Fall is my favorite season. Decorating the house for Halloween, curling up with a book in comfy clothes, and burning Yankee Candles bring me joy. I love October. But in schools across our district, October is a busy month.
I was walking the hallways of our school late one afternoon, returning to my office from a meeting. As I passed a classroom, I heard a teacher crying. Our conversation was long, and she shared all of the stress she was feeling: papers to grade, lesson plans to write, conferences to prepare. She felt overwhelmed, and she was sure that everybody was feeling like this was the most stressful year they’d ever had.
Someday I will write a whole blog on the dangers of indefinite pronouns (like “everybody”) and superlatives (like “most stressful”), but for now, I’ll concede that after some probing, we agreed that people were feeling swamped.
As our admin team processed how we might support the teacher (and the rest of the staff), we decided to make our weekly grade level meeting about fun. We crafted a fantastically motivating letter reassuring the staff that things would get better, and we shared positive quotes about the impact they were having on students. It was good stuff.
We did a “save as”, called it The October Letter, and then discovered that we, in fact, had created an October Letter the year before. Seriously! There was a letter on our server with the same title and eerily similar content. Apparently we had forgotten that our school was feeling the same way exactly a year earlier.
When we reflected on the school year, it made total sense. We had been working for almost 12 weeks with only one day of vacation. We had kicked off a new year, gone through an entire grading period, moved past the honeymoon phase and into the reality of our students’ many, many needs. People were worn out. And just when they were at their most tired, we asked them to be “on” for two nights of conferences and a day of professional development. It’s no wonder there were some tears.
School years have cycles. Every school is unique. In our school, October was the low. Once we became aware of it, we could plan for it rather than reacting to it. Effective leaders have emotional intelligence. They recognize that the social and emotional health of students and staff is as important as effective instruction.
Get good at looking ahead and assessing when things may be too much for staff. Plan systematically to roll things out over time.
Recognize the Signs
Pay attention to the climate in your building. Ask and listen, so you can address issues as they arise.
There is a time to push and a time to sit back. Effective leaders recognize each of those times.
October is a gift. Enjoy it! The sunsets are glorious, and the weather is still nice enough to go for walks to enjoy them.
And if your school year cycle means you’re feeling some stress, take notice. Get yourself back into balance by inserting fun where you can. Look around, who needs a zip-lock bag of candy corn? We can each chose to lead from our seat on the bus.