Embracing Hope and Self-Care

Type: Article
Topics: Health & Wellness, School Administrator Magazine

August 01, 2020

PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING HISTORIAN and author Jon Meacham writes in Listening to Leaders: Values, Empathy, Humility and Relationships: “There are two competing human impulses. One is the fear of losing what we love and the other is the hope for a better day. … It’s the job of a leader to emphasize that hope is in fact the antidote to fear.”

Educating students amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is a new test for district leaders — one that calls on them to emphasize hope, stability and safety in times of crisis. As school districts across the country roll out phased plans to reopen classrooms for the 2020-21 school year, the safety of students, staff and parents remains the top priority, and district leaders must continue to provide strong, positive leadership going forward.

We can learn much from studying how leaders of the past have responded during crises.

Meacham’s podcast “Hope Through History” offers excellent lessons from leaders and community members who were forced to lead during crises of historic magnitude, including the 1918 flu pandemic, the Great Depression, World War II, the polio epidemic and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

One of the leadership lessons woven through­out the podcast is the importance of coming together, of building a community of diverse people working as a unit and supporting each other to emerge stronger on the other side.

While we reflect on how to engage with our learners and their communities remotely and emerge stronger in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize more than ever the importance of relationships, of putting people first to help create a feeling of community.

As leaders, we must nurture our students’ love of learning — a love inspired by their teachers — and recognize and nurture our educators’ passion for and dedication to helping students grow and succeed, especially in this crisis. Placing the emotional well-being of staff and students above all else models the district leaders’ priority of creating effective learning environments and allows us all to bring our best selves to this work.

With empathy, humility and grace, we can build and maintain our learning community, support each other and grow stronger in the process. We do this by modeling the attributes of leadership that demonstrate openness, intentionality and resiliency.

We also have an opportunity as leaders to model the importance of self-care. Although self-care always has been a critical aspect of effective leadership, the conscious and consistent practice of taking care of ourselves over prolonged periods of time isn’t something that comes naturally to many district leaders. It’s easy to forget the importance of taking care of ourselves because, as servant leaders, we feel the greater responsibility of taking care of others.

As a servant leader in the coming months, ask the adults in your community questions that are focused on balance, wellness and self-care. Have you exercised today? Are you taking time for yourself? Are you eating and sleeping well? Have you talked to a loved one today? If not, why not? By asking these questions, you are modeling the behavior you want the adults in your community to show the young people.

At the same time, model for others the behavior that promotes self-care. Exercise. Take breaks. Stay in touch with loved ones. Lead your district with a sense of hope balanced with a dose of reality. Never has that kind of leadership been more important than right now. As Meacham wrote, hope is “not simply an emotion; it’s not simply a passing thing. It is an animating value.”