The Second-Half Sprint
APs can revisit their whys to defeat the midyear doldrums.
Even in the best of times, it’s a grind for assistant principals to keep elementary school students, teachers, and especially themselves motivated during the second semester of the year. Add the pandemic’s ever-changing safety protocols, staffing challenges, and shifting public perceptions, and stress levels go up exponentially.
Assistant principals offered several strategies they employ to maintain their enthusiasm and productivity during the second half of the year:
- Find peer support. Two mornings each week, Equetta Jones, assistant principal at H.O. Brittingham Elementary School in Milton, Delaware, holds a virtual meeting with other APs in a group called AP Rising Conversations & Conventions. “It’s priceless, because we have someone who understands what we are going through. We laugh, we cry, and then we get on with our business.”
- Practice self-care. Many APs get so wrapped up in supporting teachers and principals that they forget to take a few minutes to pursue the habits that can also work to keep themselves happy and effective. That may mean turning the computer off when the bell rings, exercising, eating right, or taking time out for a nature hike or massage—whatever helps turn the switch to “off” and unwind.
“If you are in a situation in which you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t keep doing this,’ it’s time for you to step back and prioritize.”—Zachary Korth, assistant principal, Jose de Diego Community Academy, Chicago
Jones recommends setting aside time in the evening to unplug so the job can’t become 24/7. “You have to take time to get away and stop checking email constantly,” she says. “Whatever it is will be there tomorrow. You have to have a life outside of school. If you can’t be the best you, then you aren’t going to be a benefit to the people you are serving in the school building.”
- Don’t take frustrations personally. Zachary Korth, assistant principal of Jose de Diego Community Academy in Chicago, saw frustrations build when city schools closed for five days in January. But he stayed upbeat: “Don’t take things personally,” he says. “Nine out of 10 times, parents just want to be heard. Look for the bright spots—go see the kids and teachers in action. Those are the moments that are going to make your day.”
- Connect with the kids. If the job starts to be a grind, commit to visiting classrooms and revisiting your ultimate purpose, says Jenna Larrenaga, assistant principal of C.T. Douglas School in Acton, Massachusetts. “Relationships with children are the core of teaching and learning,” she says. “The energy from the students and teachers is refreshing, motivating, and joyful.”
- Deputize students. Jones delegates certain tasks to students, simultaneously lightening her burden and expanding her impact on the school’s culture. A “Kindness Crew” of fourth graders helps her organize celebratory raffles and events to enhance teacher morale. Another group of students reaches out to fellow students who are going through a tough time, running social-emotional triage before any problems can fester.
- Lead from a place of strength. For better or worse, sometimes the AP’s “why” is to keep everything together. “I try to be the best cheerleader I can be, even when I feel down,” Jones says. “Our building is only as strong as we are. My staff needs to know they are supported. If you’re the leader and you are showing that you’re nervous or upset, people will think you are giving up.”
- Delegate responsibilities. “If you are in a situation in which you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t keep doing this,’ it’s time for you to step back and prioritize,” Korth says. “Look at all of the things you’re doing and see how you can distribute that among your other staff members. How can we equally share all of the responsibilities? Learn the strengths of your staff, then trust they will get the work done.”
Cristina Rouvalis is a Pittsburgh-based freelancer whose work has appeared in PARADE, Inc., Hemispheres, Smithsonian.com, and other national publications.
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