Student Well-Being Opinion

How Education Leaders Can Rejuvenate Themselves

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — October 30, 2016 4 min read
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Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt, crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can,
tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely,
with too high a spirit to be cumbered
with your old nonsense.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Did you ever take a ride in the country, maybe to go to a vacation spot, or a house in the country and notice the cows in the pasture and feel the energy that raises our adrenaline dissipate? Countryside and nature and oceans are surely venues in which that can happen. After working for several years in the education environment, it is quite easy to assume that the way things are and the way one feels is the way it has to be.

The world in which the leader is encapsulated limits thoughts and possibilities. Yet, the world must expand in order for growth and change to unfold. “The spiritual journey that leaders must take, and inspire others to take, begins with ourselves but not necessarily by ourselves” (Bolman & Deal p. 63). There is a popular acceptance that human wellness relates to health and balance of mind, body and spirit. For leaders, the time and space to create such balance is imperative. Without this, over the long haul, the price to pay for imbalance will be costly.

It is easy to talk about diet and exercise. Gym memberships are even part of some contracts as are annual physicals. But the attention to health of mind and spirit are less comfortable for conversation and are often left to the personal life. Few professional development offerings deal with these elements and even fewer are paid for by district funds. However, the success of a leader, truly, depends on the health of all three. So here we speak of the more difficult two.

The health and balance journey begins within each of us. It begins as a choice and a commitment. Like diet and exercise, health of mind and spirit depends on a daily or weekly practice, not a urgent response in the moment of crisis. That picture you conjured up when reading the first paragraph has feelings associated with it and often peace of mind. When we say mind, we don’t mean intellect, we don’t mean all that you know or all that takes up mental space. We mean awareness, the cessation of thought flooding that makes stress fall away and allows for clarity to come. Some of us find this in nature and others when we sit silently in prayer. Still others of us follow a practice of mediation or mindfulness. Those who do have these practices know that stress melts and those gnawing things calling for attention dissipate.

For some, these practices seeking this mental calm are solitary but, for most, a companion or guide helps. This external support can be found in a circle of friends, a spouse or partner, a close colleague, or a religious practice. It can be found in a coach or a spiritual guide or a faith community. But, despite our confidence and competence and our need for privacy and confidentiality, sometimes an “other” is important. Without giving ourselves the permission to seek an “other”, it is possible to be imprisoned within one’s own storyline without finding a pathway out. So many voices cloud our heads, it may be difficult to hear the truest one. The ears and questions of another person can help us hear ourselves.

Spirit or Soul
Talking about spirit is not frequently part of the public leader’s conversation. In fact, we tend to actually avoid it unless it relates to a school team and its spirit. But, for us, it is difficult to imagine thinking about healthy human beings without acknowledging the soul. Some may find soul spaces of comfort, guidance, and renewal from religious practices, being affiliated with churches, temples and mosques. Many leaders are taught or mentored ot leave these inner workings outside the office door. But, for healthy leaders that cannot happen. Such a split is, itself, unhealthy. It undermines our clarity and our actions in many subversive ways.

The twenty-first-century milieu puts many obstacles in the way of this kind of journey to our spiritual center. Our pragmatic orientation places a premium on technical logic. Our tendency to specialize and compartmentalize leads us to dichotomize work and play, male and female, career and family, thinking and feeling, reason and spirit. We relegate spirituality to churches, temples, and mosques - for those who still attend them. We shun it at work. To change this way of thinking is far from easy, but more and more people are recognizing the costs of this separation (Bolman & Deal.p. 43).

To ignore these parts of ourselves is to cut off two essential sources of rejuvenation. If leaders aspire to motivate and inspire others then they must take their own journey. They must be as healthy in all ways as they can be. Without a centered, recharged, clear, and thoughtful leader who has attended to mind and spirit as a habit for life, the likelihood of wearing down and emptying a leader to a point of burn-out is likely. No organization can be healthy for long if its leader is not a healthy human being. It is foolish to let that happen because of a discomfort or dis-ease with the topic.

Four questions may help you begin this journey or allow you to do a checkup:

  • Where do I find the center of my calmness: mind, body, or spirit?
  • If I listen carefully, do I have work that I need to begin or continue in one of these areas?
  • What hesitations or fears may be preventing me from taking these steps?
  • Who are the others who might offer help or companionship on my wellness journey?

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (1995). Leading with soul: An uncommon journey of spirit. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Photograph courtesy of Pixabay

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