Voices from the #PrincipalProject Community

Recharge: Filling Up on Self-Care with Jody Ratti — How I use my 45-minute commute


Before becoming a school leader, I wasn’t as deliberate about making time to reflect. Now, I know that doing my work well depends on dedicated, personal reflection. I really valued winter break as a chance to slow down, spend time with my family and get the mental space that allows me to come back into the work recharged. 

But as educators, we need to find time for reflection and self-care every day – not just over breaks.

For me to carve out reflection time, I need to get out of the building and into a different headspace. On any given day, I can have three IEP meetings, two meetings with seniors in danger of not graduating, and a post-observation conference with a teacher. Honestly, between 3:30 and 4 p.m. each day, I feel a little ground down. No matter how hard I might try to get work done, it’s going to be tough to do any truly meaningful and responsive thinking during this stretch. I’m still carrying the day with me.

I try to make sure that I have “quiet time” every day. I have a 45-minute commute home, and I’m committed to using that drive to replay the day. I look for things I can learn from and do differently.

Now that winter break is behind us, here are some of the types of reflection I prioritize:

  • I think about the challenges I’m facing and how each one offers a chance for growth. The challenge/opportunity tug-of-war is almost always in my outlook as a school leader. When I am thoughtful about something, whatever kind of roadblock it is, I can see it as a growth opportunity if I give myself the time and space to look and find the right perspective.  
  • I think about the interactions and observations I’ve had with teachers and students, and how I can give the most meaningful feedback possible. If I go into a teacher’s classroom and need to give constructive feedback on a lesson, or if I need to respond to a student’s behavior, I can’t be reactive. For real improvement to happen, my feedback needs to be deliberate and solutions-oriented. Giving that kind of feedback requires me to slow down. 
  • I think about how I’m doing on my personal leadership goals. At the beginning of this school year, I gave myself some “homework” to improve the quality and quantity of positive interactions I have with students, teachers and family members. Up to this point, I haven’t gotten into nearly as many classrooms as I’ve wanted, and I haven’t sent as many handwritten notes to teachers and students as I want to. The reality of being in a school with 1,600 teenagers every day – and all the joys and ridiculousness this work brings – means that we can’t always stick to our plans. I give myself a “B” so far when it comes to reaching my goals – so I’m recommitting to them for the rest of the school year.

As school leaders, there’s so much we need to do for every member of our school community. It’s easy to fall into the trap of letting our personal thinking time feel like a luxury. But really, it’s an integral part of our leadership. We need to prioritize time every day to reset and reflect on the work we’re doing with our school community. Teachers and students deserve it.

What are some of the ways you reflect every day or every week? Share the habits or questions that guide your thinking in the comments below! 

About the Author

Assistant Principal Jody Ratti
Assistant Principal Jody Ratti

Jody Ratti is a high school assistant principal in Maryland. Follow him on Twitter @JCRattiFCPS.