As we continue to plow through this incredible blip of a year, perhaps you’ve hit this (almost!) halfway point and realized that even though things have been difficult, the silver linings are starting to show themselves. Perhaps attendance has improved for some of your at-risk students; maybe certain things have come to light that now obviously need to change moving forward in terms of school structures. When it comes to silver linings, they can look very different depending on your outlook or situation. For us; one thing I have noticed that students are spending more time outdoors, and less time on their phones at lunch–they are having conversations instead of exchanging snaps (well, less snaps anyway). I do realize that for some of my colleagues–difficult is an understatement. In some jurisdictions, working has literally been equal to risking your health and well-being daily. I do not want to gloss over this very true reality. There can’t be guarantees during a pandemic, where this virus creeps through communities and can turn up anywhere. One that I want to focus on revolves around the spotlight on not only mental health, but also on personal health during this pandemic. Peoples concern surrounding their personal health has skyrocketed, either through a new commitment to staying active, eating well and/or getting outside more or by simply avoiding getting sick.
In my position, taking care of oneself is talked about, encouraged, #hashtagged, etc. but in actuality often doesn’t come to fruition. In the last two years alone, I’ve worked with bronchitis, torn rotator cuffs, sinus infections, and so on. Obviously since last March, anything that would include symptoms related to health checks would certainly have kept me at home. And yet. The prevailing feeling of inadequacy when away from work continues. We are at an interesting intersection, generationally, in our industry. The old guard, “retired with 373 sick days remaining” badge of honour prevails. It is hard to reconcile that with the message of “take a day.”
But, we don’t (take a day). Certainly not often, unless we are bedridden–it is unwritten that time away is not appreciated. Why does it feel this way? How does that unwritten message still rise to top, despite the self-care and wellness dialogues that we are embracing and partaking in time and time again? I can definitively say that one main reason (at least from my perspective) is that it isn’t modelled nearly as much as it should be. It’s one thing to openly encourage days to work from home, or stay away but it’s an entirely different story when I actively see those in positions above me doing just that. I am grateful for my leaders; they are fantastic. Have I ever seen them take a day away, even when it is clear they are lagging?
I can’t justify taking a day when I am feeling burnt out; when I could, in theory, come to work. Not when I don’t see others in my position doing the same thing. Maybe it’s just me; and my direct contacts. If that’s the case; fantastic. I highly doubt it though. As more younger individuals move into educational leadership, burn out is going to become a very real thing. This job isn’t a promotion; it’s a career change. It is a choice to move into a position where you are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If something happens, you are there to pick up the phone or attend that meeting. You cut short your vacation, walk away from family movie night. And if that is the expectation; then we need to have more physical health//mental health self-care modelled or the revolving door will continue to spin when it comes to this job; right now, it’s just not sustainable. So, whether you are new or experienced–at the top of management or like me, trucking away in the smaller office–when you just need to, take the day.
And I will try to model that for you.