Feeding the Body

Six superintendents detail their regimens for attending to their physical wellness

Does your exercise regimen consist of running from meeting to meeting? Does toting stacks of papers from office to home count as part of your weightlifting program? What exactly does a balanced diet mean to you? Extra milk in your coffee?

Amidst the hustle and bustle and stress and strain of their professional lives, public school leaders often put their own physical well-being at the bottom of the priority list. What they forget is how important physical health is to their overall health and effectiveness as leaders.

Leading schools and school systems in times of rising expectations requires that leaders attend to mind, body and spirit, according to Dennis Sparks, executive director of the National Staff Development Council. “From experience, I have learned that intellectual vitality, physical health and emotional well-being are closely linked. None can be ignored without putting the others at risk,” he says. “Physical stamina and emotional resilience are fed by rich personal and professional learning and the supportive relationships found in strong communities. Meaningful lifelong learning and strong connections to caring family, friends and colleagues are, I believe, bedrocks of the vibrant good health that sustains leaders in their critically important work.”

But when and how do executives find the time to tend to their physical wellness--the aspect of their lives that often takes a back seat to mental and emotional health? A study of senior executives by the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C., reveals that “executives who exercise regularly tell us it takes creativity and effort to make it a priority,” according to researcher Sharon McDowell-Larson. But many do succeed.

Their strategies for maintaining regular fitness programs in spite of extremely busy schedules include fitting in shorter but more frequent bouts of exercise, opting for stairs over elevators, staying at hotels with gym facilities, combining exercise with other activities such as conducting business on the cell phone while taking a long walk, and committing to physical fitness as a weekend, if not weekday, routine.

“Being healthy does not make or break you as a leader,” McDowell-Larson says, noting there are many examples of healthy ineffective leaders and unhealthy highly effective leaders. “However, exercise and fitness can certainly support and enhance the leadership process.”

Research does show that regular exercise and effective leadership go hand-in-hand.

What about education leaders? The School Administrator invited five veteran school system leaders to describe their regimens for attending to their own physical wellness. From running marathons to playing hockey to eating sensibly to making every movement count, they feed their physical fitness whenever they can and in doing so, they build not only muscles, but mental strength and a sense of self-confidence.

These district leaders know they can’t tend to others’ well-being if they haven’t tended to themselves first. As Superintendent Joseph Natale of Warwick, N.Y., says, “The better the mind and body function, the better you perform, and the better you perform, the better you feel.”

What follows are five district leaders’ secrets for feeding their bodies and keeping their leadership edge.

Exercise as Mind Stimulator


For more than 30 years, my whole approach to my life and career has been inextricably linked with practicing personal discipline and maintaining a balanced lifestyle. As a 56-year-old man, I enjoy excellent health. I take no medication and sleep well at nights. I am blessed with a wonderful family and I love my profession, even after 19 years as a superintendent. I truly enjoy going to work each day.

My commitment to a healthy lifestyle began back in the early 1970s as a teacher and coach, and it has evolved over the years. Within the past 10 years I realized the strong and powerful connection between care for mind, body and spirit.

Care for the mind involves increasing your mental energy. For me, a positive attitude fuels positive emotions, self-discipline, self-confidence and courage. Skillfully managing my attitude generates energy that creates and sustains my mental and emotional growth. Fortunately, I have been able to communicate that positive attitude, which I believe lies at the core of effective management.

Mental preparation and visualization are two mental techniques I have found to be effective in my work as a superintendent. Often times I visualize how a meeting will look, sound and feel. Employing both techniques provides me with the focus and strength to always work positively toward a desired outcome or solution.

Cognitive Stimulation

Because of the nature of our job, we do more with our minds than with our bodies. However, thinking requires a great deal of energy. The brain represents just 2 percent of the body’s weight but requires almost 25 percent of its oxygen. Exercise is not only good for the body, but it also stimulates the mind and spirit. Physical exercise fuels cognitive capacity. As a result, I have made physical exercise a lifestyle habit.

I begin each day with 30 minutes of stretching. I incorporate Pilates, an exercise regimen that uses special stretches and machines, and yoga exercises, emphasizing flexibility, balance and concentration. This is a great way to clear your mind and begin the day. Listening to soft music, not the morning news, provides relaxation and enhances concentration on the stretching.

Each month I receive a 60-minute structural integration treatment (known as Rolfing) that increases body alignment and flexibility while lessening the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis. Monday through Friday, I schedule 50 minutes of aerobic exercise at 5 p.m., which is a great time to unwind and recharge the batteries. If I am traveling or have a conflict, I schedule my workout at another time, but I always find the time for aerobic exercise. A good workout is especially important prior to a board of education meeting.

