6 Self-Care Strategies for School Leaders
You’re taking care of the teachers.
The teachers are taking care of the students.
But who’s taking care of you?
As the educational leader of your school or your classroom, not only are you taking care of and dealing with the stress and PTSD of your teachers and/or students, but you are also dealing with your life’s day to day stresses. Principals and Assistant Principals, how many times are you greeted with 25 different fires that need to be put out…NOW! Urgent emails and phone calls from parents or teachers. Your whole staff needs even more support right now. Wifi/tech issues or a lack of access to devices. I could keep going.
Classroom teachers, I know you’re dealing with it, as well! Kids that just won’t engage, phone calls and emails from parents, learning new systems and tech on the fly. The list goes on and on.
Does ANY of this sound familiar? It’s critical that you have non-negotiable strategies in place to help you cope and deal with what you experience every day. You cannot pour into your teachers, students and your own families if your cup is empty. You have to be intentional and take time to pour into your cup every day so you can show up better for everyone else in your life. Self-care is not selfish. It’s critical!
Here are six strategies that you might consider incorporating into your daily routine to help you practice self-care.
Strategy #1. Own your Morning!
When you own your morning, you own the day! How many of you wake up when your alarm goes off, grab your phone and the first thing you check is either your email or social media? **raises my hand** I’m guilty of it, too! I want to encourage you to stop this practice. I know it’s easier said than done! Take the first 2 minutes of your day to close your eyes and visualize your day. Think about the awesome day that is ahead and the positive things that are going to happen. There are 86,400 seconds in a day. I think we can all give the first 120 seconds of our day to setting the tone for what we want to happen!
In a productivity article by Carlo Cruz titled, 7 Steps to Own Your Morning and Seize Your Day, he suggests 7 things you can do to seize your morning:
- Wake up 1 hour earlier.
- Spend your best time by taking stock of yourself.
- Write down, revisit, or revise your long-term goals.
- Set your daily goals.
- Sharpen your expertise.
- Use your head start and start acting.
- End a vicious cycle of waking up late by sleeping early.
Strategy #2. Establish your North Star
What’s your why? Why do you wake up every morning? Why do you show up every day? Who are you showing up for? As time goes on, and the days go by, we find ourselves on what I like to call, the hamster wheel of life. We wake up, drive to work (sometimes not even noticing the path we take to get there), work a full day, go home, eat dinner, go to sleep, only to do it all over again the next day. We do this 5 days a week, 4-5 weeks a month and before we know it, we look up and an entire school year has flown by.
In the book “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek, he challenges us to get to the root of our why. When we know and understand our “why” we get more in tune with our how and our what. I add to this and believe that when you know your why, you walk with more intention and more purpose every day. You become more intentional about the decisions that you make and the actions that you take because you are aware that they are all in alignment with why you do what you do.
I challenge you to dig deep into your why. Understand your why. Really allow it to be your North Star and lead you every day. Write it down. Post it up any and everywhere you can. Make it your screensaver on your computer and your cell phone. It will become a part of who you are.
Strategy #3. Establish Daily Healthy Habits
When you take the time to be intentional about how you take care of your body every day, you are practicing self-care. These daily practices that become habits, will eventually become non-negotiables for you. A few things that you can do to establish doable daily healthy habits are:
- Drink enough water. You should be drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water a day. For simple math, if you weigh 100 pounds, you should be drinking 50 ounces of water a day. For those of you that don’t necessarily like to drink water, here’s how you can get it in:
- Drink out of a straw.
- Drink out of a “nice” cup.
- If you drink bottled water, take the number of bottles that you need to drink to get your ounces in with you to work. Challenge yourself to drink them before you leave to go home for the day.
- Add fruit to your water.
- Make healthy eating choices. You can’t put “bad” fuel into your body and expect it to perform the way you need it to every day! Working in schools puts us in contact with thousands of different germs every day. Eating healthy fruits, veggies, and proteins helps to build our immune system.
- Move your body for at least 20-30 minutes every day. If you find yourself sitting behind a desk, set an alarm on your phone to get up and take a lap around the building every hour. If you can, stand up at your desk to work. Join a gym. Go for a walk. Make it a game by using a smart watch and engage in friendly contests with your friends/colleagues.
Strategy #4. Engage in your own personal and professional development
As the leader in your school building or your classroom, you are super busy making sure that everyone else has what they need. You are providing learning opportunities for your teachers and students, but who is providing you with learning opportunities? How are you engaging in your own personal and professional development? I’m a firm believer that what we put into our minds is what will come out. Positive in? Positive out. Negative in? Negative out. Listen to, watch and read things that encourage and inspire you to grow and be better.
