Finding Balance

So last week during a conversation with a respected mentor of mine, the topic of balance came up………. and it got me thinking. To be honest, I have persona

lly struggled with this for a few years now, and it’s something that I’m just now starting to figure out. Balancing work, family, and all the other aspects of an educator’s life is one of the most difficult challenges that we all face, and I’d like to share a quick story with you (which I’ve embellished a little for effect) to try and help illustrate my point.  I shared this as a “pearl” at a PTC course in Miami last summer, and I think it might be pertinent for our environment since we’ve all been working so hard of late.

At the beginning of last year, my first grade son received an assignment from his teacher. Essentially, he had to take home a sheet of A3 paper and a box of crayons, and draw how he saw his father. He was to include all of my hobbies, my passions, what I did with my spare time, and all the rest…..and when I heard of this assignment I was super excited. The first thing that I thought was, “how could he possibly put everything that encapsulated me on to one small sheet of A3 paper?” but regardless, I was looking forward to the end result. It was an assignment that was to be done in class, so everyday for a week I rushed home to see if the finished product was in his school bag. Finally, after five agonizing days of waiting, I arrived home to see him holding the finished masterpiece in his little hands. I told him to sit down on the couch and wait for me while I poured a big drink (since I knew it would take a long time to go through all the amazing things that he had drawn), and then we’d go through the assignment together. Well, we sat down, he handed me the paper, and I opened it up with frenzied anticipation. There on the paper, much to my shock and surprise, was a simple black stick man holding a yellow computer………and I nearly collapsed to the floor.

It was as though he had hit me across the jaw with a sledge hammer, and I honestly didn’t really know what to think. After I put him to bed that night, I went into the spare room for a few hours and sulked. It finally occurred to me that in my attempt to become the world’s greatest Middle School principal, I had lost myself (and all that was important to me) along the way. I was going in to work every morning at six, and not coming home until after five…….. I had become addicted to my iPhone, and checked for messages every chance I got………I wasn’t exercising hardly at all and I hit the 200 pound mark for the first time in my life……..I was having a large drink every night at dinner because I had convinced myself that I deserved it after such a long, hard day at work………and I was giving more time to the kids at my school then I was to my own. I finally realized that I had no balance at all in my life, and that I was losing all the best parts of who I was….the parts that got me to my current position in the first place!

That night I set my alarm for four in the morning, and I got up and went for a run……….and I’ve barely missed a day in the last eight months. I made a pact with myself that night that my family, as well as my physical and mental health would be my top priorities from now on, and I haven’t looked back. It feels good to have lost the twenty pounds, and it feels good to be present for my family again…..but here’s the thing……by finding balance in my life, I’ve actually become a better Principal! I have more energy, I smile more often, I deal with frustration better, and I’m more able to practice what I preach with my faculty and students. There’s a great quote (told to me by an incredibly wise mentor of mine named Al Adams) that I use quite often, which states, “if you’re solely committed to an institution…..you should be”. Listen, I know that I haven’t found my perfect work-life balance yet, and I realize that I still check my iPhone way, way too much for messages…….. but I’m getting there……..and I KNOW that I’m doing better because I got my son to re-do the assignment at the beginning of this year, and the result was markedly different. This time on the paper there was a man smiling, there was a basketball, and an eagle, and a guitar, and a rainbow, and lots of other things that I love in my life……..and instead of the man holding a yellow computer, he was holding Roald Dahl’s, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is our favorite author to read every night before bed.

We all work hard to be the best educators that we can be, and sometimes we feel guilty for taking time for ourselves…….I get it. Don’t lose yourself in the process everyone, and be sure to put yourself first. It’s my feeling that without the proper balance in your life, you’ll never be the educator that your students really need. We still have five weeks to go until the Holiday break, so take care of yourselves! You’ll be all the better for it, and your students will feed off of your new found energy. Have a great week everyone, and remember to be balanced for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……….
Work, love, and play are the great balance wheels of man’s being.
- Orison Swett Marden

Article #1
http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/2011/dec/07/teachers-work-life-balance
Article #2 – Small Steps to Bringing Your Life into Balance Small Steps to Bringing Your Life into Balance
Article #3 – 10 Simple Ways to Find Balance  10 Simple Ways to Find Balance and Get Your Life Back

Great Book on Teacher Balance
http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/111004.aspx

TED Talk on Balance – Nigel Marsh
http://www.ted.com/talks/nigel_marsh_how_to_make_work_life_balance_work.html

3 comments for “Finding Balance

  1. November 24, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Thanks for the reminder, Dan. I needed that.

    I started singing Cats in the Cradle to my daughter every night when she was a newborn. It’s my own way to remind myself that I need to give more to her than I do.

    Doesn’t always work — the bills still need to be paid — but it’s a start.

    Bill Ferriter

    • November 25, 2012 at 11:16 pm

      Thanks for the reply Bill……I hear you. A constant struggle for sure but my kids are keeping me grounded. I actually sing Helplessly Hoping by CSNY every night to my kids as a reminder just like you do. By the way, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts over the years…..it’s nice to finally connect. Dan :)

  2. Matt Wight
    November 26, 2012 at 3:03 am

    Dan, Thanks for the article. I am a high school principal (and Bill Ferriter’s former ms principal), and I constantly battle to find the balance. The sudden death of a good friend and education associate a couple of years ago really got my attention- I started taking better care of myself and spending time with the fam. Fortunately, my wife has begun to understand the cyclical nature of the job- there are just some times that are worse than others-

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