My aerobic exercise includes 30 minutes on either a Stair Master or elliptical machine. I was a runner for 35 years but have found the machines easier on the joints. The final 20 minutes of my cardiovascular exercise program always involve strength training. I combine free weights with machines emphasizing stomach, arms and shoulder muscles. I follow the same exercise schedule on weekends, but allow one day for recovery.

It is important to reach your targeted heart-rate training zone when exercising. This will ensure maximum benefits from the workout. When you are physically active (within your heart-rate training zone), your body releases chemicals known as endorphins--natural painkillers and stress reducers.

The key to my healthy lifestyle is maintaining balance. Practicing personal discipline and caring for the mind, body and spirit is what makes it possible for me to keep performing at my best without sacrificing my health, happiness and my passion for life.

John Roederer is superintendent of the Mount Pleasant Community Schools, 400 E. Madison St., Mount Pleasant, IA 52641. E-mail: roedererj@mt-pleasant.k12.ia.us


The Marathon Metaphor


I was two years into my first superintendency in a 10,000-student school district when I turned 40. I once heard someone say, “For your first 40 years your body takes care of you. The next 40, you have to take care of your body.” So on my birthday in Scranton, Pa., I walked out the front door and jogged a quarter of a mile.

I realized I needed to do this more often. That spring I trained for my first road race, a 5-kilometer (3.1 mile) run. A year later I ran my first 10K and a year after that my first half-marathon (13.1 miles). After eight years in Scranton, eight in Davenport, Iowa, five in Lexington, Ky., and now in my 6th year as superintendent in Freeport, Ill., I continue to run as my way to stay physically fit. I have run more than 20 marathons, including the Boston Marathon three times.

The marathon is a great metaphor for the superintendency. I have to train for both. Concentration and focus are essential. Organizing and structuring my time commitments are critical. A support system made up of family and colleagues is important for consistent success.

I have tried to live by the principle that I must take care of my personal health first because without that I won’t be able to lead and be helpful to others as a school administrator. Next, my attention goes to my family and then my job. These are my beliefs, although I must admit at times the job has taken over second or even first place.

Adding Balance

Fitness to me always has meant physical, mental and spiritual health. Running at times has been an opportunity to work on all three aspects. A run that starts out in the quiet of early morning, shortly after 5 o’clock, can be a great time to sort through what happened yesterday or what is about to unfold today. The solo run can be a time to listen to my body as it grows older and to understand its limitations as well as its capabilities for dealing with the day and week ahead. I also use this special time to commune with a higher power, to pray in traditional and nontraditional ways.

On weekdays, after the first half-hour of a solo run, I meet up with a group of runners who routinely leave the local YMCA at 5:30 a.m. The regimen then goes up a notch. Most of the runners are 10 to 30 years younger, physically fit and after the usual greetings, settle into a pace that gets my heart rate to an effective exercise level. The group spreads out a little as we run the 6.5-mile loop. The Saturday morning run is different. We begin a half-hour later and run for at least two hours.

Running has added balance to my life. Consequently, I am usually careful about foods and nutrition, eating a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet supplemented with vitamins throughout the year. Sometimes controlling my food intake can be a struggle, especially at meetings where a meal is served. The key is to eat small portions of those foods that are not on my approved diet.

Running in the early morning has been my exercise of choice for more than 25 years. It’s something I can schedule on most days without taking time from my family or job. As a result, I am alert and energized, ready to face each day and do my creative best at being a superintendent of public schools.

Peter Flynn is superintendent the Freeport Public Schools, 501 E. South Street, Freeport, IL 61032. E-mail: pflynn@freeport.k12.il.us

Adhering to Nike’s Advice


Three simple words, “Just Do It,” have become my mantra in attending to my own personal wellness needs in my role as a school leader. That famous Nike slogan implies there is no explanation needed, the outcome is perfectly clear, and that you can accomplish a task that is meaningful by developing predetermined goals.

Achieving a state of wellness should be a goal for anyone in the superintendency. I have found wellness is an essential element of my life that helps me better manage the day-to-day challenges and decisions. Most of us recognize how important it is to take care of ourselves. The challenge is how to squeeze in that special time. It’s difficult to carve out the time and energy to pursue the inner peace that is so critical to our overall success as administrators.

Just as we analyze student performance data to make important instructional decisions, we should assess our own personal wellness, where we are at and set goals accordingly. If we can’t take care of ourselves how can we take care of others that we lead?

