Back to school [Guest Post]

So many behavioral things happen in our country that signal the start of the school year – commercials, news stories, advertisements. Perhaps your school starts at a different time or even continues year round. Still your life is somewhat impacted by the event we call “back to school”. For school staff, including school nurses, this is both a new beginning and a series of stress-filled, very long, work days. I now know that tasks required of the general population of public school nurses differ significantly from those of private school nurses. Thanks to my attendance at the Magnus Academy this summer, I met dozens of you, willing to share your stories with me. Thank you. I look forward to learning more from you about the unique issues you face in private schools and the creative solutions you’ve accomplished. welcome_back_to_school

A few years into my practice as a school nurse, I asked a seasoned school nurse what I was doing wrong in September. She listened carefully and grinned wider, the longer I talked. “I just can’t seem to get organized,” I’d said, “and every day I feel as if I’ve taken ten steps backward instead of three forward. How can I make September go more smoothly for myself, my students and the staff?” I implored.

When she replied, it was with kindness and care in her voice. “September will never go well. You must start each day fresh, confident in your ability to prioritize, to organize and to move ahead. Make a plan and then deviate from it whenever you really need to. Reschedule what issues can wait. Never turn away a frightened child or a frantic parent. Never minimize a staff members concerns. Always remember your purpose, your value and your importance. Before you know it, the snow will fall and you’ll realize everything that needed to be done, was accomplished. And next fall it will start all over.”

From my own experiences, I’ve put together a small arsenal of strategies that helped me through September. I hope you can take some of these tips and they help you as you head back to school.

1. Get enough sleep.

This cannot be overemphasized. There is simply no way you can be your best self without it. By doing this, you will fell refreshed and have the emotional energy you need to think clearly, react cautiously and make good decisions. You also can use your strategy to model good behaviors for others if they decide to ask how you can stay so calm, cool and collected during this period of time.

2. Eat breakfast.

Eat it at home, bring it to your desk at work (though normally I would not recommend this) or eat in the car. It doesn’t matter to me what you eat but the car won’t run without gas and neither will you.

3. Dress for success.

Pick out favorite clothes that fit well and look good. Do this the week before school starts. Just like the students, back-to-school clothes make a statement about your readiness for the job at hand. Even if it is not required by your employer, I suggest a nametag. Most people who meet you for the first time are more apt to remember you if they can read your name several times while interacting with you. And if you want to, you can be creative with it. I knew one school nurse who simply used a new band aid everyday as a nametag. She changed the color of the marker she wrote with and even the way she wrote her name. The kids loved it.

4. Make a plan each morning.

Choose one short term task, one time intensive task and one fun-filled task to do and write them down. Try to complete both the first and last as early in the day as you can. Work at least fifteen minutes on the long term task. Check them off as accomplished and do the same thing every day. By October you will have a record of all you accomplished and be able to feel good about that, even if you are overwhelmed by what lies ahead.

5. Meet someone new.

This does not include the people who seek you out. This means leave your office and find a person you’ve never met before. Introduce yourself and ask who they are and what they like about being in the school today. Tell them it was very nice to meet them. Now you’ve done something good for both of you. You might be the only person that day who said hello to them in this way. It spreads goodness and optimism and also enlarges your world.

6. Look something up.

You might use a book, but the Internet is easier. Try to learn something you didn’t know that applies in some way to the work you do. It could be immunization development, playground safety or how to avoid bees. Decide if it’s valuable enough to write down or share, then do that if it is. Some school nurses blog on their school website about the new things they learn each year that can help parents and students. Once you get the hang of it, this isn’t as hard as it sounds.

7. Break for lunch.

This is so much harder than it sounds. If you truly feel you cannot leave your office for even 10 minutes, at least close the door and sit by the window. No window you say? Sit in a chair and close your eyes. Do you know how to practice alternate nostril breathing? It is an easy skill to learn and can be done for 30 seconds or 5 minutes. Both are beneficial. Both force your brain to STOP thinking about what needs to be done and focus only in breathing. It will clear your head and then you can swallow a few mouthfuls of something nourishing before continuing on your day.

8. Reflect.

Know that without your presence in this school, things would not go as well. You watch out for problems related to health, safety, and security, and create plans to maintain them. You provide on the spot decision making about unexpected illnesses, accidents and events. You are a solid example of integrity and caring. You protect records and information. You listen better than anyone else and you observe while doing so. You assess and plan and implement and evaluate all that you do for children, teens, parents and staff. Everyone in the school will eventually be touched by the service you provide. Whether they ever know it or not doesn’t matter. You make a difference. Welcome back.

About the author

Deb_IlardiDeb Ilardi, RN, has been the Clinical Editor of School Nurse News for over a decade. She has forty years of experience as a registered nurse in a wide variety of settings, most recently twenty years as a school nurse in central NY. Deb continues to lecture and write about the area of practice she is passionate about. Contact Deb at