I have found that being a new administrator comes with some growing pains. I have not handled every situation perfectly, in most cases the errors have been ones that experience was called for, and my lack of it led to my mistake. I have had hiccups from poor strategy, bumps from poor planning and miscues from lack of organization. I have also made the odd assumption that led to me… well… you know what they say about assuming. All of the problems I have had have been fairly minor, and I continue to make changes to alleviate them and ensure they don’t happen again. But with mistakes come frustration.

This frustration I deal with is compounded by a lack of usable time and personal time, poor decisions made by our students, and other situations that I have to deal with where the cause has been outside of my control. These issues pile up, and if I had to quantify it, I would say I have been averaging 10-15 difficulties every school day. These drain me of energy, sap my enthusiasm and cause me stress.

So how do we cope with these tough moments and interactions to ensure that we continue to see the value in our work and the importance of what we do? For me it all comes back to another talk I had with my mentor from my time in Behavior Education (I am going to have to write a blog post about him, once I get his permission). He opened my eyes to this idea and gave me the tools to continue working in a difficult school with challenging kids and where I learned so much that changed my life. He taught me about Balance.

Now this isn’t the kind of balance where the math makes any sense. 2 + 2 does not equal 4 in this scenario. With my new position many of my days, the difficulties have outweighed the successes by a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio. This old boss of mine opened my eyes to creating a balance for myself when it comes to what I spend my time focusing and reflecting on. He told me that I needed to focus on the little successes, no matter how small, because to focus on the struggles only does us harm, and takes away that spirit and vitality our students are looking for every day they walk into our rooms. We were in a situation where there was a good chance less students would succeed in our program than would fail. He told me that besides being reasonable with my own expectations for myself and my students, I also had to try and celebrate the little victories that came from each day. I listened, and then I tried, and soon I found myself taking pleasure in a simple act of kindness from one of my kids. I was filled with hope by a smile or laugh, energized by brief but productive class discussions, and inspired by any moment that I was lucky enough to really connect with one of these interesting young people. After that first year, I started to develop that balance, and often found my days were far better than I would have thought before. I didn’t focus on the wrong things that would have blinded me to the great moments. Some days were harder than others to not dwell on the challenges. Some days were tough and we witnessed great turmoil and horrible moments that young people were forced to endure, but we were strengthened by our resolve built by focusing on all the good work that we had done.

So now as I start this new job, it is this balance that keeps me coming back for more. I have connected with some students who really need a connection. I have worked to support teachers, so that they are able to do those amazing things they do (also a blog post that needs to be written). And I have learned. Learned so much I have been overwhelmed at times, but I have been provided with a challenge and opportunity to learn more than I have since I was a student myself. While these moments of success may be outnumbered by the difficult ones right now, I don’t let that deter me from seeing the brief but powerful moments where I feel like I am doing a good job.

So my advice, for those who find themselves soured by a tough day, is to try and find your balance. Your job carries great power, but is not an easy one. If you had some difficult moments, be sure to leave them at the door and only put in your pack those moments of connection, of growth and of joy. Share them with your colleagues, your partner or your friends, let them grow through reflection and collaboration. Let those moments be the celebration of a job well done, and a life well lived.

5 thoughts on “Balance

  1. Great post, and one that has a special meaning to me. I like to find the little successes each day, but, as you mentioned, they are often overshadowed by the difficulties. So I have an idea of how to keep these in the forefront of my thinking. I’m going to start a list, beginning tonight, of one success that I witnessed or was a part of, and make sure that I read the list every day, both at the start of the day and at the end of the day, so that I keep my focus on the success of the kids. Sharing them with others would be a definite bonus.

    • Wow. Seriously, that is a great idea. I have had trouble reminding myself of all the great moments. By writing it, we attend to it, and we fortify its impact on ourselves. By reading it, we will celebrate it and re-experience the way it made us feel. Thanks Jay, I think I will start my own list, what a great blog post that list will make one day!

  2. Your story resonates with me (and probably every administrator) because we live it each day! It may get a little smoother each year, but it rarely gets easier. Similar to Jay, I keep a folder called “The Good” in my filing cabinet (and the similarly-named Outlook folder on my computer) where I stash notes from teachers, drawings from students, and communications from parents that brighten my day. When I feel stressed, I love reading back through these mementos to realize just how much of a difference I make each day. Another surefire way to de-stress is to spend time with kids. Don’t let anything short of an emergency interrupt your time with them. Read to a kindergartner, facilitate a learning center with a primary student, and head to recess with the intermediate students. Believe me, they want to know how far you can kick a kickball or throw a football. 🙂 Keep reflecting on the great work you’re doing!

  3. You know Jesse, I almost think that every teacher should do a stint in Special Education. It seems to have an effect on people. I am completely willing to “let it go” now that I have spent three years with my intensive therapy behaviour class! It has completely revolutionized and revitalized my teaching.
    One technique that has been extra good for me (and I believe has helped the kids) is what I call the callback. When we have an issue, in particular an aggression issue, it is dealt with promptly. About an hour later, after life has moved on and when the moment is appropriate, I do a callback. I casually sit near the student who displayed the aggressive behaviour, and start chatting. Our chats are about everyday normal stuff…not the negative behaviour. This makes the kid more childlike to me and, I believe, me more human to the child. I have learned some cool stuff this way, and it has helped me march on!!!

  4. Jesse,
    I used the same technique to help me realize I had a relatively successful week. Of course, I had many small fires to put out each and every day. Instead of looking at the fires as negative interactions, I decided to see them as many situations that turned out OK. When you have a K&E class or a special ed class, the situations that turned out OK are very significant. I built on that for a few days and finished up the week drained and worn out, yet proud of myself and my students. It is so easy to get caught up in all of the negativity, especially from other staff members. If I stray to that path I see a short teaching career ahead. For my first two weeks with my K&E class, I wasn’t sure how I would survive the year because I got overwhelmed by focusing on the negative points of my day.

    I too think back to a special educator who talked to my class at university. His main advice when working with our types of students was summed up with “pencils and ketchup.” If we spend our time worrying about the insignificant things, like bringing a pencil to class, we are missing the big picture. I’m sorry I can’t remember his analogy with the ketchup, but it was along the same lines. The small successes add up to a great year that our students will remember.

    Finally, as I ramble on, I truly believe blogs and PLNs are becoming our new “reflective journals”. I find reading blogs and posting replies very theraputic on a Sunday night before tackling another challenging week at school. Have a great week.

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