The month of June is a fraught time for a school leader. There are countless tasks to be completed and deadlines to be met before the end of the school year which is fast approaching. More than once, in the midst of my anxiety, I’ve exclaimed that I need another three weeks of school just to get everything done! I mean it, “Kids, can we just stick around a few more weeks so my deadlines get pushed back as well?” A victim of this crunch time is the precarious state of balance that all of us manage to scarcely hold onto throughout the year but that is forsaken during this month of madness.
Here’s what happens to my balance:
Parenting. There’s nothing more important than family and we’ve got to be there for the important events in our kids’ lives. During the month of June, the number of evening obligations that a school leader experiences multiplies significantly. My daughter Juliet graduated from Pre-School. When she saw my wife and me in the audience at her graduation ceremony as she marched into the auditorium she was so pleased. She mouthed, “Daddy, you came!” It dawned on me as I noted the expression of surprise on her face; she really didn’t think I was going to be there! You know that you haven’t been home much when your 4 year old is shocked that you showed up for her “biggest day ever”.
Reading. I LOVE reading. At any given time, I juggle three different books: a professional, a young adult and an adult title. Right now I am reading Paperboy (YA) by Vince Vawter, Simplifying Response to Intervention (professional) by Michael Mattos, and Being Mortal (adult non-fiction) by Atul Gawande. It helps me as a reader that my wife (@dmgately) is a more voracious reader than I am. My reading doesn’t take away from our time together because we’re often reading next to each other on the couch, frequently the same book. When I’m out of balance, I don’t have enough time to read. I’ve been stuck on the RtI book for almost 2 months now and I’ve got a pile of books on my desk I’m eager to begin.
Eating. When I’m out of balance, I don’t eat right. I work in a middle school so there is ALWAYS food around. Cake, cookies, chocolate… there’s always something you can grab on the go. And pizza. In the final two weeks of school some class or group in the building was having pizza constantly. I love pizza – but it can’t be good for you to eat it for lunch every day. When my diet consists primarily of carbs and sugary sweets, I “bonk” in the afternoon. If there’s a 3 o’clock meeting, it will take a major act of will on my part to keep my eyes open (see ‘sleep’ below’).
Exercising. Running, cycling, or using the elliptical at home are essential for my physical and mental health. Exercise clears my head and helps me feel better all day long. I don’t think I exercised even once the last three weeks of school. As a consequence, I felt sluggish in my energy level and murky in my thinking. It’s ironic that people with stressful jobs particularly need to exercise, yet it’s these people who find it most difficult to find the time to do so.
Sleeping. I need less sleep than most people. I can generally get by on 5-6 hours a night. But I’m not productive in the evenings. When I’m dealing with an overload of deadlines, my personal routine is to wake up very early and capitalize on the quiet to get things done. Down the stretch I was getting only 3-4 hours of sleep a night as I awoke most mornings at 3 A.M. to complete evaluations, reports and plans before the end of school year. Over time, these “early to rise” days began to take their toll.
So? What to do?
Sometimes being a middle school principal is like playing golf– but with checking, like hockey. Just as you have your putt lined up – BOOM – a 7th grader hits you in the eye with a tater tot. I have a valued group of middle school principals with whom who I connect everyday either in person or through Voxer. Listening to their stories during the month of June validated my impression that this loss of balance is inevitable. Whether it was dead bats falling out of trees (this really happened), sleeping substitute teachers or 13 year olds with water guns (hopefully filled with ‘water’) … middle school is a crazy place to be in June. How can a leader be expected to do intense cerebral work while sitting in a dunk tank? I am searching for a solution to this conundrum but a part of me is thinking that it may be “unsolvable”. Believe it or not, there are obstacles in life that’s can’t be overcome.
Does it have to be this way in June? What do you think? How do you handle “June Madness”?
It would be interesting to pose your question to your school community at the start of the year. Together you could choreograph the year so that it’s balanced in ways that matter and ways that keep everyone healthy and happy.