When Does a Principal's Day End?
Written by Darci Griebel, Principal at Escanaba Area Public Jr/ Sr High School and Region 1 Representative on the MASSP Board of Directors, which covers the Upper Peninsula
The long-lived question posed to all working parents, how to balance family and career? While many have proposed solutions to help working parents make efficient use of their time, the technological age brings with it new twists to the same old problem. We find ourselves in a day and age where work-related issues follow us 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
How many of you find yourselves checking email before work, during your workday, after work and again before bed - and that’s just a minimum? Do you find yourself checking Twitter, Facebook or email while on family vacation, at your child’s ball game, or even at the dinner table? For many in school leadership, the lines between work and home have blurred, making it difficult for many of us to have the “down time” we so desperately need and deserve.
When is the principal “not on the clock”? Proper response time dictates a 24-hour response to stakeholder communications. But ask yourself this, is that 24 clock hours, or 24 work hours? In order to provide yourself the time to step away from the job responsibilities, it is necessary to prioritize what is essential in our day and what is not. Many of us feel that we need to work until the job is done, but is it ever truly done? Our work will still be there tomorrow and it can wait unless it is an emergency. I am most guilty of this - not being able to leave work with voicemail or email messages in my inbox. This is something I need to personally overcome to be a healthier person, both emotionally and physically.
We all recognize the benefits that technology has brought to increasing communication among our stakeholders. It has provided timely response, increased parent engagement and satisfaction, but at whose expense? These benefits come at a cost to us, because when we take time to respond to social media, then we are saying “no” to something else in our lives. The items we are saying “no” to might be those we find most important; our family, our own well being, or our overall health. In cases like this, no one benefits.
Have you ever found yourself continuing to email while a staff member shares a concern with you? Nothing says that you believe that person is important than by truly listening. So set aside that keyboard or cell phone and do the most basic thing that we all need, make eye contact and listen. This will singlehandedly affect your staff relationships in the most positive manner.
So what makes you a strong leader? One of the most important skills we can learn as administrators is effective time management. Knowing how to prioritize and decide how much time you need to put in to be successful is key to good management. The first step in this process is to set personal boundaries. In order to avoid being overcome, begin by defining boundaries between work and home. This can be achieved by putting limits on your use of technology and social media, both in number of forms and usage time. Scale down to use only those methods that are most beneficial to you as a school leader. Use methods that allow you to share resources, ideas and strategies to improve your professional network.
Our local school boards and superintendents can also step in to support the health and wellness of their administrators. They can do so by establishing guidelines and stakeholder expectations that allow for healthy work/life balance for all district employees. This shows support for employee wellness and expectations of “downtime” for healthy living.
Without taking the necessary steps to define boundaries on technology, we will continue to battle between choosing work or family. The result of this can be educators/leaders leaving the occupation before their time due to burnout. In a time when the school leader/educator pool is dwindling, we need to define “downtime” boundaries. This occupation is not meant to be a 24/7 job. Be a more effective leader by deciding what it takes for you to be successful at what you do and remember... face-to-face communication is always best!