How I’m Sustaining myself to Avoid Principal Burnout

Yo. This whole being a Principal shit is hard, and it’s easy to burn out and give up. But I’ve been doing more this year to take care of myself. And I have 8 things that are working.

I made it through October, in one piece, the best one so far. Folks around the building were looking rough, as we always look in October/November, but this year I’m feeling different.

 

I’ve written about wanting to quit

Do I still want to be a principal - Culturally Responsive Leadership

about Principal Sustainability

and about why I came back to being a Principal

Principals feel like Luke Skywalker - Culturally Responsive Leadership

 

 

 

 

 

But how do we truly sustain? I’m somehow still alive in my fifth year and I’m starting to figure it out. Still wondering how much longer I can do it, but I must admit I’m much happier this year. I was inspired by a great article by Shane Safir, on principal sustainability, and wanted to share some thoughts. Safir shares, “principals need support, equitable compensation, coaching, quality learning experiences, and a district culture that conveys, ‘I see you. I value you. I want to listen to you.'” Until all that comes, I’m taking matters into my own hands.


Here’s 8 Ways I’m Avoding Burnout

1) Bring your Passions inside the School

I love hip hop and basketball. So I raised funds, built a recording studio, and started a hip hop club. Now I get to integrate my passions into the building. Can’t beat that shit. Also, I love hoops. So I got a few nice balls and every now and then have a pick up basketball game after work. As long as my old man knee and back aren’t too tight, I get to play my favorite game at my home away from home.

I love music, so I play music whenever I can. In my office, ALL day. Whenever I am hosting a meeting. At lunch on a huge blockrocker. In the studio (see below) and at the front entrance when I do my early morning greetings:

Greeting Students Strengthens School Culture - Culturally Responsive Leadership

 

2) Look How Far You’ve Come

Remember how long you used to work. Remember how the school used to look? Count your blessing and your winnings. Yes it’s endless but you are making progress. I remember when the lights weren’t even all working in the hallways, when all the rooms were filled with sleigh desks, and some/many staff meetings felt toxic. We ain’t there no more. I recommend keeping a list of positive changes and defining moments. Re-read that list periodically and add to it. You will need it on the darkest times.

 

3) Grow your Passion Outside of School

Do you love hiking? Then hike. Do you love to write? Then start a blog (true story!) Whether you want to start a business or just keep a hobby, do it. Whatever frequency you can maintain, it’s better than nothing. You need something outside of work. It’s easy to make it your everything, but I know you had some hobbies before you got that heavy set of keys. Bring it back. For me, I played hoops, exercise, and started a blog and now business.

 

4) Take Care of your Health

One thing, I’ve been doing is watching what I eat. I used to be fit. Once upon a time, before marriage, AP life, married life, parent life, and Principal Life. Damn, I let myself go. I tried to workout during that time and run, hoops, lift, all that. But it didn’t work. I probably gained like 30 pounds. But I spent the beginning of this year, eating right. I cut bread and sugar, and shit I lost like 20 pounds. Working on the next 10, but I made progress.

I wanna run and hoop, but my old man knee has been acting up. I have been trying to get my 10,000 steps and eat more veggies. It makes a difference in my energy and psyche. I feel so much better. It makes the work easier. Strong body, strong mind, strong leadership. Do whatever you can . Food, mindfulness, exercise.

 

5) Don’t Take it Personal – Don’t Take it Home

With a small daughter, with a firm daycare pick up time, I NEED to leave at 4:20-4:40 on the dot. No excuses. This keeps me honest and allows me not to over committ. It also means w al that I manage my time. If something takes 20 minutes to complete, I am minimizing distractions to get it done. So I have less work to take home, but also I just push things to the next day. I used to feel like I needed to get it done, work late at night, but you know what? The sun still comes up, the kids arrive at the front door, and there’s another day of school. No lightening bolt comes down to strike me.

Mentally, I let shit go. Things that used to piss me off, force me to wake up in a cold sweat at night don’t get to me as much. Little bit, but I let it go, like frozen. Let that shit go. Haters gon’ hate, and people who show you love will show you love. People’s negativity is not your’s. It is not your fault. They were complaining about the leak 4 years ago, with the same intensity, as they are complaining today about the student they want suspended. Same sarcastic emails. Same slanderous comments about your skills. Same two-faced BS. It ain’t about you, so don’t let it be about you. They gonna keep mugging you in the hallway. They need to listen to some Badu and drop them bags, but you ain’t Badu. So keep it pushin.

 

6) Distribute and Trust Leadership

Stop powerhoarding, you tyrant. This year, I am barely planning or leading anything. Strange to say as the Principal, but you know what, I am seeing the best PD I have seen. Trust your leaders, APs, and Teacher Leaders to…LEAD. I know groundbreaking, but trust me, trus them. I am seeing Teachers find their voice and deliver quality PD to their colleagues. Folks look for me to add something, and I am just chilling, participating, and watching. When you do this, you get to truly experience PD and meetings.

Then you can do some coaching of the leaders, and trust the process. We need more than you. The school needs many leaders. And all of sudden you have 12 pushing hard towards change. The best gift has been to see my 2 APs blossum into strong leaders, without me taking up hella space and time. It’s lovely.

 

7) Double Down on your Goals

It’s easy to come up with a new idea every damn day. It drives teachers crazy, because as the leader you have the positional authority and resources to at least start anyting you want. Finishing is another thing homie, but you can write a memo about anything you read on Edutopia. Well, instead of that, look a what you been doing and and keep doing it, but do it better.

At our school, we didn’t pick anything new this year. We brought back some literacy foci from 3 and 4 years ago. We brought back Restorative Practice and stayed the course with PBL. All classic shit now, but we need to keep the record spinning and practice those dance moves. It means you don’t to create so many new superficial PDs. You can dig back into the google drive and think about what it means to go deeper, apply skills, and assess progress.

 

8) Take a Fucking Day Off  (or 10)

Man, I remember when I first started teaching and similarly my first one to two years of being a principal. I never took a day off. I worked every day healthy or sick.. I felt like people were going to judge me and say that I wasn’t going hard. I worried about moving up and I worried about letting people down. But, as the homey Kendrick Lamar says, fuck that. Days off are critical to balance. Mental health is no joke and this white supremacist, capitalistic, sexist society. Whether you were taking some time for exercise, Chores, or time to catch up with extended family, take a day off. If you weren’t taking days off than you are definitely building them up and that’s what they’re for. 

I always take my birthday off. No family. No date day. Just time for me. Been doing it for about 5 years, and it’s incredible.

And I’m taking time off for baby #2. I didn’t even take much time with my first, but this time, I am going to take off a WHOLE DAMN MONTH. Year 5 I can do that, but year 1 I should have done that.

 


Conclusions

My whole life used to revolve around my work. It was my everything. 7 AM to 7 PM, with some late-night emails and deadlines after that. But that shit is for the birds. The martyrs. Because our children need us to be living freedom fighters not memories or brief fireworks.

The other thing I realized is that the folks who believe in you, both inside and outside of the building, will support you whether you are burning yourself out or taking care of yourself. And we know that haters gon hate. This means that even when you’re working hard it don’t matter.

As soon as you drop one ball, the pitch forks come out, and people wanna act like you ain’t been juggling your ass of like Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey. So fuck them and take care yourself. Treat yo self. Do you. The children need you to sustain. Your family needs you to sustain. And you need you to sustain.

So connect your passions, take breaks, leave work at work, and celebrate progress.

Sustain!

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