Make Taking Care of Yourself a Mantra for 2022

What seems like a lifetime ago, my good friend Pedro Noguera, the current dean of the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, delivered the keynote address at the AASA-Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy Inaugural Conference in 2015. Whether you’ve been on the job as a superintendent for two years or 20, or hoping to become a superintendent, I would encourage you to give his talk a listen. He offered “Ten Points of Advice” to the educators taking part in the first-ever cohort of this groundbreaking program.

It would’ve been unimaginable that a public health crisis would, just five years later, turn our country on its heels and forever change the way public education is being administered and delivered. Through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic and how we live our lives today, Dr. Noguera’s 10th point was perhaps the most important: “Take Care of Yourself.”

“Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, psychologically (and), spiritually because we all know too many good people who have taken on this work have left prematurely,” he told the audience. Given the mass exodus of good leaders we’re seeing today, it was as if he had a crystal ball.

In addition to the unprecedented numbers of superintendents leaving the profession, we continue to hear about staffing shortages that have become the norm. To make matters worse, superintendents and their families are being physically threatened.

Unfortunately, that’s the stark reality we’re grappling with today.

Discussions I’ve had with superintendents on this issue over the past few weeks have been consistent: Our mission, our job, our responsibility is to do everything we can to ensure school district staff and students are safe. We want the kids to be in school, in the classroom, to receive the education they are entitled to. That’s why we do what we do. That’s why we got into this profession in the first place. Our superintendents are fighting tooth and nail for the kids in the communities they’re serving. If we depart from that, we’re in trouble.

I know our members need help. They need techniques and strategies to help them deal with the stress.

In response to the pain coupled with the tremendous amount of pressure being felt from coast to coast, we were proud to launch the Live Well. Lead Well. campaign shortly before the end of the year. AASA President Paul Imhoff, who initiated the campaign, could not have said it better while addressing a group of Ohio school leaders:

“Students who aren’t well can’t learn. Teachers who aren’t well can’t teach. Leaders who aren’t well can’t lead. We need to take care of ourselves so that we are able to serve those in our care. We can’t lead if we aren’t well. The superintendency is not an individual sport; it is a team sport. We need each other. We need to lock arms and support each other.”

As part of the campaign, I am excited to report that we will have a Health and Wellness Center at next month’s National Conference on Education in Nashville, Tenn. This designated area will allow attendees to take a few minutes to relax and unwind. Throughout the year, President Imhoff will also lead a series of discussions, focusing on self-care, student care and staff care. You can learn more about it by visiting our website.

I am proud of our superintendents—America’s ‘champions for children’—as they continue to fight for equity, and the safety and welfare of the children they serve. I urge you to make the necessary adjustments this year to make personal health and well-being a high priority.

For those of you who have left the profession, I wish that, when the dust settles, you consider coming back. It’s not unusual to see individuals re-entering the field after a brief, one- or two-year retirement. That’s my hope.

I close with a solemn promise: We will move forward. Throughout our nation’s history, we’ve had blizzards, fires, floods, hurricanes, snipers, school shootings, 9/11 and many more tragic events. Through it all, public education and public school leadership have stood the test of time.

Our superintendents—our champions for children—will continue to stand tall. And AASA will always stand right beside you.