A New Pursuit

As a former physical education teacher and collegiate athlete, I realize that exercise helps me feel better about myself, improves my fitness level and gives me the strength to deal with the daily rigors of leading a school district. I suggest you join a health club, find an exercise partner, take an aerobics class, hire a personal trainer, do whatever it takes to get you started. Keep that gym bag packed and in your car just as golf lovers (like me) keep the clubs in the back of our vehicles. Try to drive home past an exercise facility to keep you focused on daily or weekly exercise, walk to places in your neighborhood and invest in a pedometer. Just 2,000 extra steps a day equals about a mile. Enter road races, do a triathlon, learn how to do something new.

When I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska, I joined a woman’s hockey league. While I didn’t know how to skate very well, I acquired some skills eventually, though I still must apologize to all of the women in the league with whom I collided.

Educators who make the effort to master new ideas and skills send a powerful message about the rewards and joy of learning to those with whom they work. Ten years ago, I started doing triathlons. I started with the Danskin Women’s Triathlon Series, which promotes participation for the first-time triathlete through a half-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride and 3-mile run--a veritable sprint distance event (ha!). I liked the variety in training for triathlons and have been doing them ever since.

Smart Eating

Being smart about what we eat by making healthy choices is also very important to maintain our wellness as our long days and evenings sometimes lend to overeating. When I know I am going to have a long day, I try to eat small meals throughout the day to maintain my blood sugar level and reduce cravings.

When I get home late, I try to limit my food portions and avoid eating a big meal. I try to eat only fruits and vegetables or a vegetarian meal that will be easy to digest when I go to sleep.

It’s important to eat for enjoyment, not to satisfy a level of stress. Check out the new U.S. Department of Agriculture food guidelines at <I>www.mypyramid.gov<I> and click on the spotlight section of Tour My Pyramid to learn more about eating healthy and exercising. It’s not just about calories anymore. Eating smart is a vital aspect of personal wellness.

Deborah Kerr is superintendent of the Wilmot Grade School, 10720 Fox River Road, Wilmot, WI 53192. E-mail: KerrDL@wilmotgs.k12.wi.us

Weekday Weights and Miles


There is no one-size-fits-all way to exercise. It can be anything from a do-it-yourself program to a formal exercise regimen with a trainer. The important thing is that you get involved in a regular program. My regular exercise regiment includes a combination of strength training and cardiovascular activity.

Exercise not only allows me to maintain physical health, but also provides opportunity to focus my mind and unscramble my brain. Regular exercise helps me maintain my weight and has a positive effect on my anxiety level and mental attitude. It benefits my mind and body as an excellent relaxation method and stress reducer.

In order to maintain a consistent program of healthy activity, one must be dedicated to some type of regular routine for taking care of his or her body and mind. It must be recognized as a part of one’s daily responsibility. Plan the routine into a daily or weekly schedule as you do for other activities, professional or personal. If you don’t look after yourself, no one else will (other than perhaps your significant other).

Strict Scheduling

My fitness regimen includes a daily workout of weightlifting and jogging, physical and cardiovascular. Some days include both, and other days include one of the two. You need to strictly adhere to the schedule while at home or traveling for vacations and business conferences. I try to set myself a fixed number of miles per week so that I may vary the distance each day to allow some flexibility. I generally have my workout first thing in the morning and get my day off to a positive start, and I’ve found that’s the best way to not have to worry about fitting in time to exercise.

I follow this routine Monday through Friday and leave Saturday and Sunday as free days. Most work-related stress or the need to be at top performance levels occurs on weekdays. Weekends allow for other activities and enjoyment (gardening, for instance) and precious time to spend with special people.

At times, a good jog helps provide good planning time and a chance to reflect. The mind never rests and works better with less stress. The better the mind and body function, the better you perform; and the better you perform, the better you feel. Pump it up, run it off, do good and feel good.

Joe Natale is superintendent of the Warwick Valley Central Schools, P.O. Box 595, Warwick, NY 10990. E-mail: jnatale@wvcsd.org. In February, he becomes director of advisory solutions with the New York State School Boards Association.

Fooling Father Time


I stay fit mentally and physically by running and, wow, what a difference it has made on my life. I just started running for fun and then somewhere along the way I got hooked. I became a runner who now has a record of completing five years worth of running events from 5Ks to full marathons.

Running has given me a more positive outlook on life and it has made me better in everything I do. It has given me the confidence and stamina I need for my very hectic life as a superintendent, board member, wife and business woman.

