Tuesday, 17 March 2015

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.

20 comments:

  1. Lyn, this is such a brave and honest post and I have so much admiration for you for sharing your experience and wisdom.
    You have achieved so much in your year with us. The teachers here feel valued and you go out of your way to show your appreciation for us. You are visionary and innovative and committed to making this school the best it can be. Despite all that you have been through, you remain positive and inspirational and an amazing role model for our learners. They adore you as do the staff. I feel privileged to work with you and I know that other staff here feel the same way. Our school is a better place with you leading us.
    Arohanui, Lyn.
    Bridget

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    1. Thank you Bridget, I am so lucky to work with such a special group of talented and dedicated people.

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  2. Lyn, your blog post is emotive and so honest. You are a courageous woman who I look up to as a mentor. You have achieved so much in your year with us and I thank you for showing us a personal side, one which you should be proud of. We are so privileged to work with you. Be strong and remember we all walk along side you. Stephanie.

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    1. Thanks Steph, I can feel your support :)

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  3. It is so brave for you to share all of this on your blog. It is important for all of us to remember that people are dealing with things that we often overlook or do not know about. Give yourself lots of credit. You have managed this past year exceptionally well and have made a very positive impact at school. We are lucky to have you!

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    1. Thanks Betsy, I just want to share to help other leaders who may be facing something similar.

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  4. Lyn, what a great reminder to ask for support from colleagues and friends. We are lucky to have such a courageous, committed and strong mentor in our school - Thank you Lyn!

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  5. Thank you Liz, I feel very supported.

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  6. Lyn, I searched and searched for some quote or saying that might seem vaguely appropriate, but in the end nothing seemed quite right, because essentially, life is just hard work sometimes huh! I hope you know that you have our support and trust as you come to terms with what is your new 'normal'. The direction you are leading us on is exciting, and we are with you all the way. Arohanui.

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  7. I was in a discussion group recently about mindfulness and one of the things that came up was the idea that we can choose to REACT or we can choose to RESPOND - the latter being less 'reactive' and more considered. If I had the good fortune to be one of your colleagues I would be so grateful for and inspired by your honesty. Leadership isn't about always being right or perfect or on point at all times. Leadership is setting the direction you want your school to head in and then trusting that your colleagues will join you in steering the ship forward. Even the Captain gets to put her feet up and trust in her crew every now and then. It sounds like you have a great crew. I am so sorry for your loss - small words but I think everyone who reads your post will be able to relate in some way.

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    1. Thanks Sonya, my hope is to connect with anyone facing a similar personal crisis and in some way help them understand it is 'normal' grief response and may help them move forward.

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  8. Rachael Langley18 March 2015 at 14:56

    Your piece is a good reminder about how long the grieving process truly is. You never quite know what the triggers for the ups and downs might be. Thanks for sharing and being so honest, it will certainly encourage others to do so. Treasure the memories xoxo

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  9. Dear Lyn, your honest words should make us all reflect on how grateful we all should be, especially when those small moments get us down. We are grateful for you! Your warm and caring nature, balanced with such strong professionalism and leadership, has made us all a little stronger.

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  10. Thank you Laura, the SH family is very special.

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  11. Lyn, I cannot know what is like to walk in your shoes over the course of Graham’s illness and passing. In the year you have worked with us I have appreciated the way you have shared where you are at emotionally and physically each day, enabling us to grow relationships and a culture of understanding. The knowledge of how you are has allowed us to function with awareness and sensitivity without tip-toeing around you. The honesty reflected in this post is the sort of honesty we encounter with you on a daily basis. It is very humbling to have you share so openly.

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  12. Thank you Juliana, such kind words, I am so lucky to work with a fantastic team and a very supportive, talented AP :)

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  13. Lyn, I have huge respect for your honesty in sharing your journey. As a leader, your ability to share a personal side is priceless, and shows clearly the wonderful strengths you have as a leader. I am currently at the NAPP conference and before reading this I have just come from a discussion where we have been talking about the importance of leaders connecting as people and sharing their personal experiences as they are the things who make us the people we are. As an ex Selwyn-House staff member I know you are in such good hands there and I have heard many times how much people love having you at the helm.

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    1. Hi Jill, thank you so much for reading my post & commenting in such a positive way. I found writing about my personal experience very cathartic but I also wanted understanding from those close to me. Enjoy your conference, regards, Lyn.

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