“Be like the bird who, pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing she hath wings” writes celebrated french author Victor Hugo in his six-part poem, “Songs of Dusk” from 1836. This beautifully written poem in long form alludes to two travelers ducking away from the hustle and bustle of the busy life and loudness in the town to the inner sanctuary and calmness they find inside a local church. Are we, as administrators often experiencing the busy movement and hurried activity of our daily lives inside our schools, like Hugo’s travelers going from place to place, task to task, problem-solving episode to the next, just hoping for our chance to pause in our flight and duck inside a calm moment and catch our breath? Then, knowing the perfect bubble of peace is about to pop, we rise off our branches like the illustrious bird, having gained that moment of reprieve and fly off to our next mission of the moment?
I propose for all educators and especially administrators to carve out a small piece of your day, shut the door of your office, and reflect upon your day in the form of a journal. Write about what happened to you during the day, or stumbling blocks that you came across that gave you moments of pause, or things that made you angry and you need to sort out, or something that a student did that made you happy and forced a smile out of your busy face. Even if you just make a list of the things that you still need to get done for the week, this practice will stop and recenter you for the day.
If you struggle with ideas of what to write about in order to get yourself started, ask yourself questions like, what was the best part of my day today? What is an area I would like to see improved for tomorrow? If I could change one thing about my day what would it be? What is something that someone said that gave me pause today? Another tactic you may choose is to look up a quote of the day or an educational hot topic and journal about that.
The main point is to write down your thoughts and feelings and to do it on a regular basis. Psychologist and researcher, James Pennebaker urges us to consider his findings that the practice of journaling strengthens our immune systems, helping us come to terms with stressful events and thus fights off those stressors that impact our physical health. Other research suggests that journaling regularly can reduce the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis (www.psychcentral.com, 10/12/19). Furthermore, the act of writing engages your left brain which is in charge of all things analytical and rational. While journaling, your left brain is busy which frees up your right brain to create, feel, and perceive and conclude the days events. This allows you to make sense of the happenings of your school day, the people you engaged with, and how you want to improve your school life overall.
When I think about journaling, I liken it to some best practices I know teachers and principals already use in their classrooms. When teachers read aloud to their class, one idea is for them to have written on post-its small reminders of what they want to talk to their students about as events happen in the story or as characters bring certain points along. Teachers use these notes as a guide to remember the important points. Another practice that is similar is the idea of “stop and jots.” This is when the reader takes a note card or a post-it and writes notes to themselves about a vocabulary word, interesting events, or tidbits about the book they are reading and leaves that note in the page where they had the thought. In science lessons I have seen students use connecting journals to compare and contrast concepts they learn in science to things in their everyday world around them. Lastly, when I see a really great lesson, or learning moment in a classroom I leave a personal note to that teacher or class for them to read later so I remember it and so they know I noticed magic happening. You see, writing is at the heart of what we do all across the school, why not take a moment and extend it into our own well-being in order to elevate ourselves and our professional practices?
I know what you’re thinking, who has time for one more thing? However, the truth of the matter is we all need a way to manage our stress and to find a way to live our best lives– inside and outside of our school buildings. A few minutes of journaling a day will help you find the pathway to living your best life and lowering your stress. So many times in my career I have thought, “OH man! That one is going in the book!” I’m sure we all have those moments when something happens, someone says something that is unbelievably funny, or makes us shake our heads in disbelief.
My favorite journaling moment from last year is this: two second grade boys were brought to the office for fighting in the classroom. I mean, this was full-on, punches thrown, and down on the ground fighting, early in the morning one day. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a first-offense for either boy and it resulted in an emergency removal for each student. When the second boy’s father showed up to take him home, the boy recounted his version of events, which included the fact that the other boy had started the incident by throwing donuts at him during the “breakfast in the classroom” time. The dad quickly asked, “Son, were you throwing donuts?!” This boy’s face went from solemn to aghast in a split second. “Oh no, Dad,” the boy said. “I don’t throw donuts, I EAT donuts!!” It was all I could do not to bust out laughing in the midst of this exchange because this boy seemed more upset about the thought of wasting a good donut than he was about the thought of his impending punishment from his dad about fighting. The moral of this story to me is that kids are still kids and they’re resilient in spite of the situations they may find themselves.
The type of journaling in the example above is slightly like the reporting style of journaling where the writer simply tells about the events without really reflecting. An opposite style of journaling is called review and refocus where the writer considers the situation and makes simple suggestions or a plan of action. A third type of journaling, called analyzing is when the writer interprets the events, figures them out, and tries to make sense of the situation, perhaps even evaluating it. Lastly, there is the reconceptualizing style of journaling when the writer reworks the views and ideas of an event, then states a philosophy or vision of education (Evans & Maloney, p. 31, 1998).
So think about it: you’ve had a long day, you’re tired, and slightly stressed from the emotional tug-of-war that comes from creating the right balance in an elementary school. The inevitable thought comes to your mind, “What more can I do?” My suggestion is this, stop and think, write it down, and let yourself relax and rise above in that moment. Like two friends sitting by a warm fire and snuggling over their simmering cups of steaming coffee, writing in a personal journal to reflect upon the days events and emotions is the perfect way to elevate yourself, your colleagues, and your administrative practices.
Evans, G.C. & Maloney, C. (1998). An Analysis Framework for Reflective Writing. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 23(1). p. 29-39.