Facing personal crisis while leading a school – 6 things to remember
Eight months ago my world changed forever when my husband, best friend and mentor passed away. After being given a terminal diagnosis of only months to live our lives were thrown into turmoil resulting in resigning from the school I was principal and relocating back to the city all within four months. The situation seemed surreal and on reflection reminded me of dealing with the earthquakes; you enter an auto pilot zone and cope day by day in a calm, highly organised manner facing the world with a stiff upper lip and great courage.
As an experienced principal I have grown my leadership skills over many years and in many unique schooling situations both in rural and city areas. I am very aware of my leadership style, my strengths and needs but I can honestly say the personal trauma I am experiencing through grief is at times overwhelming and extremely challenging.
Personally, my purpose in life has been shattered and the vulnerability of being alone is consuming. Professionally, going to work each day and being enveloped in the life of a school is a saviour and I am very grateful that my environment is incredibly supportive.
I no longer have my mentor to share the daily events and sorely miss his level headed advice and calming reaction. Now situations perplex me more than they should and my reaction can be emotional and reactive. How will I survive this grieving period and ensure my leadership and professionalism remains in tact?
I must remember the following:
1. To attend all collegial activities, even though I feel like declining. My close colleagues and friends have been extraordinary and they offer ‘an ear’ and sound advice.
2. When I react to situations emotively and in a less considered manner I apologise and explain. People move on very quickly and reminding them of my situation is essential, not for sympathy but for understanding.
3. To seek help from professionals, it is not a sign of weakness! I never realised how feelings of anger, depression and vulnerability could affect your emotional well being so severely.
4. To be grateful. I have kept a gratitude journal since 2009 but I have not written in it for many months. It was a beautiful routine each night before going to sleep and made me feel so grateful for all life offered. On good days I can verbalise some things I am grateful for but I am not ready to return to my journal. I am grateful for my wonderful family, friends and colleagues and I am hopeful for the future.
5. My purpose will return. At times I dream of the future and feel passionate about my job but at this time these feelings are short-lived, fleeting and weighed down by grief. I have never procrastinated but now it is the norm. I feel deep down, over time I will regain that passion and enthusiasm for my work and life in general. I have hope.
6. To keep leading to the best of my ability. I view my leadership style as a good mix of transformational, relational and instructional so essentially the qualities I have developed should hold me in good stead as I weather the stormy journey of grief.
This is my second blog post and it is quite scary including a very personal perspective and telling my story. I hope this helps others to understand how grief affects our practice and what may help to remember.