Last week I hit the wall…hard. I’ve been dealing with sickness for probably over a month now, just trudging along, trying to maintain a foothold on my life at home and at school. You all know this scenario and all understand that one of the side effects of illness for educators is that, to a degree, logic ceases to work. For example, to everyone around me it was completely obvious that I was doing myself in and definitely not bringing my “A Game.” Between trying to maintain a fairly strenuous workout regime, maintaining an already overwhelming workload (that began steadily increasing these past several weeks) and increasing family commitments during the holiday months I was steadily feeding my illness, stress, fatigue and all the other negatives. Logic was easily pointing out that it was time to take a breather…but as I said my illness also included a good case of I’m-not-listening-to-logic-itis.
Any educator will tell you that one of the hardest things for us to do is give ourselves permission to take a break. I meant this in all senses of the phrase: taking a break due to illness meaning a literal rest, taking a break from the stresses of a committee that is sending you over the edge…give yourself permission to back off for a little and regroup…anything! It’s tough for us because educators are doers and we don’t stop easily.
This theme kept presenting itself to me, over and over again.
A teacher approached me about feeling overwhelmed with curriculum, pacing guides and the social emotional needs of her students. Her instincts were telling her that her energy should be going toward the social curriculum and supporting her students in being able to navigate that world, but she felt conflicted by her dedication to the curricular guides and pacing calendars. She needed to know that it was alright to take a break and focus on what needs to be done.
During #satchat (which I highly recommend for anyone to participate in) the topic was negativity and how to combat it in a school culture. One of the threads started digging into how exhausting it can be to constantly combat negativity. A question posed during the chat was something like “how do you know when it’s time to back away.” Everyone took this question in different manners…some thinking of back away as time to look for another position elsewhere, others thought about it meaning when it was time to leave a group or team, and for others it meant something else. The common theme, however, was that difficulty in giving yourself permission to do that.
Then as I was cruising the Twitterverse I came upon a section of the Education World website titled How I Handled… The premise of this theme is that this page has a bunch of topics that administrators have had to “handle.” In any case, I centered on one called How I Handled Feeling Overwhelmed By the Job of Principal. Even though I hadn’t diagnosed myself as feeling overwhelmed (because that logic deficiency was overriding everything!) I read the article. The author of the post shared the following tidbit:
…Blanchard, Oncken, and Burrow’s The One-Minute Manager Meets the Monkey. The authors described ‘monkeys’ as problems on the backs of people. As students and adults revolved through my office, they each had their ‘monkeys’ solidly on their backs — and they wanted to place them squarely on mine. I realized that by keeping other people’s ‘monkeys’ in my office, I was sending the message that I wanted their ‘monkeys.’ I often collected so many ‘monkeys’ I couldn’t attend to my own. And when others’ ‘monkeys’ were being kept in my office, my staff and students were denied the opportunity to care for and feed their ‘monkeys.’
Finally, after reading this article and considering the other interactions around this theme…the logic deficiencies started to subside and I gave myself permission to deal with “the monkeys,” take a breather, set myself up for success and just regroup…and it’s amazing how much better I feel already!
The next challenge is to remember that feeling for the next two weeks, keep the “monkeys” managed, keep a pace that has me bringing my best and reminding others that it’s alright to take a break.