A Principal’s Note to Self: Please Stow Your Baggage in the Overhead Compartment

Among the many conversations I had yesterday was one with a kindergartener who had been engaged in some play-gone-wrong at recess.  A group of boys were playing, it became energized, and it ended in some pushing, hitting, and crying.  I see this every day in my very own home (the brothers Berg are especially energized!).  There was no malice, no one was hurt, and it was truly an opportunity for learning, growth, and relationship building.

Anyway, this student was upset enough that he decided to ignore multiple requests from his teacher to join the class as they moved back into the building.  Because of the safety implications therein, I decided to enlist his parents as partners in facing the challenge.  As always, parent partners are invaluable collaborators when it comes to the learning and growth of their children.

After he and I processed a bit on our own, I asked, “Who should I call, mom or dad?”  This clever child thought for a moment, then looked up with all sincerity and replied, “Are those my only two choices?”  I had to smile.  It was a productive interaction that ended in some wonderful progress.

Over the course of the past month I’ve heard countless deli counter references.  “There should be a number-counter outside of your office,” or “Next!”      Now, those references are both humorous and apropos, but they’re also great fodder for serious consideration of important leadership and communication approaches.  If you’re in education, no matter what role you play (student, teacher, parent, admin, etc.) you’re in the business of people, and if you ask me, people in the business of people should focus on…you guessed it…people!

Unlike deli counter practice, educators can’t exactly ask those we serve to “take a number,” nor do we want to.  Whether we’ve come to terms with it or not, I believe that most of us thrive on (and even enjoy) the high-octane, fast paced world in which we work.  We’re energized by the hustle and bustle of school life…it’s exciting!

This is where the overhead compartment comes in.  Each interaction is different.  The daily communication needs of our partners in the classroom, the building, and the community exist along multiple spectrums including: informal to formal, casual to critical, guarded to collaborative, deteriorative to generative, diminutive to empowering, and so on…in all directions.

I leave some conversations feeling as though I’m on top of the world.  I leave others feeling as thought I’ve been knocked down a few rungs.  Some interactions are indicative of positive progress while others produce outcomes that suggest a need for focused repair efforts.  How do we, as parents, students, educators, community leaders, and partners in teaching and learning, move from person to person or group to group without dragging the remnants of each interaction with us?

The fact is, we don’t truly know what energy is needed for productivity in any given situation until we’re engaged in it.  Furthermore, I’m finding that in order to be fully engaged in each, I have to enter each with an open heart, an open mind, and a degree of clarity that would preempt lingering energy, regardless of the nature of that energy.

I have to stow my baggage in an overhead compartment during my travels each day so that I’m holistically available to each person I interact with along my daily journey.  As I frequently note regarding most leadership and learning challenges that are addressed throughout the pages of this blog, the fact that I’m human prevents me from hitting that mark every time, but it’s a focused aim, and in so being, I’m getting better at it each day.

Alongside the wonderful, “Are those my only two choices” interaction from yesterday, were a couple of fundamentally crucial conversations that led to some shifting for myself and for some of my partners at school.  Nothing terribly intense, but change is a process that requires great patience and is often met with some initial discomfort.  I will need to process those interactions further.  I will have to reflect on them in concentrated to maximize my learning and growth.

As you might guess, I will use my reflective writing practice as a part of that processing.  But, and equally importantly, I needed to not process those interactions right away.  I needed to move on the next.  I would not have been well served to toss the “baggage” from those interactions, but I would also have been remiss to carry it around with me for the rest of the day.  I needed to stow it…and with a focus on effective leadership and communication, stow it I did.  It felt good.  I felt productive.

As always, some of my best learning seems to come from the genuine expression of kids.  I’ve heard it suggested that when we face difficult challenges, we are facing a choice between immediate processing or opportunity loss.  I would suggest that we look at our daily challenges a bit differently.  Reflective processing is critical, but we simply don’t always have time in our busy days to attend to it immediately following any given integration.

The next time you face a challenge that leaves you stuck in processing mode when you really have to move forward, if you’re thinking that you have to stop in your tracks or sacrifice the learning, consider asking yourself, “Are those my only two choices?”  Then consider stowing the baggage in the overhead compartment and retrieving it at the end of the day, or at another time when you can truly give it the attention it deserves without allowing it to become a distractor to the great work you need to engage in with the many other people you serve each day.

Live.  Learn.  Lead.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.


  1. Lindsay

    I love the point of “stowing it”. Not with the purpose of disregarding it, but with the intent to be present in the moment for every opportunity, rather than becoming completely overwhelmed. The ability to reflect at a later time and revisit things is such a gift. A great lesson, full of insight. Thank you!

    • bergseye

      Thanks Lyndsay! I know that you have opportunities to stow experiences for reflective learning all day long as you work in the highly energized world of first grade:)! And, I know that you do a great job of it through your own reflective process! Thanks for reading and commenting. I truly appreciated your ongoing partnership & your continued contributions to my learning & growth! Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. Heather

    A great life lesson and skill as an adult, but also very relevant for children. I can’t help but wonder how our schools and world would be different if we made this a focused teaching skill with our little ones so that it would become more automatic in adulthood. I will have to find teaching moments and do a better job of incorporating this at home for me and my kiddo!!

    • bergseye

      What a wonderful thought Heather! I know that many teachers do a great job of teaching reflective writing…I wonder what’s being done to drive the learning home by incorporating it into the healthy processing of daily challenges our students are facing in and outside of school. Thanks for reading and sharing! I’m going to dig into this idea a bit and report out with findings/possible next steps:)!

  3. Dr. Micki Berg

    I have worked hard to shift from a reactive to processing mode. Although I am not always successful, I have come a long way. I find the more critical the event or situation, the more important reflection is. Thank you for the reminder and reinforcement.

    • bergseye

      Great word choice…reactive to processing mode:)! It’s a process, but it sure is worthwhile to take the time to get good at processing…which, as you know, is where the learning and growth happen! Have a great weekend!

  4. Jeanne Behrens

    This post is so spot on. My challenge is to find a way to do the processing necessary rather than “letting it go” especially for those things that may not require a crucial, critical or immediate follow-up component but should be processed in some way. I like the idea of the written reflection and developing this quality in our young students. Anxious to hear more about that element.

    • bergseye

      Thanks Jeanne…I’m so glad that this post spoke to you! I recently wrote about making time to reflect. It’s not always easy, but the more you do it, the more you find that it’s not an extra – but an invaluable aspect of holistic learning and growth. The better I am at taking time out to write, the more time I seem to have. Processing, even though it is a commitment, causes me to become increasingly efficient! Thanks again for reading and adding your voice to this post…your input is greatly appreciated! Have a wonderful week, filled with reflective processing when and where you decide it belongs:)!

  5. Kristina

    As I read your blog I had an aha moment. I’m certainly not stowing my baggage or using reflective writing to help me process things later. After an “interesting” week, I’ve spent all weekend thinking the same thoughts over and over. It’s amazing how much clarity I just gained from you. It is important for me to be there for each person I encounter as a principal and I must find a way to stow my challenges throughout the day. I think I need a journal. Thank you so much.

    • bergseye

      Thank you for the thoughtful and genuine comment Kristina…I love to hear about people making connections to the content of my posts:)! I’m excited at the thought that you’re thinking of starting a journal. A commitment to reflective writing has been truly transformative in my life! Please touch base along you journey – and stick to it:)!

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