A Letter to My Colleagues: Prioritize Self-Care

Shanta Smith (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Public Schools)

By: Shanta Smith

Happy National Principals Month! The start of the 2020-2021 school year has been unlike any other in our nation’s history. As we manage socially distant learning environments, engage in numerous Google Meets video calls, serve as in-person and remote school principals and assume our traditional responsibilities of supporting our brilliant students, collaborating with excellent educators and partnering with wonderful families we are learning each day what it means to be a “pandemic principal.” Balancing our new normal as “pandemic principals” has been quite challenging. However, the team of school administrators in Greenwich have stepped up through seen and unforeseen circumstances to proudly take the helm and LEAD with strength, grace and dignity.

However, to sustain ourselves through these uncertain times, we must prioritize self-care. Prioritizing self-care is not something that many educational leaders do well. We often find ourselves making sacrifices that require us to put everyone else’s needs before our own. We must learn to follow the directions of airline flight attendants who remind us to “put your own oxygen mask on first before giving the mask to others.”

Reducing life’s stressors through the practice of self-care does not require monumental efforts but it does involve purposeful planning. Hence, as school leaders, we must be intentional in the selection of practical strategies that meet our unique needs. Listed below are self-care strategies that I have entitled P.A.C.E. strategies. P.A.C.E. strategies are intentional, feasible activities and routines that you can practice anywhere to help you keep pace with the evolving role of the principalship. The P.A.C.E. strategies are as follows:

Pause: Schedule time to stop, rest and reflect upon what components of self-care you would like to explore in your life. Kevin Cashman, the author of The Pause Principle, encourages leaders to “step back to lead forward” (Cashman, 2012). To enact his recommendation, Study yourself.

Complete a self-care assessment. Numerous organizations provide free self-care questionnaires online that you can utilize to achieve this aim.

Review the findings from the self-care assessment and decide what self-care area you would like to use to create your self-care plan.

Actualize: Develop a plan to meet your self-care needs.
To actualize your plan, Create and implement a reasonable and sustainable plan.

To begin, select one self-care strategy that you can easily accomplish in a 10 to 15 minute time frame each day.

Here are some examples of practical self-care strategies: Set aside time for a daily healthy lunch; take a daily walk; listen to a motivational podcast; engage in journaling; schedule quiet time to reflect and meditate or identify one activity that you enjoy and plan to engage in that activity each day.

Communicate: Share your plan with individuals who are close to you who can help you stay the course.
To fulfill this suggestion, Secure an accountability partner.

Identify a dependable individual as your accountability partner.

Schedule a weekly check in time with your accountability partner. Text, call or meet with your partner to discuss your progress. Use this time to seek solace with someone who wants to see you win.

Evaluate: Reflect upon your self-care plan and practices. To evaluate your plan, Assess your plan like it is the SIP. This is an inside joke for educational leaders. SIP stands for School Improvement Plan.

Self-Assess. The major difference between the SIP and your assessment of your self-care plan is that you are the sole evaluator who determines the metrics, analyzes the effectiveness of the plan and decides upon the implication of the findings based upon what is best for you.

Revisit and adjust your plan as often as needed. Always exercise self-compassion. Your self-care plan is malleable and you should design it to help you. If it is not working, change it. If it is working, continue the plan or augment it with additional self-care strategies.

As educational leaders, we love what we do and we begin each day ready to accomplish the next feat that we encounter. As we throw on our principal’s cape each day we have to remember that we are not in this work alone and that we can only keep up this pace by prioritizing self-care. Each day we must proactively and purposefully plan to address our individual self-care needs so we can continue to support the stellar educators in our school district to fulfill the mission of Greenwich Public Schools. Daily self-care regimens will help us to establish an authentic habit of unequivocally caring for ourselves. Our burden as school administrators is heavy. To lighten the load, we must purposefully plan to prioritize self-care in our lives in a manner that prepares us for the known and the unknown challenges that will surface in the principalship this year. Take care.