A Principal’s COVID-19 Journey: From Intensity to Rejuvenation

Peachland, BC

In my career as an educator, my standards for myself have pushed me to do interesting and meaningful work that I am proud of.  My standards for myself have also pushed me to work with an intensity that is exhausting.  Each break time, the quest is to recalibrate, so I can set off on a path of balanced, joyful days.  Back to school after Spring Break in British Columbia was mostly via online and work packages due to COVID-19.  As a single administrator in the Vancouver School Board, I was required to be at my school every day with my operating engineer, and various people from the trades or the seismic team.  My very people-oriented job became focused predominately on the computer and the telephone trying to glean the necessary background information and to support people without the advantage of body language.  On June 1st, the return to school was part time and voluntary.  The goal to welcome students and staff to a joyful and safe environment was colossal.  The expectations for school leaders by others and by myself were all encompassing.  There was never enough time.  I finished the term completely spent.  Rejuvenation has been deliberate work.  My conclusions may not be profound, but they have been instrumental in bringing me back to my centre. 

  1.  A diversion to the inconsequential.

If I had a magic switch to turn off my brain, rest would be the first thing on the list.  However during times of high intensity, I am always on high alert.  I awake with a jolt to something that has not yet been accomplished on my list.  I turn things over in my mind, as sleeping hours dissolve into the light of early morning.  For me this involves focusing my attention on something other than expanding my perspective or background knowledge.  The mystery novel or the binge watch are perfect, inconsequential diversions.  A fast moving plot that keeps you up through the night is perfect.   Wrapping your mind around something with low stakes is ideal.  Solving the crime or completing several seasons is a grand satisfaction requiring minimal effort. 

  •  Spend time with people who affirm you.

Nothing is more therapeutic than spending time with people who value you and your efforts.  Just when I thought I might have to blow off book club because I was just too tired, I get the message:  “You are awesome in every way!  Thanks for being you and all this work you are doing to make education happen.”  Nothing like a good friend to identify when you need to be buoyed up.  Thanks, Kathryn.  Although it requires additional effort to make social connections when you’re exhausted, it nourishes the soul. It also usually involves activities you love.  Books.  Food.  Beautiful beverages. Golf.  Biking.  Kayaking.

  • Do something that requires a physical push.  

In our high stakes jobs, we spend a lot of time in our heads while experiencing the emotion and the physical “fight or flight” response. Give yourself the opportunity for a physical release whether it is jogging, biking, or hiking. For me a nice little walk on the seawall or a flat bike ride that takes little effort, does not provide the required release. After a week of swimming, biking the Kettle Valley Railway/ Trans-Canada Trail (Summerland to Penticton route), and biking up the hill from the Peachland beach, I have range of motion in my neck again. Those tight neck muscles still require more work but I’m getting there. I’m certainly missing Semperviva Yoga since it closed due to COVID-19.

Kettle Valley Railway Trail- Myra Canyon Station to Ruth Station
  • Get Outside and revel in nature. 

I am fortunate to live in Vancouver with a plethora of beauty whenever I walk outside.  In the midst of intensity, I get outside with a purpose.  I enjoy the beauty with my eyes but my mind is focused on the perfect video post for students, or on the audiobook, or the intensity of the workout I’m getting. During our recent trip to the Interior, I would make a perfect cappuccino in the morning and go sit on the deck and stare at Okanagan Lake or stop on the Kettle Valley Railway bike route to take in the view.  My husband and I spent a considerable amount of time feeding chipmunks blueberries.  A pause to appreciate the beauty of the moment and it’s contribution to our life.

Chipmunk School
  • Take control of your own narrative.

Perspective is everything.  My background experiences and my personality have hard-wired an ability to imagine the possibilities and the desire to take on challenges.  My ditch dare as a five year old may ended in ten stitches but it did not obliterate my quest to try.  The big reason I defended a thesis rather than writing a paper was because it terrified me.  My work with Amnesty International taught me that some fights are worth the effort because they have moral and ethical imperatives rather than an end point.  I have a solid reputation for making good decisions with the best interests of students at the centre.  We are all products or our experiences and priorities.

There is always another way to process information and there will always be someone with another perspective of who you are in the world and what else you could have done.  The danger is when that perspective demoralizes rather than facilitates positive growth.   Sol Kay, one of the parents at University Hill Elementary School, asked me to be part of her documentary project – Mirror – a personal development documentary series by Sol K. independent research.  I am so honoured to be included in Mirror:  Episode II – Being in the Moment that was recently released.  Her focus is on becoming more self aware.  Her conclusion is that the project is imperfectly perfect.  Isn’t that the case with all of us.  We get to be perfect at being ourselves, warts and all as my dear friend, Mrs. Patrick, would say.  It is empowering to be in control of our story and which direction we want it to take.  

  • Rest

Sleep is not my strong suit.  I like to rise early and get on with the day.  My mind starts humming late at night.  That works for me as long as I get some uninterrupted sleep in between.  That is a possibility now that I have attended to #1-5.  And when it’s not, there is a good book at hand and no real need to get up early in the morning.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered stress in so many people’s lives.  I have tremendous respect for both Bonnie Henry’s background knowledge about infectious disease and her wisdom and leadership in steering British Columbians through this pandemic.  The Be kind  Be calm  Be safe tagline has only grown in significance for me.   Being kind has never been more important in the face of the anxiety and safety around COVID-19 both to others and ourselves. 

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