Thursday, March 20, 2008

Margin

I had another wonderful school visit yesterday. I'm trying to make it out to all the schools (all 32!!) in Ward C before the end of my first year. I find I can learn so much more about the culture of a school by being in the building, wandering around, talking to the Principal, meeting the custodian and support staff, popping in to various classrooms as work is underway and asking a lot of questions. We ended up talking about some of the changes this Principal made to reduce the stress level of the school. Various policies had "always" been in place and, no doubt, people felt they were important. But this Principal took a step back and noted the level of stress, hurry and anxiety they were causing. Changes were made and improvements in both test scores and how everyone FELT resulted. How children and teachers FEEL is critical to what they can achieve: rushed or ready, valued or barely tolerated, supported or marginalized....loved or not.

These feelings will undoubtedly shape the way each one of us approaches challenges, the way we interact with others and the way we see both ourselves and the world around us.

The Principal gave me a very interesting book on CD called "Margin" by Richard Swenson, M.D. It is written from a Christian point-of-view, but the message is universal: We need to make sure we have space in our lives. Despite society's 24/7 expectations, we are not built to operate at this break-neck pace. We need to rest, reflect, rejuvenate, regularly (not just on "holidays" which are often just as jammed-packed and stressful as workdays). We need to have wiggle-room to deal with life's unexpected (but perfectly predictable) curve balls. We need to take care of ourselves, so we can continue to give to others. I think the burnout experienced by many (parents, teachers, now sadly even students) is a wake-up call. And the answer, according to this book, is to put "margin" back into our lives.

With the break-neck pace I've adopted since becoming a trustee in October, this conversation and this set of CDs is particularly well-timed. I have already begun to change my daily patterns to allow more margin. I encourage you to do the same!

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