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Send Help... It's March in Elementary Schools

March Madness is here! This is the time of year when many school leaders lean into the question… Is this work sustainable? If we are honest, some have been questioning if this work is really sustainable since fall. I have yet to meet a school leader in (or who has been in) the arena and has never questioned their sanity during the second semester of the school year. It usually unfolds something like this:

  • Start the school year with bliss, hope, and optimism. “This will be the best year yet! I will stay organized.”

  • 6-8 weeks into the year - Leadership spirits are still pretty high; students have realized school’s actually in session and what some dub as the “October Blues” set in. 

  • Holiday season - “Come on Thanksgiving and winter break! If this district asks us to do one more thing, I might throw something. I just need winter break to reset. I love my job, I love my job, I love my job… I think I love my job.

  • February- April- “Ok, wait… Has everyone lost their minds? I don’t know if I can do this. This is NOT sustainable.” (We might even secretly wish someone would sneeze on us so we can get a few sick days off to rest.)

Regardless of the part of the world you are in, if you are in a school building, you know that the full moon, mercury retrograde, and trek to spring break are real! There is a reason it’s called March Madness and it has nothing to do with basketball.

Here’s the thing, we know it’s coming. Most of us know the ebb and flow of the school year; yet we do the same frustrating dance every year.  Behavioral science reminds us that 75% of what we do is habitual and habits are hard to break. So how can we make our work more sustainable when it seems so much is out of our control? Here are a few things to consider: 

  • Protect your peace. It is easy to get sucked into chatter about all that is wrong with the world of education. While venting is healthy, “parking” there is not helpful. Choose who and what you let infiltrate your thoughts- especially right now. Most of us are passionate about our work and it can be easy to forget our “why” when we surround ourselves with things and people that drain our energy. 

  • Control the controllables. What adjustments can you make in your personal and professional life to create space to breathe? If you are the principal, you have some control over the schedule. Recognize the levels of exhaustion, stress, or frustration that seems to arise this time of year (in others and yourself). What most can handle in the fall, suddenly seems harder to carry in the spring. With that in mind, be selective on the extra activities, events, and asks this time of year. Make adjustments as necessary. As you consider next school year, keep this in mind as you plan events. Perhaps you schedule the heavy hitter events in the fall when the weight feels lighter, and spirits are high.

  • Respect your human limits and the limits of your team. While we are all guilty of playing the superhero, recognize that we simply are not. Learn to be selective with your yes and confident with your no. You cannot be all things to all people all of the time. This requires a mindset shift and allows you to show up as your best self without resentment. Let your human limits set you free. 

  • Be patient with your staff, colleagues, students, and yourself. It might be helpful to acknowledge the challenges and stressors that seem to come this time of year. Talk with your staff so that they know that you “get it.” Remind them that you are in this work together.

  • Create the space for your wellness habits. It might be a struggle to “fit in” time to take care of yourself as you juggle all of the things - but something has to give, and it should not be your health. Be intentional about increasing time to exercise, eat full meals, rest, and “play” this time of year (quite frankly always). Research shows a direct correlation between stress reduction and healthy wellness habits (eating, exercise, sleep, and play).

  • Put on those rose-colored glasses. It’s easy to see the negatives. Seek out the good in each day. Be intentional about noticing what IS going right. This doesn’t make the hard things disappear, but it certainly makes them a bit easier to handle - especially this time of year.

The work you do each day is important. Choose to take action to make it more sustainable. You can do this. We can do this. Let’s do this.  

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