When Cherish Pipkins first became the principal of an elementary school in Texas, she was overwhelmed. As a teacher, she had been responsible for the children in her classroom and her family at home; now, she was responsible for her family, every child at school, and the school’s entire staff.

“I started not to sleep,” Pipkins says. “I’d stay up until 2 o’clock in the morning, working, sleep for two hours, then get up and right back to it. I did that for a couple of months. There was so much I felt like I had to do. And I didn't even know who to ask, or who could help, or who could take on those responsibilities.”

Eventually, Pipkins realized that she didn’t have to do everything on her own—not when she had an entire team ready to help her. She found a mentor, delegated tasks, put her trust in others, and came to understand that while educators struggle with work-life balance as individuals, they can best achieve it by working together.

Since then, Pipkins has tried to create a culture of mutual support and appreciation at her school. She encourages educators to be open about challenges they are facing outside of work—and responds with encouragement, prayer, and lightening their workloads. She lets educators know that they don’t have to respond to messages from parents after 4 p.m. Last year, she had her leadership team take students from each grade through a series of fun activities, like arts and crafts, so that teachers could have a few hours of extra time.

“They could grade papers, do conferences, whatever they needed to do,” Pipkins said. “I was just trying to give them their time back. We have to meet people’s basic needs before we expect them to pour themselves into our children.”

Balance tips:

Cut down or eliminate unnecessary administrative work. Pipkins has made a point of replacing most of her staff meetings with newsletter and video updates. “I think about, ‘what can I take away?’” she says. “Especially if we are putting an additional task on a teacher’s plate because, say, the district has a new initiative they want us to do.”

Check in with your colleagues, regularly. It’s hard to know who’s struggling with work-life balance or on the verge of burnout if you don’t ask. “At the end of the day, as a leader, I’m always asking teachers, ‘how can I support you?’” says Miesha Medford, an elementary school assistant principal in Texas. “‘Do you need me to pull up what a lesson plan looks like? Do I need to come up with some recess?’ We know it’s not going to be easy, but we can try to bring down the stress level.”

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GE-4936524.1 (09/2022) (Exp. 09/2024)