A few ideas to make sure you’re getting some “positive in” are:
- Turn off the music and listen to podcasts on the way to work.
- Read professional development books that interest you. Here are a few that I recommend.
- Join or start a meeting group with like-minded individuals.
- Find a mentor if you don’t already have one. Set calendar appointments so it’s a priority.
- Join Twitter and grow your Professional Learning Network (PLN).
Strategy #5. Establish Doable Routines
Every December 31st when the clock strikes midnight, we find ourselves making New Year’s resolutions. We make lists and vision boards jam-packed with “all of the things.” We find ourselves discouraged because we don’t accomplish everything on those lists and vision boards. Then we just give up. Sound familiar? The reality is, is that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything! What I’ve found to be successful is to implement small, doable, bite-sized things that eventually become a part of your lifestyle. Here are a few doable things that you could slowly start to add to your daily routine.
- Start journaling. When I was a kid I journaled all of the time! Probably about who my crush was at the time and how school was going and how I was mad at my parents simply because they were being parents and raising me! As I’ve gotten older, finding the time to keep this up has been a challenge. I was recently listening to a podcast by Judi Holler (Fear is my Homeboy) and she talked about a book she read called, “You are Awesome” by Neil Pasricha and he mentioned that he spends 2 minutes every morning and writes on a clean index card, answering these 3 prompts:
- Today, I will let go of…
- This helps to deal with any anxiety that you might have. When you write it down, it disappears.
- Today, I am grateful for…
- This makes you see the small everyday things that you encounter.
- Today, I will focus on…
- Choose one small thing. Again, you can do anything, but you can’t do everything!
- Today, I will let go of…
- Practice meditation. There are so many meditation apps (free and paid) and YouTube videos that you can follow. You can try the app, Calm for free here: https://www.calm.com/schools.
- Daily gratitude. This one is an easy one for me. I have a journal on my nightstand and every night I pick it up and write down 5 things that I’m grateful for. It’s a super simple practice that really makes me reflect on the day. I attended John Maxwell’s Live2Lead conference last year and had the pleasure of seeing Rachel Hollis speak. She mentioned that she practices gratitude in the morning. She even challenged us to select things that we are grateful for (when practicing gratitude) that have happened within the past 24 hours. Of course, we are thankful for our spouses, our kids, our jobs, our friends, etc., but selecting things that have happened within that 24 hour window really cause you to look at the small things (ie. the blue sky, your perfect tasting cup of coffee, the “good pen” that your colleague let you borrow, etc).
- Shut your phone down at least 1 hour before bedtime every night. According to the Cleveland Clinic, continuing to engage with your phone all the way up until you fall asleep has negative effects on your brain.
- It keeps your mind psychologically engaged.
- The blue light from the screen suppresses melatonin.
- The alerting properties delay REM sleep.
Strategy #6. Brain dump every night
In order to clear your mind from all that’s racing around in it from the day’s events, keep a notebook next to your bed and brain dump everything that’s floating around in your mind before you go to bed. It’s a way to get everything out of your mind so you can regain focus. When you get things out of your brain and onto paper, it can reduce anxiety, eliminate unnecessary thoughts/tasks, and prioritize what needs to get done. The key is to write down everything! “Dump” all of your thoughts onto paper! These could be the pressing things that will be on your morning’s to do list, picking up the dry cleaning on your way home from work the following day, an email that you need to send in the morning, a good book that you want to order from Amazon, a teacher walkthrough you need to get done before the end of the week. Write it ALL down. You might also consider creating your braindumps digitally using tools like Google Docs, Google Keep, Microsoft Word, or OneNote.
You could also separate your brain dump into personal, professional and family sections or just create one long running list. You may even decide to color code your brain dump so you can visually see what needs to get done in each area of your life. While I love brain dumping every night, there are times when I create a weekly brain dump on Sunday nights or first thing Monday morning. Whether you brain dump at night, in the morning, or for the week, this list could potentially serve as your “to do” list. Once you accomplish something on your brain dump list, cross it off!
CLICK HERE to access a brain dump template that you may want to use to get you started!
What it all boils down to is that it’s important to take care of yourself. You have to put your oxygen mask on first before you can put a mask on anyone else. There is no doubt that there will be fires to put out when you walk into your buildings and classrooms every day. Having strategies in place that allow you to deal with the stress that you will encounter every day is critical to making sure that you are at your best.
Whether you incorporate some of the ideas above into your practice or have something else that works for you, do something! I’d love to know what else, besides the things on this list, that you do to practice self-care. Let’s start some dialogue and share all the tips! We’d all benefit from these ideas!