2020 has been the most challenging year yet in education. Whether it be from the yo-yo-ing of going from in-person to remote, and back to in-person due to quarantines and school closures among rising COVID numbers in your community, you have undoubtedly felt overwhelmed, stressed and felt like there’s no end in sight at some time these past 10 months.

You have probably asked yourself at some point during the last year, “How can I make the job less stressful?”

Maybe you are a school leader who has an on-going self-care practice such as running, yoga, meditation, or taking walks outside the building mid-day throughout the year (my go-to). You may, however, be a leader who has let the stress of your current school learning model really spill over into other areas of your life. HelpGuide says,

“Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.”

HelpGuide’s Four “As” of Coping with Stress

Take a moment to dig deep and take the pulse on how much you’re letting stress change your everyday behaviors. HelpGuide uses people who are stressed at work practice four A’s of stress management: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.

#1 Avoid Stress. Avoiding stress could be as easy as saying “no” to extra responsibilities. In the case of a school leader, this could mean saying no tasks that can be completed by an administrative assistant such as screening/responding to select emails, batching emails, and only checking them a few times a day. Curating a library of email template responses is also a good idea we discussed in the Mastermind. Danny has suggested the tool: Text Expander, where you type 3 keys and it produces the text you often write (e.g. he uses the code “xblbsweb” to type quickly the url for this website https://betterleadersbetterschools.com). You can even create codes for an entire email message (just like you can in Gmail’s “snippets” feature).

#2 Alter Stress. Altering the environment is about creating a balanced schedule. Many recent books have been written on the need for educators to take time for themselves, such as Jessica Cabeen, Jessica Johnson and Sarah Johnson’s Balance Like a Pirate and the Twitter handle #BalanceLAP. 

#3 Adapt to Stress. Adapting can consist of being grateful. Keeping a gratitude journal is a beneficial way to focus on the positive amidst negative and challenging time. Also, by looking at the big picture and asking yourself if what you accomplish (or don’t accomplish) on a given day will really matter in 5 years, you will become less stressed over the “need to” complete mundane daily tasks.   

According to the CDC, here are some common work related stress factors to be aware of during the pandemic:

  • Knowing the concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
  • Taking care of personal and family needs while working
  • Managing a different workload
  • Lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform your job
  • Feelings that you are not contributing enough to work or guilt about not being on the frontline
  • Uncertainty about the future of your workplace and/or employment
  • Learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties
  • Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule

#4 Accept the Stress. When we think of accepting the stress and our current situation, try thinking of (and perhaps reciting) the serenity prayer: “God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.  There have been so many decisions made at the district, state and federal level that we may or may not agree with this year. The best thing we can do as leaders as we face these challenges is to not try to control what we can’t control. A way to invite positivity into the situation is to use adversity as a way to hone your own personal growth. 

In closing, consider this quote: “If constantly under stress, most of us will eventually start to function less well,” says Malaika Stoll, M.D., chief medical officer of SutterSelect. How can you change your habits that have been stressful in order to function at your best in your leadership capacity?


About the Author

Dana Goodier is a veteran teacher and middle school administrator with over 18 years of experience. She also is the host of the education podcast, Out of the Trenches. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram


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