There’s something about this time of year that makes life a little more stressful in high schools. Maybe it’s the end of the year approaching and the rush to have students meet deadlines and demonstrate learning. Maybe it’s the growing pile of marking, the approaching provincial exams and the extra support needed to help struggling learners achieve. Maybe it’s the positive stress that comes with a busy schedule of milestone events: school leaving ceremonies, awards nights, graduation dinners, after grad parties, scholarship offers and college / university acceptance letters. Maybe it’s the change that comes each spring with layoffs, retirements, budget cuts, re-deployments and opportunities to post on new jobs. Maybe it’s the rising temperature, lack of air conditioning or the increasing desire to be outside rather than in a classroom. Maybe it’s the current job action and stress placed upon teachers, support workers, administrators and trustees. Regardless of the cause, May is definitely the time of year when stress levels seem to rise in schools.
As a counsellor and administrator, it’s easy to be a ‘solution person’, trying to find ways to help others endure. What’s not so easy is to take time to manage our own stress levels. It’s easy to see that “everyone else is stressed” but harder to stop and think – “hmmm… I’m a little bit stressed and need to take care of that first.”
Last fall I offered a workshop to Education Assistants on Happiness at Work, teaching strategies from the science of happiness. I went through the latest research findings and led the participants through activities that improve happiness levels: healthy living, exercise, reflection, setting goals, finding gratitude, solitude or meditation, random acts of kindness and focusing on strengths rather than problems. The workshop was well received, and I believe we all had a good time practicing habits of happiness. However, one of the questions from the audience stuck with me. One lady raised her hand and asked, “You seem quite happy – do you actually use these strategies?”. Almost a year later, this question sticks with me. I recognize that I am much better at practicing the habits of happiness when I am less stressed. For example, during spring break, it was easy to reflect and blog, to exercise, sleep well, show gratitude, take time for myself, etc.
Driving home today, I realized that the more stress I feel, the more necessary these strategies are. On days like to day, or perhaps in May, when it feels like there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done, my natural tendency is to work longer, bring more work home, sleep less, wish I had more time, wake up and repeat the process. As I drove home I thought about how stressed out other people seem. Apparently it was an ‘everyone else’ problem. It was after I fed my kids McDonalds and stole half their fries that I realized it might – just maybe – be me that is a bit more stressed than usual. If I am not managing my own stress in a healthy way, why would I expect others to do so?
So – tonight – next year’s timetable and the unanswered emails can wait. The extra Starbucks I crave is replaced with a glass of water. I’m taking time to blog (which always helps clear my head), and I just got back from a quick run with my 9 year old and our 100 pound goofy dog. As I fall asleep, I will intentionally take note of what was great about today.
To all my colleagues in education, may we find ways to celebrate the positives that exist despite rising stresses in education. Remember to take care of yourself first, so that we can take care of others.