by Julie E. Kenney
I have found myself to be in the mud in May. The days are long and the nights are short. It is so hard to get out of bed and make myself trudge into school each day when it’s cold and rainy one day and bright and sunny the next. Have any of you ever felt this way? When I first started out, I never realized being a principal could be such hard work!
Every day, the needs of my staff, the teachers, the parents, district office, and the students seem to pile up. Testing concerns, IEP regulations, professional development improvements, and brainstorming sessions about how to make things better are never ending. Sometimes, I just want to get back to the basics of education! Can I even remember what they are? As a systemic unit of professionals, a building working towards a unitive climate, or even just me striving towards peace, how can we find our joy in the midst of all these stressors?
Speaking solely for myself, for me, I first have to force myself to stop. Stop what I’m doing and just breathe. I close my eyes and picture my happy place: My tan toes digging into the sun-warmed, white sands of Fort Walton Beach, Florida while the crystal-clear, aqua waters of the Gulf of Mexico lap at the shore lines. That image sends a feeling of peaceful zen through my core to my very soul.
This is the message (FIND YOUR JOY) that I share with my staff when the ditch of February falls upon us and their long, sad faces line up at my office door for miles at a time, each asking the unending question, “Do you have a minute?” And I answer, “Yes, of course.” I answer this way because mathematically, in an eight-hour day one-minute (which is actually 5-10 minutes each) times 55 teachers plus another 20 support staff plus various parents, OTES observations, IEP meetings, emails, lunch duties, etc. all equals more than the 480 minutes that a regular work day can hold… “Of course I have time for you!”
I quickly stifle those thoughts and be in the moment for whomever is at my desk. This is because they need me and that is the WHY behind my reason for doing what I do. Which reminds me of the real JOY in my work…
His name was Jordan and his little five-year old body was so full of energy that he couldn’t help but bounce down the hallway even when he was instructed to walk 100 times. His tiny hands would graze the rough block walls seeking that sensory stimulation any way he could get it. During his first year in kindergarten, little Jordan spent more time in my office trying to calm down than he did in his classroom learning his ABC’s.
One day must’ve been especially rough for Jordan. I was walking down the hall and he came running up to me. “Ms. Kenney” he said, his little voice loud yet quivering at the same time. I kneeled down on one knee to better comfort him. He put his dirty little kindergarten hands on either side of my face and said, “Ms. Kenney, I need you!”
Friends, that is my joy! When that little boy walked across the kindergarten graduation stage we hugged and had our celebration picture taken. And five years later when he successfully completed fifth grade, I was there to applaud his personal victory again. His picture still hangs in my office today because he is a shining example of WHY I do what I do and how I manage to get up day after day– even when it’s hard– even when I don’t want to– even in the mud of May, as I like to call it.
That is my suggestion to each of you and to all educators out there. Find your joy. Hold it safe. Don’t lose your joy. In the end, it is our joy that will keep us going. Our joy will be the fuel for our fire. And that fire will sustain us for the long haul ahead.