There’s a palpable electricity in the air on the last day of school. Every student, teacher, and support staff is grinning from ear to ear. As they leave for the next two months, they tell you to have an amazing summer but not without a note of pity in their voices. They know that come Monday morning, you will be back in your office. Summer break for principals is kind of an oxymoron.
For those who work an 11- or 12-month contract, the beginning of summer can be bittersweet. On one hand, the pace is much less relentless. Most summers go by without a lot of urgent items to attend to, making it easier to achieve work-life balance. On the other hand, the short vacation you actually get cannot begin to undo the tension caused by the months of stress you underwent. For those of us in administrative ranks, we know school business never takes a vacation.
No matter what your summer office hours look like, using the summer months to recharge, reflect, and relax is essential to your mental health. In fact, your success as a leader depends on using this time to the fullest. Here’s how to make the most of these precious summer months.
1. Construct rituals that enrich your day.
Sadly, rituals are not always school-year friendly. Some days start with putting out fires and end with avoiding explosions. Leverage the slower vibe of the summer to give yourself some space to bring more centered attention to what you are doing. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Peter Bregman writes, “Rituals are about paying attention. They’re about stopping for a moment and noticing what you’re about to do, what you’ve just done, or both. They’re about making the most of a particular moment.”
Summer gives you the opportunity to do exactly that. Bring more intention to your summer days at work with a daily midday walk outside, mornings spent at your favorite coffee shop, or a gratitude practice. Buy yourself some flowers every Monday in the summer. The key is to carve out a specific time and give yourself permission to fully engage in the task you have chosen. Whether that is drinking coffee and reading professional literature or writing end-of-the-year thank-you notes to your staff, rituals can make the day feel like it belongs to you.
2. Put down the PD book and read fiction.
Most educators have a 12-inch stack of books they want to read during the summer. Unsurprisingly, many of those titles tend to be education related. We all know how essential it is to keep up with literature in the field, but committing to a stack of educational titles can feel like bringing the office home with you. While it’s true that reading professional literature can be invigorating and beneficial, don’t overlook the therapeutic power of fiction. Unlike nonfiction titles, reading great literature has the power to transport your imagination.
Reading fiction can also deliver great health benefits. In this article from the New Yorker, Ceridwen Dovey writes, “Reading [fiction] has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.” Every administrator would benefit from better sleep, lower stress, and greater inner calm.
3. Work off-site when possible.
While many of us thrive in our comfort zones, it can be beneficial to break with our habits and consider finding pockets in our days when we can work off-site. Coffee shops are awesome places to work, but so are public libraries, museum lobbies, and your own back porch. Working off-site can help you shake loose from the typical distractions in your office, making your time spent at work more productive. A change of setting can make you more creative and engaged with the task at hand.
4. Learn to completely disconnect.
If you do have two precious weeks of vacation, spend them like they are the last vacation you are ever going to have. Go somewhere where you really have a chance to unplug and recharge. Write that away message and let your inner circle know that you will not be available. If you absolutely cannot unplug or are in the midst of making summer hires, commit to checking email only once a day at the same time each day.
Before you go dark, ask yourself what it is that you will really need to fully benefit from a vacation. Is it more sleep? More quality time with your family? Uninterrupted time to go antiquing? A workaholic who needs vacation likely might not know how to get the most out of the time. Think carefully about what will make you feel really relaxed so your needs can be met.
Summer is a time to embrace a different schedule and pace. While you are still working, you’re also recharging. Use this time to refocus and plan for another great year ahead.
Join the great conversations going on about school leadership in our Facebook groups at Principal Life and High School Principal Life.
Plus check out 5 science-backed ways to avoid the afternoon slump.