When our children were little, we strongly discouraged whining and complaining. We would say things like, “Whitmell’s Don’t Whine” whenever their voices changed to that tone that as parents we all know very well. As parents, my husband and I encouraged our two children, who are only 21 months apart, to use their words and explain their problem(s) but the expectation was for them to always try to follow up with a solution. Problem solving has always been a big thing in our family.
After all, complaining without offering a solution is simply whining. At times they would have a complaint about something we had done as parents (I know, hard to believe!) but we would say, “Sorry, the complaint department is closed. It will be open on Sunday at 6:30am and remain open for half an hour. If you wish to lodge a complaint you will have to wait until then. We are very sorry.” This was successful… 99% of the time, it stopped the complaining and often led to humorous discussions about fairness. However, there was this one time when we were woken up at 6:30am on a lazy Sunday morning with the two of them, aged 6 and 5, standing at the side of our bed, prepared to lodge their complaint about why they felt it was unreasonable to expect that TV time be limited on weekends. They had a valid argument and were just so darned cute that we agreed and changed their time allowance. We are very reasonable people and not immune to absolutely adorable determination!
Why do I tell you this story? Well, as a principal there are have been times when I have complained about my day to my husband. (I know, hard to believe *innocent smile*) This has occurred on days when I have looked up at the clock after wondering why I’m so hungry and realized that I missed lunch completely because I was busy answering emails (I get a few of those *hint of sarcasm* ), doing paperwork, answering phone calls…I know that in my position, this is to be expected. However, I was noticing that at times it was making me feel stuck behind my desk and preventing me from getting out into classrooms.
I started to notice that on these types of days, I came home after school and I had nothing left to give to my family. I was exhausted. One day I was complaining to my husband that I had been caught up in my office all day and that this was not how I had envisioned my role when I took on my position as principal. His answer to my complaining was simply “Well, how can you fix that?”, exactly what we say to our kids. In other words, he was gently reminding me to stop whining and come up with a solution.
Just as Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf say in their book Lead Like a Pirate,
“As leaders, we can show up to work each day with nothing on our to-do list and still be busy all day simply reacting to what’s thrown at us from the moment we walk in the door. We can be exhausted at the end of the day and hope that what we did that day helped our school to change, but hope on its own doesn’t create change. Action does.”
I had allowed the short term tasks to get in the way of my long term goals. I had allowed management tasks to encroach on the time that I wanted to be out and about, in classrooms with teachers and students, having conversations and immersing myself in the learning. So, I made a decision to limit my office time and increase the time I spent in classrooms. The difference that this made was incredible. I was no longer exhausted at the end of the day. I was energized. I was having exciting conversations with staff about kids and their learning.
As I prepare to head back to school at the end of the month I plan to spend more time getting out and about with my sleeves rolled up, working side by side with staff and the school community. Immersing myself in work that has an impact on student learning and being more intentional with my time and energy.