The Challenge of Finding Time

We are back! 

After a three-month hiatus, we finally have snatched a moment to log a post on our blog. We have missed sharing our experiences with readers, and wonder how many readers may remain from the numbers that were growing as we entered summer. So much has happened since our trip through Spain in July en route to a month of intensive French study in an immersion program.

Since then, we have prewritten so many posts about our time in France; about the wonderful family with whom we stayed in Sainte-Eulalie-d’Eymet, outside the village of Eymet in Dordogne; about our return to Morocco through Spain; about arriving home in Casablanca and at George Washington Academy to start the new year, our second year as expats, and our first year leading the administrative team with Audrey as the new Head of School and Brian continuing as the Director of Curriculum and Program Development with expanded responsibilities developing further institutional advancement programs; about welcoming this year’s crop of faculty newbies and going through newbie and all-staff orientation as we celebrate GWA’s 20th Anniversary; about the tightrope walk of parenting from afar with stateside college daughter Margaret, of whom we are so proud and who no longer needs us but still needs us; about new things we experienced or things we experienced differently from our newbie time last year, and how last year we lumped “veterans” into a single experienced and all-knowing category distinct from us as newbies, while this year’s newbies look at us one-year vets as if we have all the answers as we say, “But we have been here only one year, and still have so much to learn!” so that our confidence level living as expats in Morocco is better than that of newbies by only a year; about how much easier we have found expat life because Morocco has become Home for our 11th Grade daughter Charlotte; about the challenges and successes we found early in this new school year; and about being busy.

Very busy. 

So busy that we have not had time to type any of those mentally prewritten posts into our blog.

Audrey, settling in as GWA’s new Head of School, describes our startup three months as not having enough time, trying to find alignment, and running around in circles, all while setting the course for the next phase of GWA growth in pursuit of the school’s vision. To be fair, it has been a spectacular start, just one that has stretched many of us to the brink of our individual and institutional capacity. For those familiar with the change cycle of School reform, a niche for both of us in our education careers, it carries all the excitement and all the challenge of Year One. It stretches us as far as we cans stretch, and we could not be more happy while feeling total exhaustion from all we are doing. When meetings run back-to-back from 8:00 am through 4:30 pm, we cannot start addressing new emails of the day until the day has largely expired. Shwea Shwea – little by little – gets us where we want to be over time…Inshallah.

One recurring theme, carried over from last year and magnified in our new circumstances, is that of TEAM. The administrative team that last year’s HOS hired gelled well in our first year together. This year, the relationships we established with each other have blossomed and the ties have deepened. We love the spirit of constructive collaboration that envelopes us as we take on challenges and seize opportunities. That makes all the difference between feeling invigorated by what we have taken on, and just feeling spent. All of us have run a flat-out 1000 mph, needing to talk and share daily with each other, and dedicating ourselves to taking care of each other as a team as we proceed through our gauntlet of activity. Frankly, it is not only refreshing, but unprecedented in both our professional experiences in what we experience daily. Yet, beyond both of us taking on significantly more responsibilities, the one big change from last year is that Audrey’s move back into a HOS role means she has lost much of her daily contact with students that she enjoyed greatly as the Upper School Principal last year.

Still, we enjoy great satisfactions:  the ability to steer where we think the school should go; a deepened appreciation for Team as we all take on greater responsibility; bringing in new faculty and staff people who quickly have become great partners devoted to furthing GWA’s vision; and support from the Board in where we want to lead.

Working together for over a year now, we have done quite well at balancing our personal and professional relationships at home and on campus. With higher transience than stateside schools and mini-culture settings that blend school and home-life contexts in ways that would not work at schools in the U.S., international schools value highly the sort of husband-wife teams that would often give pause to stateside recruiters. We love being able to have lunch together, work together with the leadership team, and strategize over what next steps to take in pursuit of GWA’s vision statement. Our good friend Kevin, the Lower School Principal who joined GWA’s leadership team along with us last year, often comments positively on his amazement at how well we work together. That said, it can get overwhelming. Coming home after a long day, we SHOULD talk about anything except school; yet, typically, school talk inhabits much of our evenings because that is what we do.

Tonight we made a pact: no shop talk all evening, even if we were doing work without talking about it. It has been very difficult for both of us to stick to it. Hundreds of emails waiting in the inbox. People relying on feedback or assistance to shape their professional development requests to meet tomorrow’s submission deadline. Musts-Do things to check off before we leave for Portugal early on Saturday morning. Yet, we did pretty well. No shop talk…or, at least not much.

Meanwhile, we are trying to prepare ourselves mentally for our upcoming Fall Break holiday in Portugal. One of the great benefits of expat living in the international school solar system is the ability to travel easily and frequently, and so that is what we will do during GWA’s Fall Break. Audrey asked Brian tonight, “Do you look forward to going away for a few days?” Brian responded, “Sadly, more than going away, I just look forward to catching up on emails without hundreds more coming in each day.” But that will morph into appreciation for the holiday trip once we get underway.

And so we prepare to depart on a flight to Porto before sunrise on Saturday morning to launch several days on the western Iberian Peninsula in Portugal. In addition to Charlotte, we have two of her friends traveling with us. We have found that, as much as we love our nearly-17 year old daughter and she loves us, travel is better when she has at least one friend with her to distract from the fact the she is traveling with her boring, meat-eating parents. Renting an apartment in Porto, we will explore Porto’s history and culture and Portuguese wine (and, of course, Portuguese port!) and make a day-trip to Santiago Compostela in Spain so that Brian can scope out the terminus of El Camino, the Way of St. James, which he plans to hike with a stateside hiking buddy in a few years. It will be very good to get out for a few days. In all likelihood, it will take most of the days away to decompress enough that we stop thinking of work all the time despite being in another country across the Mediterranean from Morocco.

We look forward to returning home and returning to our offices and the GWA campus refreshed and ready for the sprint through December. One thing we know as we prepare to depart, and that we will underscore when we return with personal fuel tanks refilled, is that we love being where we are and doing what we are doing. A year ago Brian said to other leadership team members that we would all look at this period together as a golden time in our careers. One year in, we still feel that way, only more strongly.

On your mark…get set…here we go!

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