Year after year I had the same pattern of behaviour. On the last day of school, after a particularly demanding term, the school doors would close. But not before I'd made sure that the children were safely home, the families satisfied, the staff team off site, and the phones silent. The situation was then perfectly poised. The sunshine, the free time, the family plans. A time of reward and recreation. Or at least it was supposed to be, but it never seemed to be that simple.
It's not an easy transition. Moving from a situation where you have to work very intensively, to one where you have a new found freedom. You know that you've worked really hard all year and that this is a very special moment, where you can leave the school, go home and then be really happy. All of the time. For 6 weeks. This is what I would be saying to myself, but the happiness would take a little time to really hit the soul.
This is one of the reasons why the end of term could be emotionally difficult to understand and manage. Unknowingly, I'd be ramping up the pressure on myself. The chance to be with my family after dedicating so much time to others. It's all very important, very well deserved, and just way too significant.
'One of the most frustrating things is that you know that you deserve to have this rest but you really don't know quite how to do it. You're just not very good at it.'
Once home, I'd wake up the next morning already with a sense of uncertainty. No staff to lead, support or answer to. No children and families needing me. I was redundant and I was unsure. This would inevitably conflict with how I should be feeling. I knew that I should have an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and contentment. But that contrast was just too much. I could be irritable, distant and pre-occupied. I would find myself sitting in front of the most beautiful sunset, with the most wonderful people, staring into space and wondering if we should use a bell or a whistle to conclude playtimes. For this reason, I'm not sure if I was the best of company at staff doo's and end of year get togethers.
I would be too tired to process things and still too engaged to see things logically, and so the first weeks of the holiday became the solitary process of letting my shoulders drop. I can remember once dashing out of school and jetting of to Minorca with the family. Thinking about this now, I see again that this actually added to the tension. My pre-conceived idea of how things should feel whilst still being shackled to the school. I could become anxious and frustrated whilst on holiday knowing that this time was all too precious. We then began extending the holiday to allow time to come down. This worked. My family accommodated a window of time before they knew that would get me back in the room.
'There would be thought provoking references everywhere that connect me back to school, not to mention my own children.'
It's good to acknowledge why all of this occurs. It's important to recognise how natural, and common this feeling can be for head teachers and school leaders. It then begins to make perfect sense. It's because you've given your all every day, mentally and physically, and this new-found freedom is not a little break - it's a conclusion. Endings can be much harder to process than breaks.
It's important that you can find those simple things that make you happy, and to be kind to yourself when your moments of frustration and despair may occur. It will take a little while to feel emotionally satisfied with the quiet life. I was much better when I was active. I researched the benefits of laziness, which enabled me to see resting as productive. You may not be comfortable or used to this idea, but this time is all about you.
You can take the boy out of the school, but it takes a little while, a little patience and a little kindness, to take the school out of the boy.
The WIN / WIN
The school cycle can be highly productive if managed well. Those periods of productivity interjected with time to reflect and evaluate can help you to make great strategic decisions and to reinvigorate your love of the job. Everyone will no doubt be different in their approach, but the objective is the same. To begin the next year knowing what you're going to do, what kind of leader you are, along with motivation, excitement and direction.
After the first couple of weeks, I could begin to think about school in a productive and creative way. I could control my thoughts and I could begin to let ideas percolate and grow. The hangover had passed and the emotions had stabilised. This was the right time to read and gain perspective. I'd have a stack of books and articles to read, all of which would serve to inspire.
After time spent reading and recording notes and ideas, I could create. I'd unlock the school and spend days in there on my own. I walked the corridors, dipping into every class to soak up the place. At this point, I began to fall in love with the school again. The intensity of the summer term had passed and the prospect of seeing the children and staff was exciting. With an endless supply of coffee and and Golden Crunch Creams, I could analyse, evaluate and write the best strategic leadership plans.