I know that Challenge Success leans hard on how we can create healthy schools for kids, but I have to tell you, it quite possibly changed my own life even more.
I tell people all the time that on September 27, 2019 (yes, I remember the exact date!), I was sitting with my Challenge Success team in a conference room on the Stanford Campus, and we were asked to share what we did for our version of Playtime, Downtime, and Family Time (PDF) — what brought us joy?
I only half-listened to everyone on my team sharing because I was contemplating the entire time whether to lie and say something generic or tell the truth—that I don’t engage in any (or extremely limited) PDF in my own life. I was mortified and sad at the same time. I was the principal of an amazing school–a nationally ranked school full of beautiful, stressed-out, anxiety-ridden humans, but as their leader, I saw that I was also part of the problem. I knew as much as our school needed some healthy changes, I also had to lead by example.
When I got back home I took to some pretty deep reflection and made some pretty drastic changes in my own life – changes that I could be proud of.
I decided I needed to be less available at work and set some boundaries because I could not engage in PDF if I was always working. I used to wear it like a badge of honor that I was accessible 24 hours a day. That changed.
I made appointments that benefited my own physical and mental health and treated them as I would a work meeting. Those meetings could not be changed, and it was okay to prioritize being healthy, working out, and being present for my family and friends.
I prioritized eating foods that made me feel good.
I eliminated friendships and projects outside of work that were not healthy.
I started taking a day off here and there. I had accumulated over 6 months of paid time off in my 8 years!
By the time the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, I had created a life I was so happy with and so proud of that not even a pandemic could get me down. I counted the pandemic as a blessing to focus even more on my family, my health and spending time doing meaningful PDF.
During this time I had also started a book club for students on my campus to talk about a growth mindset and perfectionism. I spoke candidly with students about how even as an adult I still had to work on these things that were difficult for them too. I think it is important as adults that we share with students that we are not perfect and that taking care of ourselves is important too.
Some times I have to be incredibly intentional about PDF, and other times it comes naturally. Through this re-focusing, I am a healthier leader with more realistic expectations and more empathy for both my faculty and students. I am walking the talk, and I am thankful that Challenge Success was able to show me that, as educators, we still have a lot to learn and that it is important to model the same healthy habits we want our students and families to use.
Dr. Amy Cislak first started working with Challenge Success in 2019 while she was the principal of nationally ranked University High School in Tucson, Arizona. She now leads one of the state’s top high schools, Tanque Verde High School where outstanding relationships, culture, and community are at the forefront of every decision.