The Precarious Life-Work Balance of the Principal

In working with principals, regardless of where it may be, one topic is always sure to stop the conversation and leave a pall over the room.


We can pull off some amazing things as school leaders:  juggle student requests, teacher preferences, and bus pickup/drop off times into an elegant, workable schedule.  Teachers are marveled at how we can remember hundreds of student’s names, favorite lunch spots, and cumulative tardies in our head with efficiency IBM’s Watson would turn from blue to green with envy over.

Principals can make it to a tennis match, Spring band concert, retirement reception, and an FFA Banquet all between 5 and 7 PM (and get a haircut during intermission of the band concert).

We have conditioned ourselves to schedule ourselves at a clip that seems like we are at more than one place at time.  However, do we sacrifice being where we most ought to be to do so?

Chantal Panozzo posted a story today entitled “Living in Switzerland ruined me for America and its lousy work culture.”  You can read it here.  In it, she gets to the root of our work/life balance issues: our cultural expectations of work.   Principals and APs are products of those expectations, as well as unsuspecting promoters of this lifestyle to others around us.

At some point, your vision of what a principal must do was shaped by those who modeled it for you.  You are doing the same now, for your assistant principal and others who are watching you.

“… if you don’t find a balance between your job and the rest of your life, you are doomed to burn out.”

Please know this isn’t a suggestion that you slack off in your work.  It is, instead, a reminder that one of the puzzles you should always be seeking to solve is that of balance.  And, it’s not just a self-serving quest.  Simply put, if you don’t find a balance between your job and the rest of your life, you are doomed to burn out.  On the road to that, you’ll become decreasingly effective, increasingly grumpy, and you won’t be as good at your work as you have been.  That’s right, if you can’t be convinced to seek balance for your own good, consider your work;  it’ll suffer if you don’t take care of yourself.

At this time of year, principals and assistant principals (and teachers as well) face MORE to do rather than less.  How do you get back in balance at such a critical time?  This is actually the BEST time to do so.  In future columns, we’ll explore specifics on how to get yourself into balance, but for now, focus on a first step and move forward from there.  One day this week, go home 15 minutes earlier than usual (which is still much later than normal people do!); turn texts and email off at 9:00 PM and keep them off until the morning so you can not only sleep but you can rest; and spend time with the people you enjoy, doing something that makes you happy that isn’t school related.

Remember, someone is watching you now to see what principals do.  Give them something to see that will help them be excellent in their work, but in their life away from work as well.  They’ll be the better for it and so will you!


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