For college basketball fans, another “March Madness” has come and gone. But for those of us in education, another madness is just around the corner: “May Madness,” the end of the school year.


While the beginning of school is something we prepare for all summer and begin planning for in the spring, the end of the year always seems to sneak up on us. One principal described the end of the school year as like being on a sled going down a steep, snow-covered hill. Everything speeds up, and there’s nothing you can do except try to avoid running into a tree.

The end of the year seems like the logical time to bring closure to just about any activity you can name. Everyone is trying to finish everything all at the same time, and work shows up faster than we can possibly get it done. As the school year comes to a close, we would like to enjoy it.  Everything you’ve worked for all year is “in bloom.”

Wouldn’t you like to enjoy these?

In elementary school, this is the time of year when the first-graders are reading really well. In middle school, the beginning band is now a joy to hear, and our eighth graders sound like the high school musicians they will soon become. The spring play brings together the whole community and displays the abundance of talent of our students. How nice it would be to savor the moment instead of feeling the stress of so much to do in so little time.

If you want to end “May Madness” and enjoy this precious time, here are 6 powerful survival strategies:

Make an appearance

First, realize that there will always be more work than you can handle if you handle it as it shows up. It will simply continue to show up. I’m reminded of that episode of “I Love Lucy” where Lucy and Ethel are working at the candy factory. Their venture starts well, but when they experience some initial success, the conveyor belt simply goes into high gear. It’s the same with our jobs. If we accept everything that comes our way, the line never ends, and it only comes faster.

May is when every school activity has its grand finale – concerts, plays, field trips, banquets, student projects – and you will get an invitation to everything. Every one of them sounds good at the moment you say “yes.” Accept them all, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

So survival technique #1 is you don’t have to stay for all of any event. Make an appearance at the concert and then slip out to spend some quiet time in your office trying to find the surface of your desk. Let the sponsor know ahead of time that you will be there, but you’ll only be able to stay for a portion of the program. That way, if you’re going to be called on to say a few words, it will happen at the front end.

But if you can’t make an appearance…

Still, you can’t make it to every event. Survival technique #2 is to drop by during class or rehearsal to wish the students well. Let them know upfront that you would like to be there but can’t. They will appreciate the thought. Start now to make a less hectic schedule. Look at your calendar now and plan which school events you will attend and for how long. When May arrives, you want to make it look like a dance and not like dancing on hot coals. You’re on your way to reducing May Madness.

Return other peoples’ monkeys

Next, examine what’s being sent your way that other people need to handle. One of the most popular business articles of all time appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 1974. It was entitled “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” The article used the metaphor of “monkeys” to represent problems. As the article began, employees were bringing their monkeys to the boss. Every monkey is on somebody’s back, and the trick is not letting other people hand you their monkeys.

A longtime principal friend used to tell me about problems teachers would bring to her. She would listen, and respond by asking, “What do you plan to do about it?”

She would be glad to listen to anything, but when people brought her “monkeys,” she would provide a strategy or two for “monkey feeding,” but the monkey would leave on the back of the person who brought it. Don’t start a cycle of supporting other people in the care and feeding of their monkeys.

It’s important not to do it for them, or you will find yourself overwhelmed and neglecting your own important work.

Survival strategy #3 is to start being aware of when you’re adopting other people’s monkeys. Be supportive and give advice when it’s called for, but don’t allow other people’s monkeys to ride on your back.

Eliminate what’s not needed

Next, realize some things just don’t need to be done at all. In education, we are good at adding new procedures, forms, and reports, but the new ones never seem to replace the old ones. They simply add to the load we already have.

Are people in your building looking at computer screens and copying information from them onto paper when the software could print all of that information for the entire student body in a matter of minutes? What procedures are happening each May that could just as easily be handled each October instead or any other time that’s not as hectic?

Survival strategy #4 is to ask your faculty what procedures don’t justify the time and energy expended, and do away with outdated procedures now before you have to labor through them yet one more May. You’ve just reduced May Madness now and for the future.

It doesn’t all have to be done right now

Some tasks could wait until the summer when the dust settles. However, our greatest fear is that by the time we actually have the time, those good ideas will have been forgotten. Therefore, we try to do it all now while it’s still fresh on our minds, which leads to doing too much, doing it poorly, and feeling like we have more to do at the end of the day than when we started. So, survival strategy #5 is to understand that it doesn’t all have to be done right now.

Use a digital task list

To avoid forgetting those tasks postponed for later, use a digital to-do list. We have all been told that we need to work from a to-do list, yet surprisingly few people actually do it and do it well. In today’s world, so much comes to us digitally that it only makes sense for the to-do list to be digital. Survival strategy #6 is to adopt a good digital to-do list. I use Remember The Milk. Input your to-dos into one organized list that can be accessed from your school computer, home computer, and mobile devices. Assign dates for when you want to see each item. Get rid of all the scraps of paper and put your to-dos in one place.

You can put a stop to “May Madness” if you get organized. Let May be the perfect end to a perfect year.


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