As I look back on the many “starts” to the school year I’ve experienced, a deep sense of knowing settles in my bones. There are all the fun familiars: the excitement of welcoming back staff, the crafting of a vision or theme for the year, and the slow trickle of the school community back to campus. There is also the mad dash to finish the master schedule, plan orientation, prepare for Back to School Night, and all the little things that can keep an administrator from visioning the future and long-term planning.
Since stepping away from my tenure as principal, I’ve maintained a deep empathy for my administrator colleagues now facing new challenges re-opening their schools during a pandemic. The work of a site administrator has become a herculean, all-consuming effort. There are new systems that need to be put in place, careful safety considerations to make, looming facility issues of aging buildings, teacher and substitute shortages, and much more.
As an administrator, too often I began with big dreams and ended up limping to the finish line. But this memory also recalls a much brighter one: back when I was running marathons, I would get to a place, usually around mile 20, where I felt I couldn’t keep going. I would tell myself, FORWARD IS A PACE—and with each step I would feel myself moving forward, knowing I was getting closer to the finish line.
What if we held onto that mantra this year as we open schools? What if we were able to see our progress as forward movement, even when it doesn’t quite match our vision and timeline? Administrators see their goals and know what they want to achieve, but sometimes school life gets in the way. It is at that point that it becomes all the more important to see all forward movement as a victory, no matter how small the movement may be.
Being an administrator can be lonely. We are no longer one among the ranks; we are the leaders, the ones who are supposed to have the answers. And often we don’t know where to turn to ask for advice or seek partnership on an idea. I know firsthand that it can be easy to fall into negative self-talk or comparison, but just as we bestow compassion on our staff and students, we need also to show compassion and care for ourselves.
And so, I remind you: FORWARD IS A PACE.
Each decision we make is forward movement. Every new system designed is forward movement. Each tough conversation is forward movement.
Self-care is not always the bubble bath we may envision. Sometimes it’s a mantra that reminds us to honor ourselves and our accomplishments, and sometimes it’s the completion of a difficult task that moves us one small step forward. Whatever your next step may be, remember:
FORWARD IS A PACE.