For school leaders, life is always hectic at this time of year. We must ensure that loose ends are tied up before the end of the first semester. We’re finishing walk-throughs and mid-year observations for staff, overseeing school programs and sporting events, attending meetings, sending emails—and this doesn’t include any of the home obligations we have during the holiday season.
How, in the midst of all the chaos, do we actually create the much-needed mental reset to be ready to tackle the new year?
As we come to the end of the first semester, I encourage you to spend time in reflection. Maybe that means accessing memories from holidays past or some other happy moment in your mind. It could be a reflection on some aspect of your life or a reminder of your goals for the year. Whatever it looks like for you, taking time to reflect and reset at the mid-year point is crucial. Here are some suggestions.
List your accomplishments—professional and personal.
As I write this article (a noteworthy professional accomplishment), I’m reflecting on a personal achievement: I have completed 127 weightlifting sessions in a gym. Prior to June, I had not lifted really ever. I am proud of this accomplishment.
What comes to mind for you?
Create a list of your accomplishments for the year—in life and work. At first, this may seem arrogant, but too often in life we only focus on the negatives: what needs fixing, what isn’t working, what didn’t we do that we should have. We constantly live in negative self-talk. Force yourself to create a list of all the major accomplishments from this year. Reflect on the success. Bask in the glory of a job well done—especially in such a challenging year.
Bump it up: Like this idea? For 2022, create an “I did it!” journal. Write down an accomplishment at the end of every day. Be sure to include why it was an accomplishment. This ends your day on a positive note and creates a detailed journal of the day-to-day successes. When we wait to reflect on an accomplishment until the end of the week, month or year, we lose the fine details that made it successful.
Enjoy your guilty pleasure, guilt-free.
Give yourself permission to spend at least 10 minutes doing something that you enjoy. Perhaps it’s reading a magazine or listening to music. It could be going for a walk or doing yoga. You could enjoy baking but never find the time. Make time for yourself. If you don’t, who will? When it comes to “me time,” it’s okay to be a bit selfish.
Bump it up: We should not have to wait for holidays or vacations to do what we enjoy. Life is too short to wait to be happy. For the new year, plan your “me time” every week for at least 10 minutes. At the end of the 10 minutes, if you are enjoying yourself, give yourself permission to go longer. Plan weekly time for just you. It’s healthy. We all need it.
Do something nice for someone.
We reset our emotions when we do something unexpectedly nice for someone else. Whether it’s delivering cookies to a neighbor, spending time with residents in a nursing home, writing cards to your staff, shoveling snow from someone’s driveway (I’m in Indiana; this happens. Folks in warm climates may need to select another idea.) or volunteering at the animal shelter, the joy that comes from doing something for someone with no expectation of a return of services is a feeling like none other. Give it a try. You’ll feel more emotionally rested when you are finished.
Bump it up: This one’s super easy. Invite others to join you. When more people engage in the task, this builds camaraderie, increases enjoyment and makes an even bigger impact.
Commit to Friday reflections.
All of the previous suggestions can be done right now to reset your emotions for the year ahead. But let me offer you a way to engage in ongoing mental resets on a weekly basis to carry you through to next year. Friday reflections, as described in The Instructional Change Agent: 48 Ways to be the Leader Your School Needs, provide a prompt for each Friday—an opportunity to reflect on the past week and make plans for the next one. Engaging in Friday reflection offers closure to the current week and allows you to enjoy the weekend ahead, as opposed to perseverating over all the things that might happen.
Here’s a list of questions to reflect on each week:
- What went well this week? Why did it go well?
- What did not go well this week? Why did it not go well?
- Which activity consumed the most time this week? How did this better the school?
- What are your three goals for next week? How will you achieve these goals?
- What do you identify as a major obstacle for next week? How will you manage the expectations for this task?
Bump it up: I recommend using a Google form to set up this ongoing reflection. This way, you can quickly input your responses to the set of questions. But more importantly, you can download the historical data to look at the accomplishments you have achieved and identify trends that might be helpful in preventing future challenges.
A mid-year mental reset is very much an individual experience. What works for you may not work for your spouse, neighbor or friend. Hopefully, the above suggestions offer an opportunity to spend time in reflection in the way that is most meaningful for you. Researcher John Hattie shares that reflection is a high-yield strategy to improve student performance. It only makes sense that this would be helpful for us, too.
As I reflect on a happy moment from the past, I’m transported to a time when I am 11 years old. It’s 6:00 am on Christmas morning. The tree is lit up, surrounded by presents. I can see my three younger brothers barreling down the stairs ready to open presents. The excitement in the house permeates, and the smell of breakfast casserole stays with me to this day.
Reflect on one of your favorite holiday memories. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? While you begin your mental reset for the year, I’m going to continue my journey down memory lane. Happy New Year!