Whoever said the role of an Ed Leader is a marathon not a sprint has clearly never experienced the 4th quarter. Is it me or does the 4th quarter feel like the 100 meter dash on steroids? It feels like a non stop train of events and things... all the things. Fun, exciting, hard, joyous, frustrating, and amazing things. While I do understand the marathon analogy and whole heartedly agree with the sentiment (in the grand scheme of our roles) I have to say...Ya’ll there is no busy like school leader 4th quarter busy! You know the kind of busy I’m talking about. We have one foot in the current school year as we monitor student progress, continue to coach teachers, maintain relationships, organize and plan end of the school year promotion ceremonies, graduations, staff recognitions, complete summative evaluations, oversee state testing, handle student discipline, organize and communicate the end of the school year closeout processes, and much more all while being cognizant of staff and student morale. Our other foot is in summer mode as we plan and organize summer camps, remediation opportunities, building updates, leadership retreats, PD opportunities, and the like. We have one arm into the next school year as we are in the weeds of hiring staff, determining teacher assignments, thinking through classroom moves, organizing student placements, and more - most of which must be done before the end of the school year. We have one hip in the finances trying to ensure we have spent what was budgeted and still have enough to finish out the year. Our nose is in our own evaluation as we prepare for that meeting. And our head… well, it tries to stay grounded while the rest of us is scattered. As I said - there is just no busy like the 4th quarter kind of busy. Can I get an AMEN?!
The mad dash to the finish line often leaves us exhausted and wondering if there is ever enough time. We wonder if we could have organized ourselves better to prepare for the annual sprint. We grapple with the "how" as we aim to finish the year strong.
As with most things, a strategic and flexible plan can help us navigate the school year and finish strong. It’s like a 4x4 relay race. USC director of track and field, Carlyn Smith Gilbert shared the intentionality behind the type of runner and skill needed for each leg of the race in a 2016 Vogue article. Much like the quarters of the school year, a particular strategy, level of energy, game plan and skill is needed to start, stay the course, and finish strong. Gilbert noted that the last leg of the race, the anchor leg, is the most important. While some coaches put their slowest runner here, in a heated race, it requires an athlete who demonstrates calmness and composure in high-stress competition settings. This leg often determines the result of the race. The runner will either need to maintain the lead or pass the other team. Poise and a strong competitive attitude are necessary. This is precisely what is needed of school leaders who aim to finish the year strong. For us, it is always a heated race to keep student learning at the center while we wrap up the year. How can we maintain poise and calm amidst the many stressors and demands of the end of the school year? How do we keep our composure when we feel so all over the place? How do we finish strong? While I do not have any magic tricks to offer (sorry, I know you were waiting for one); I do offer a few ideas to consider.
Schedule yourself on your to-do list first. I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t make the time to tend to your well being, it simply won’t happen. You cannot maintain poise, calm, and composure for those you serve if you are always one email away from falling apart.
Know when to shut it down and be still. If we only stop when we are finished with all of our work, we will never stop - because our work is never done. Learn to stop not because we are finished but simply because it is time to stop. “While our efforts and work are important, necessary, and useful, they are not (nor are we) indispensable (Scazzero, 2017).” The school will somehow manage without us when we choose to shut down and rest.
Know the ebb and flow of the school year and respond accordingly. If this isn’t your first year, you know the level of busy that comes with the end of the year. With this in mind - plan appropriately. Build in more time in your calendar to get it all done. Although visiting classrooms is our jam, the reality is, you may need to consider reducing the amount of time you spend in the classrooms this time of year. I know this can be a hard pill to swallow for many of us but unless you plan to stay up all night every night taking care of all the things that come with this time of year - something has to give. This isn’t to say we let go of an instructional focus, it is to say - we adjust our routines as appropriate. Perhaps instead of five classrooms a day, you visit two or three. Instead of sitting in all of the grade level professional learning communities (PLCs), you select two to sit in each week. Choose to empower your instructional leaders to visit classrooms a bit more and support PLCs (if they aren't already) while you pull back to take care of the many managerial tasks that have to get done. Give yourself the grace and permission to do this. Know that your staff knows you are an engaged leader. You have shown it time and time again.
Give yourself and your staff some grace. Everyone is tired AND you will get there. You are almost to the finish line. Grit and Grace are needed.
Don’t compare your end of the year processes and events to other leaders. Live within your life-fit. What are you truly capable of adding to your plate? Can you really grill burgers and host a cookout for your staff or is ordering a beautiful and ready made deli tray more feasible for your level of energy and even skill level?
Speaking of life-fit, accept that there will be some long nights. Let your family know in advance and be okay with eating out a bit more frequently this time of year if that is what you need to finish strong. Can you really stay until 7:00 and still go home and cook dinner?
Delegate! Let go of some control and allow others to help.
Consider - are there things that can wait until the summer?
Actually schedule in “white space” or think time on your calendar. You need time to organize and think through all of the processes. It won’t just happen.
Give yourself permission to say "no." Everything is happening and everyone needs you. It's okay to say no and still be an effective and excellent leader.
Accept the time of year for what it is… BUSY. Commit to keeping your wellness a priority. As an Ed leader, you must be well enough to serve and finish the year strong. Here’s to a strong finish to what you have helped to make a successful year with your school community.
Scazzero, Peter. 2017. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Zondervan.
Varnell, Elizabeth. (August 2016). An insider’s guide to the Olympic relay: why the fastest runner Isn’t always last. Vogue.