11 Secrets to Surviving the Holidays For Principals

Serving our school community during the holidays can be one of the most rewarding experiences. It can also be exhausting. Between staff, students, family, friend celebrations and gift exchanges it can be quite overwhelming, to say the least. This is where my 11 secrets to surviving the holidays for principals come in. Yes, PRINCIPAL holiday survival secrets! Just what you were looking for right?

Let’s get right to it. Principals might be the most overlooked “survivors” in the school system. When searching for “surviving the holidays” most articles are about surviving the holidays after the loss of a loved one. Having lived through that experience, twice, that’s a tough one. However, we can survive the holidays as principals through my 11 super secret tips.

Lovers and Haters

You probably fall into one of two groups during the holiday season. The first group: You. LOVE. Christmas! All of it. Your tree is up. Outdoor decorations are up. Holiday music blaring in your car and home the day after Halloween. But, at work, you have to hold back. Celebrating and/or promoting holidays in schools can be a slippery slope. But you are all in! The holiday season is your jam. Surviving the holidays is not a problem for you.

The second group: You’re out of the holiday spirit! You acknowledge there is a holiday coming. But no winter holiday starts until after Thanksgiving day. Period. Pumpkins and scarecrows and mums are displayed until at least midnight on Thanksgiving. You can take it or leave it. I refuse to believe some could “hate” the holidays however you can dislike them a lot. Regardless we are all still doing our best to survive the holidays.

This list of 11 secrets evolved over the years. Serving our school community during the holidays can be one of the most rewarding experiences of the whole year. Every year family and work circumstances change. Therefore we adjust our survival tactics. These secrets are meant to be light-hearted yet helpful. 

11 Secrets to Surviving the Holidays for Principals


1st Find a partner

Whether it’s your secretary, assistant principal, or family member, recruit a partner to help for the next few weeks. Synergy has been the most impactful habit in my journey through the Leader in Me for schools program.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to ask anyone in education to do one more thing. However, there have been so many new and better ideas generated since we started really doing things as a team.

2. Create lists, lists, and more lists

I LOVE lists! Before smartphones, I usually lost every list I created. Now I can create lists on my phone AND share it with my secretary and others. We can knock out the list together. This year I put everything on the list. Even personal things or things I didn’t necessarily think my secretary could help with. I just wanted her to know everything that was on my list in case she could talk me out of some of them. As it turns out, she can help me with more on my list than I realized.

3. Shop online.

Personally, this has saved me so much time over the past 3 years. Any time I can use Amazon Prime or grocery pick-up or delivery, I have saved literally hours in my week. We can order in bulk from Sams and I can pick up on a day that I am on that side of town. Or a staff member that lives closer to Sams can pick it up.

Professionally, I struggle with this. Some of us live in small communities with small businesses. Small businesses are having a harder time surviving the holidays. We want to support our community as much as they support us. My dad was a small business owner years ago. It wasn’t online shopping that put him out of business at the time. However, he would not be in business today. If you can support small businesses in your community I recommend starting there first.

4. Be flexible

There are a lot of moving parts during the holidays. Things are not going to turn out as you hope. That’s just life. You have your list and you’ve shopped online. What could go wrong? Just about the time you get those thoughts out of your head, your online order will be back-ordered and your list will expand exponentially. Decide today to just go with the flow.

5. Choose your battles

This is an everyday rule but it’s especially easy to fight every battle during the holidays. Emotions are running high. Children are excited about everything. Parents are stressed about everything. Give yourself a break for the holiday season. Stop and think before acting on impulse. So many decisions come across our desk and there are so many circumstances surrounding even just one event. Stop and process whether you want to get in the ring our not. Surviving the holidays is probably going to outweigh fighting every battle.

6. Spruce up your own space

A couple of years ago I bought USB powered lights that plugged into my laptop. I could drape them on my desk and computer. Twinkly lights make everything better. My staff has given me ornaments from Starbucks over the years. I bought and decorated a tiny little tree for my office. This year I think I am going to have to get a bigger tree. Find some holiday decor that makes you happy when you walk in your office or space.

7. Practice gratitude

If you have followed me for a while you may have noticed this is a theme. Every. Day. Practicing gratitude has changed my life. When everything else is going off the rails, there is always, ALWAYS something to be grateful for. Surviving the holidays would be impossible without remembering all the things we have to be grateful for. 

8. Anticipate with Grace

This means that you know in advance things may or may not work out. When the perfectionist in me surfaces things have to go exactly as I have envisioned them. When they don’t work out, I obsess about it! Mad, hurt, disappointed, are just a few emotions I go through. Failed experiences, have taught me that most of the time I am the only person who knew exactly how I wanted something to go. Turns out its not necessarily failure. Usually, the gesture is a huge success to the person on the other side of it.

9. Not guilty!

Anyone have any luck surviving the holidays without guilt? Please share your advice! Since gift-giving/getting is my love language and my work appreciation language, you can imagine I want to buy all the things for all the tiny humans. Turns out that doesn’t really fit in the budget.  You could keep buying up until the clock strikes midnight Dec. 24th and you’d still think of one more person to give a gift. You are hereby granted a not guilty plea for gift giving for this holiday season!

10. No! Because I said so.

No reason needed to say, “No.” Remember when your parents would say, “Because I said so.” Remember how frustrating that was to hear? “Why not? Everyone else is going to the party.” Surely, your parents said this to you too and it wasn’t just me? Totally understand why my parents said that now. Completely on board with, “Because.” The end. No explanation needed.

11. Practice self-care

Self-care may sound cliche these days. What does self-care mean to you? Who cares if it’s cliche or not. As principals, surviving the holidays is the least of our worries. Sometimes we are just trying to survive the day. Principals especially need to do better with taking care of ourselves. There will always be more work than we can complete. There will always be a student and/or family in need. Just like they tell us on airplanes, we need to put our oxygen on first. What is your “oxygen mask” in real life?

My hope is that these 11 secrets to surviving the holidays, for principals will give you the boost and/or permission you need to make it through these next few weeks. Together…we’ve got this!

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