Hitting the wall is a term often used to describe when a runner’s body just completely exhausts all of its energy while running a marathon. I must say, I am not a runner. If you see me running, you should probably run, too, as there is something chasing me! However, I have found that this term has become meaningful to me this Spring. First, I felt I hit the wall in blogging. It wasn’t that my ideas, thoughts, or opinions were lacking, I just could not find the energy to get them on paper. It was probably a combination of so much energy being expended just in the day-to-day of running a school, but also, pouring your heart and soul on paper is a bigger challenge than I imagined. Putting yourself out there completely exposed, not always knowing how your words are received can be depleting, especially for someone whose “love language” is words of affirmation. Silence kills me!
I found this video and laughed so hard while making so many connections in my life.
One of the most powerful connections was an analogy of hitting the wall in education. For three years, I have been the principal of a campus in the middle of a great transformation. Our campus was in danger of being designated “improvement required” when I walked in the door because scores on state assessments were in a free fall. As a result, my staff and I have been running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. We have had to transform our understanding of teaching through a deeper understanding of the standards, practices that allow us to engage all learners at their levels of need, and a true comprehension of our students, many who come from backgrounds of poverty and trauma.
It is exhausting, to say the least, and a few weeks ago, I could see we were all about to hit the wall. So if our analogy of “hitting the wall” was appropriate, it aroused my curiosity to see what it is that runner’s do to avoid hitting the wall when they are likely very close to the finish line. What I found was some great advice that is more than relevant to educators in their last month of school:
1. Train-Whether a runner or an educator, proper training is essential.
2. Proper Nutrition-Hitting the wall is actually about the body and brain reaching glycogen depletion and no longer able to function effectively. Runners have now created complex formulas of when to consume which specific types of foods to have the fuel they need to finish the race. For educators, I think our nutrition is different. It is a mental nutrition of both learning and being around those who nourish our souls.
3. Slow Down-I read that if a runner feels they are nearing the wall, they need to slow down to a “conversational pace” or one that they could speak with someone running next to them. How often as educators do we beginning moving so fast and become so out of breath we don’t realize we can’t carry on a conversation.
4. Have the Right Goal-I think one of the things I admire about runners is that even though there is a sea of runners, they really aren’t running against those around them. They are competing against themselves. They want to better their own time, not beat someone else. Education has often been a competitive sport. “I want my scores to be better than theirs. I can’t share my ideas because I need to beat them.” I think we can all take some insight from runners, just as their bodies and abilities are not the same, neither are our classes or background experiences. We shouldn’t focus on someone else, but simply to reflect on ourselves and work to improve and get better each day, shaving a few seconds off our time as we run through each day.
5. Mental Toughness/Positivity-Ultimately, there is still times when a runner has done all of the previous steps exactly right and still begins to hit the wall. At that time, metal toughness and positivity prevail. A runner who thinks about his aching muscles and how much time is left is doomed to fail. However, the runner who can focus on how much he has already accomplished and how close he is to his goals is more likely to recover. As educators, this time of year can be tough, but if you hyper focus on all that is not right and all that is left to be done, you too, are doomed like the runner hitting the wall. We must focus on each small accomplishment, celebrate each milestone, and remember we will accomplish whatever we set our sights on that is of value enough to have our actions align with our goals.
As we are running at breakneck speeds from April into May, I hope that each of you can focus on the goals you have to accomplish this year. Remember to slow down if you need to so that you at “conversation speed”. Maybe some extra nourishment is in order with a conversation with a trusted colleague.