Running has helped reduce muscle tension and headaches. It keeps me trim and free from having to diet to lose weight or find other ways to shed inches that seem to show up as we age. While I feel free to eat anything I desire I choose foods with low carbohydrates and sodium over those high in sugar and fats. Usually the foods I eat take little time to prepare and they make me feel more energized.

Higher Fitness

There is no question that one problem we all face is the lack of time to work out, exercise, run or entertain any other kind of physical activity. We are all busy. Actually we are too busy to schedule one more thing into our lives, especially the one that might even be good for us.

I have chosen running, and to be honest it is not easy to fit this into my schedule. But if I schedule this into my day just as I do everything else, I can usually get a workout completed. I like to bypass life’s craziness by running before work and on weekends. On some work days I can usually fit in a short run of three to five miles, but on weekends I can do five to 10 miles or more, depending on what event I am preparing myself to run.

Yes this all takes time, but I am amazed at the work I get done on the road. Priorities shift on the to-do list, problems amazingly have solutions, creative ideas come to mind, words that need to be spoken to deal with difficult tasks come together, and people you thought you never wanted to see again don’t seem so bad.


The trick to all of this is to “Just Do It,” whether I am too tired or too stressed or the weather stinks or it’s too dark. I am fortunate to be part of a running club organized by my husband Jeff who has inspired a group of professionals through his personal success of completing 25 marathons. So when I get lazy or sluggish, I try to set a date to run with a friend or join up with the local running group to get me going again.

Running has helped me to achieve a higher fitness level for my age and according to others I guess I don’t show my age. Possibly I have been able to fool Father Time by my persistence to be physically active.

I guess if running helps me deal with the stress of being a superintendent and age slower, I will keep on running.

Janet Mohr retired this summer as superintendent of the Frazee-Vergas Public Schools after more than 30 years in leadership positions. She can be reached at 1227 Kenneth St., Detroit Lakes, MN 56501. E-mail: mohr@lakesnet.net

Out Front and in the Lead


Much has been said in recent years about the need for schools to implement policies and food programs that create healthier lifestyles for children. The demand and pressure to do so also have fallen on the Cambridge, Mass., Public Schools, as it should. In fact, the entire city of Cambridge has jumped into lifestyle and health matters with both feet.

From issues about recess time and walking to school to lunch menus and student report cards with ratings for weight/fitness, the Healthy Children’s Task Force, Kids Council, health department and other groups continue to work with school personnel to establish a new order.

It is fairly well known that the “new superintendent” (I am starting my third year in Cambridge) is sympathetic with and supportive of community and school efforts to practice in schools that which we preach. I run 50 miles a week and am in reasonably good shape. The 5-kilometer races in which I participate (and often win in my 55 to 60 age group) link me into a community of runners from all walks of life and establish bonds that from time to time assist my efforts to lead the schools.

A group of activists recently sought to meet with the staff to discuss lunch menus. The group arrived early and happened to see me preparing my lunch. “We know you run,” said the group’s chair, “but what do you eat?” I laughed and offered some of the fruit, veggies, water and chocolate I had brought that day. I’m not a vegetarian, but I like variety. However, I have to have chocolate, for better or worse.

The group meeting went well, and their report of the meeting began with praise about having a superintendent who understands and supports healthy lifestyles for children as well as employees.

Enjoyable Exertion

My schedule is demanding and could deny me an opportunity to stay fit if I let it. However, I run daily preferably in the early evening although sometimes later if early-evening meetings conflict. My trusty treadmill is overworked, but I couldn’t keep my commitment to my own fitness without it.

I don’t use salt and am careful to eat protein, fruits and veggies at every dinner and most lunches. I’m not as good at breakfast, but I do have a bran muffin and juice, and I drink a liter of water three times a day. I haven’t missed a day of work due to personal illness in many years so I count myself lucky as well as committed to my own health and fitness.

While I enjoy running my miles and racing in 5K events, there are days when I think at mid-run, “Why am I doing this? Can I finish today?” But then again I like to sweat, and I always seem to make it. My fitness and eating habits are as important to me as getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep in terms of my dependability and overall performance on my job. Then again, if I didn’t like to sweat, didn’t forge ahead taking on a challenge and didn’t enjoy exerting myself, I can’t imagine that I would enjoy the superintendency as much as I do either.

Whether I’m being followed or chased, I like being out front and in the lead. I feel fortunate to live my life to satisfy my own needs and desires while never having to question whether the work I do is a worthwhile contribution to the lives of others.

Thomas Fowler-Finn is superintendent of Cambridge Public Schools, 159 Thorndike St., Cambridge, MA 02141. E-mail: superintendent@cpsd.us