By Jill Kessler
You’ve checked your schedule from home and know your day is jam-packed. Back to back meetings and a coffee with parents give you scant time to accomplish much else. You pull into your parking spot and as you are getting out of your car, one of your teacher’s approaches you upset about a parent e-mail received the previous evening. You walk into the school together, asking questions to get a better understanding of the issue and invite her to come into your office so you can read it. You are watching the time because you must be in Tefillah with the lower school. Your teacher must get to class. You ask her to write a draft response and inform you when she has it written because you would like to read it before she hits the send button. Off you go to Tefillah. On the way you pick up trash that is on the campus and make a mental note to talk with the students and teachers about taking pride in the campus and keeping it clean. On the way out of the sanctuary you run into your kitchen manager who asks you about what your food needs are for the upcoming chagim celebrations. You walk to the multi-purpose room where a group of 5th grade parents are seated waiting for the coffee to begin. They are eager to learn more about the new math program and have many questions coupled with concerns. You start to get an uneasy feeling as the complaints start coming. You diligently answer all questions. You think you’ve settled everyone down and on the way out of the coffee one of the parents lets you know she isn’t happy with this math program and she wants to discuss it further. You direct her to your assistant to schedule the time to meet.
By now, your first appointment is waiting to see you. In between meetings you respond to e-mail, return phone calls, and visit the second grade poetry jam. Your day continues like this with interruptions from your chief financial officer and development director. At least the director of development has come in to tell you good news. You are feeling really good. Then you get an onslaught of phone calls from frustrated parents and often times you just know more meetings away you.
Time to go home, eat dinner, and write the article for your newsletter that is due the next day. You feel like you’ve been on an emotional roller coaster.
Being a leader has its highs and lows. It is not for the faint of heart. While stress is a part of life, the sheer pace we heads of school keep each day, coupled with the responsibility for students, parents, and faculty tend to expose us to higher levels of stress. This, over time, takes its emotional toll.
If you are like me, you’ve read the books that tell you to take time out for yourself, take a yoga class, or meditate. But who has time? I spend so much time at work as it is and would never be home if I took a class. That would also make for an unhappy family. Another stressor!
To board members of Jewish Day Schools, this is a true snapshot of a day in the life of a head of school. If you call during the day and your Head sounds harried, it’s probably because she or he is juggling a lot and may be going into a meeting. A suggestion is to ask your head if it’s a good time to talk. If the response is no, set up a mutually agreeable time to talk. This way your head gives you his or her undivided attention. If you know you want weekly contact with your head, either by phone or in person, find a standing time that works for the two of you. This can be part of the head’s weekly schedule.
How can board members support the head of school? Saying thank you for all your hard work and dedication to the school is a statement all head’s will appreciate. It has to be heartfelt in order to have meaning. Being a sounding board for challenging situations is another way board members can be helpful, particularly, if the board member has expertise in the area in which the head needs support. Just being a good listener is also helpful. Sometimes the head just needs to vent for a few minutes. If the board chair has a good relationship with the head, then allowing the head to vent is healthy.
Providing an annual head of school evaluation is another way to demonstrate your recognition of the head. This is something that all boards should do, even if you are unhappy with your head. She or he can’t read your mind, and knowing the areas in which improvement is needed is important for the head’s short and long-term success. In fact, there won’t be long-term success if notable improvement isn’t achieved. A thorough head evaluation shows you respect the position of the head of school and all its complexities.