The spring season in special education always feels a little bit frantic, but this year . . . well, this year is really something special. As we wrote in February, life in the Covid era means there can be a tectonic shift on any given day. Aside from all of the usual spring tasks, simply managing that level of unpredictability consumes a significant amount of brainpower. Just finished your budget and staffing allocation for next year? Great! Abandon it and start all over because The American Rescue Plan Act just infused public education with $168 billion. Have your model all figured out? Perfect! Now get ready for the 4th wave and the potential for re-tightening of restrictions. And now a few questions: How are you managing state testing? What’s your plan for mitigating learning loss? How about comp services and ESY? Six feet or three feet per student in the fall?
It’s no wonder that our brains are all feeling broken these days. So how do we unbreak them, even just a little bit, so that we can keep our head in the game and working in the best interest of students? Sometimes the most straightforward ideas are the easiest to forget when you’re stressed out, so here are three reminders of simple things you can do to help yourself through this spring.
Here’s the cold, hard truth: you can’t get to all of the items on your list and give them the full attention they deserve, especially when everything feels like an emergency. Pencil in a dedicated 15-20 minutes every week to prioritize your to-do list. You might find it works best for you to do this on Friday afternoon before checking out for the weekend, or maybe your brain would prefer to do it first thing on Monday morning. When you do it is less important than just getting it done. The goal here is to bring your brain out of fight-or-flight by engaging the frontal lobe and putting it in control of what you give your attention to — items on the top of the priority list get your attention, items on the bottom don’t. When you’re clear on your priorities, it makes it easier to go with the flow, even if that flow is coming through a firehose at variable intervals.
Offload what you can
Now that you know your priorities, look at that list again and find at least one thing you can delegate to someone else. Leroy Gaines, former principal and current executive director of New Leaders, recently wrote, “As a leader, it’s neither practical nor strategic to try to figure everything out yourself. You need the collective expertise, strength, and passion of your entire school community to come up with solutions that work for your unique circumstances.” There is tremendous value and power in engaging a diverse set of partners to meet student needs. Are there people, agencies, specialized service providers who could take something off your plate? This could be as simple as empowering your staff to develop their own plans for PD for next year or reaching out to people like us here at Hello to handle staffing a difficult position. Yes. You will have to let some stuff go and that can feel hard. Handing tasks off to someone who shares your goals and values, though, offers much-needed relief and even comfort where both are in short supply. And it sure beats having things fall through the cracks entirely, right?
Fill your bucket
You knew this one was coming. Go back to your newly prioritized and delegated to-do list and make a new entry on the very top: do one non-work thing every day that benefits your mental health. When we all entered lockdown last spring, The Great Blurring of Work-Life Boundaries began, and for many of us, those boundaries have yet to be restored. This, when paired with our former bucket-filling pursuits being severely restricted at the same time, has many of us running on fumes. However, re-establish boundaries and have fun we must! Work will always be there and will always demand more from you than you have to give. It is up to you to draw a line that it cannot cross. What happens on the other side of that line is entirely up to you — exercise, family movie night, happy hour, therapy, model trains, meditation, gardening, art, motorcycle racing, the list is infinite! The only rules are that 1) it’s something you love, and 2) it has a permanent place on the top of your priority list. Doing things that bring you joy will give your brain a chance to rest, reset, and gain perspective on that overflowing plate of yours.
Remember: Living through a social experiment the size and scope of which humanity has never seen is hard. Be kind to yourself, be patient with your broken brain, and take solace that we’re all in this broken brain boat together.