performance that is belted out is so much powerful. Why? Because his WHY pushed him to deliver. We all got into our work for a reason. When we remember WHY we do what we do, even the longest and most trying days become a little easier.
2. Take Time: This looks different for everyone and it’s important to figure out what it looks like for you. There’s a lot of heated discussion out there about taking “mental health days” (which I am huge supporter of). As a classroom teacher and a principal I learned that I needed to be in touch with my needs and know when I needed to plan to take a day before my mental state would break me. I also learned that while these days were helpful and necessary for me, they weren’t always the best for everyone else or they weren’t always even the best for me to be realistic in not causing more stress. So learning to take time throughout my day to take a mindful minute or carving out time in each day to focus on me and my needs. For me, that’s the gym. I hold that time sacred. And I take the time I need for it every single day. Knowing when to take time and how that time looks for you is a key to success and can be a skill you have to work to master and become in touch with. But if you need someone to give you permission to do it, I am doing that right now. Take time before time takes you.
3. Appreciation Station: One of the most widely practiced and known anxiety hacks is to practice gratitude. Gratitude can look a lot of ways. Simply taking time to reflect on the goodness in your day or life can have a huge positive impact. If you serve others, finding ways to show appreciation during the long days brings joy to others and let’s be real, it brings joy to the giver as well. As a principal, my favorite things were my Thanksgiving Celebration, Staff Appreciation Week, Fabulous Fridays in February and the other random appreciation efforts that I made traditions out of. Appreciation goes a long way and is felt on both ends - there’s no better time to put this into practice than to combat burnout, everyone wins!
4. Be Present in the Moment: It’s easy to get bogged down by all of the noise in our lives, the
never ending To Do Lists, the many mandates and events that are happening. Busy, busy until life’s no fun. Learning to slow it down and be present in the moment and with the people you are with is something that as humans we struggle with. But when we pause, take a deep breath and learn to be present in what is before us, all of the noise seems to quiet and we can experience joy and peace. The Spring Semester has a tendency to fly by (even though the days feel long), so being present makes it memorable and an experience worth being a part of.
5. Be Content: Now this is the one I battle constantly. As people, we always want more. We want to achieve more. We want to experience what is next. We want more for our kids or those we serve. My therapist and I have to unpack learning to be content constantly. I have to work hard to be mindful of all of the greatness in my life and remind myself that I worked hard to get to where I am and to be living the life that I am and that being happy with it and just chasing the next thing or getting to the next place or thing is not the goal. Learning to be content and happy with what we have, where we are at, what we are experiencing will go a long way.
These aren’t rocket science nor did I invent them. But these are what have always helped to ground me and keep me from going into Survival Mode at all times. Notice that I said, “At all times”. It’s okay and normal to go into “Survival Mode” - the trick is to not live there. After all, it’s really about balance, at the least that’s the #RealConnection I have made over time. What is on your roadmap (or needs to be) in order to THRIVE and not just survive?