When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, some schools closed and some started distance learning. High school athletics were postponed or cancelled. The security blanket of normal life was jerked away like a parent trying to wake up a teenager. We were left in awe and uncertainty until we could get our bearings and realize we needed to tackle the day, or as it turned out, the school year.
The realization set in as summer started: Fall was going to be an issue, too. As it turned out, many school administrations had minimal summer breaks as they were waiting for guidance on how to plan for a school year in a pandemic – hours of planning for the unknown.
Fall began and we started the massive task of trying to have school and sports and keep students and staff safe. Dealing with parents who were in fear of safety for their children, and dealing with those who doubted the whole pandemic were among the chief tasks.
Not surprisingly, a pandemic is stressful for many people. It is so much about trying to understand what cannot be understood. Then, working with students adds a whole new level of stress. We all know what is best for kids – being in school and involved in sports and other activities. But we also know what a delicate responsibility we have to keep these kids safe and healthy.
COVID-19 has attempted to take the joy out of our jobs, so now we need to find a way to fall in love again. We need to rekindle the longing we had to go to work and do what is best for kids. We know this need because we cannot sustain this pressure indefinitely. How do you fall in love with a job that continues to add stress to your life?
What are the positives?
The answer to this question begins by going back to the basics – your colleagues and your support. Remember the feeling of walking into your office and the sound of turning on the computer and the smell of the coffee in your cup? Many positives are the people you work with and the students in your buildings. Since you may not see them face to face, you need to take time to reach out individually. Setting time in your day to reconnect via Zoom or an email is essential for remembering the love of the job.
Reflecting daily on the good things is essential to put you in a better frame of mind. Keep a positive daily journal at your desk and write in it as soon as you get to work. Challenge yourself to write again before you leave for the day. COVID-19 protocols will drain you mentally. Challenge yourself to go home in the right frame of mind. Ideally, each day you write in it, you will also read what you had written the day before and the day before that.
Do something out of your comfort zone
It is time to explore how you can jump start your job – perhaps an opportunity that is fun. The reality of putting you out of your comfort zone has been hitting you daily since the pandemic started. The goal now is to ignite the desire deep within that made you pick this career. For most educators, students are the key. However, your school may still be in distance learning, which means no students available.
Maybe it is time for you to learn how to do TikTok, or if that is too far out of your comfort zone, maybe take each student a balloon or note to his or her house. Maybe you need to try something new outside of work. Try cooking a new recipe or going for a walk with a neighbor – socially distanced of course. Finding joy and peace in the “non” working hours is a key to being refreshed to tackle the job that is weighing you down. The goal is to be open to new things.
Focus on you
Take a break. When you are home, allow yourself to NOT watch the news and NO checking your emails. Give yourself one hour a day away from the stresses. Embrace the quiet and your family. Find something that you enjoy and is relaxing. So many administrators are used to the go, go, go, but it may be time to “just be.” Take a long shower or a hot bath. Turn on your favorite show and eat some popcorn. Hang out with your spouse and kids. Relax.
You may not be a “slowdown” kind of person. In that case, find new ways to be busy, but refreshing. Join a running group. Walk your neighbor’s dog. Deliver groceries to those who do not want to go out. “Do” things that are not necessarily work related but give you that sense of accomplishment. The exhilaration of helping others does amazing things for your mind and outlook.
Jim Valvano said in his speech in 1993 when he was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the Espys,
“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”
As an administrator you need to do all of these. Laughter gives a sense of release and lightens the weight of the world that each administrator naturally carries on his or her shoulders. You need to spend time reflecting on the day and acknowledge the aspects that you cannot control. The pandemic is what it is. You can only control how you respond to recommendations and the needs to keep kids safe and healthy. You also need to find the time to laugh to where your stomach hurts or cry to release those stored emotions. Letting tears flow, whether in laughter or frustration, is a release, not a sign of weakness.
Scheduling and planning for the coming school years is what all administrators do. In the middle of a pandemic, it is hard to plan for next week. It takes a toll on your health with the stress that is involved. Be aware of how you feel on a Sunday night: Are you dreading work or embracing it?
The final thought as you go to work tomorrow, treat your job like a relationship. You will have web and flow. Sometimes the job takes more than it gives. Sometimes you need to go back to the beginning and remember why it all started. Many times in our lives we need to nurture our relationships. Think about nurturing your job, be deliberate. Embracing your job for the good and bad times is part of life. Nurturing the job can be done by thinking of the positives, getting out of your comfort zone, focusing on you and allowing yourself to feel emotion. Your school needs you to fall in love with your job again and to be purposeful.
Lisa Myran-Schutte, CAA, is the athletic/activities director at Pine Island (Minnesota) High School after serving in a similar capacity at Houston (Minnesota) High School for several years. She is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.