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The Summer Balancing Act: Navigating Work and Family Like a High Wire Walk

By Nick DeForest
The Summer Balancing Act: Navigating Work and Family Like a High Wire Walk

A time to relax and recharge your batteries, but also a time to reflect on and revise your program. Navigating the balancing act that is the summer vacation of an international school athletic director (AD) can mimic a feat of Charles Blondin’s.

The Great Blondin is someone worth googling. He crossed the Niagara River on a tightrope with a camera strapped to his back and performed other daring feats like carrying a table and chair with him. I think of Blondin on my yearly pilgrimage back to Niagara each summer. I was always interested in Niagara Falls growing up, but it was not until I got to show my Austrian-born wife and children around that I truly enjoyed all of its beauty, myths, and magic.

Traveling during the summer months goes without saying for international school employees, especially expats who often have to go “home” and visit with friends and family that still cannot believe they live so far away. Traveling and seeing friends and family is fun but can also be very stressful and the exact opposite of relaxing. Finding a balance between family time and personal relaxation is often just a pipe dream for many educators but, for the AD, it is often even harder. I know every job in education has its extra workload during the summer; but being an AD, I can say that we too have a lot to balance during the summer.

It is not common knowledge, but the workload of an athletic director is incredible. Coming out of COVID, the expectations of school communities have increased considerably. So, after a school year that was, as one colleague put it, “crazy and way more challenging,” the only time to try and implement new initiatives is during the summer. In addition, many of us do not receive the entire summer vacation as we often have to report back early, leave late, or be reachable the entire summer.

So just like the Great Blondin, picture yourself walking on a tightrope suspended high above the Niagara River, with one side symbolizing work initiatives and obligations and the other representing family and personal time. Balancing both sides without falling requires focus, concentration, and steady steps. A successful summer relies on your ability to maintain equilibrium on this high wire so let's examine some of its parts.

The Tightrope:

The tightrope represents the limited time and resources you have during the summer. You only have a certain number of days or weeks to spend with your family regardless of if you are traveling home for the entire summer, visiting somewhere new, or just laying low. There are various commitments and responsibilities on both sides that need your attention. For me, I never try to stay in one place too long. I like balancing trips to other countries (home or elsewhere) with some downtime here in Austria where I can get more things accomplished.

Work Side:

On one side of the tightrope, there are work-related responsibilities and commitments. These could include deadlines, emails to respond to, phone calls, or any other work-related tasks that might require your attention even during the summer. That is not to mention any of the new initiatives that you want to start or the revision of some things that you already are doing.

Family Side:

On the other side of the tightrope, there is family time and activities. These could include spending quality time with your spouse, playing with your kids, going on outings, and engaging in holiday traditions together. What makes it even harder for international educators is that summer is often the only time of the year you can see certain people. Making sure that loved ones are aware of your other commitments upfront will go a long way.

Focus and Concentration:

Walking on a tightrope requires intense focus and concentration. Similarly, balancing work and family during the summer can require your undivided attention to both aspects. You will need to be fully present in each moment, whether it's dedicating focused time to work tasks or fully engaging with your family without letting work distractions seep in. This is why I hope most of us have our email notifications turned off and do not constantly open the email app on our phones. One friend removes his email app from his phone and only checks in if necessary during his allocated computer time.

Steady Steps:

To maintain balance on a tightrope, you need steady and deliberate steps. Likewise, finding balance during the holiday involves taking deliberate steps to allocate time for both work and family. It might mean setting aside specific blocks of time for work and making a conscious effort to fully immerse yourself in family activities during designated periods. The best time for me to get some work done is right away in the morning with a cup of coffee. I try to do that before anyone else wakes up, even if that means I need to set an alarm earlier than I would like.

Safety Measures:

In a real high wire act, acrobats often have safety measures in place, such as a safety net below them. Similarly, in this analogy, having contingency plans or support systems can act as a "safety net" to ensure that important work matters are covered, even as you prioritize family time. This would, for sure, involve delegating any tasks that need to be done at school while you are away and, of course, setting up automatic responses to emails. As I mentioned already, letting family members know your commitments and why you are trying to work on some things during the summer is crucial.


High wire acrobats need to adjust their movements based on changing conditions or winds. In the same way, balancing work and family during a family holiday may require adaptability. Unexpected work emergencies or family needs might arise and being flexible allows you to manage these challenges effectively. Water damage to our office a few summers ago threw a big wrench into some family plans. By the way, does anyone have flights that are not delayed anymore?

Celebrating Success:

Successfully walking a high wire is a significant achievement, and acrobats celebrate their accomplishments. Similarly, at the end of a well-balanced family holiday, it's essential to acknowledge and celebrate the time you've spent with your family and the work you've managed to accomplish. I love lists so setting up my summer work goals before the summer is important to my planning. When I get to cross some of those things off it feels extra special.

In reality, most international school employees, including athletic directors, have things they want or need to do during the summer. However, what makes it hard for athletic directors is the lack of weekends and evenings during the school year for planning. We are servant leaders that have the added desire to constantly make our programs better. Summer is our time to do that, but it cannot come at the expense of our families and our own relaxation and recharging.

Remember, the analogy of a "high wire walk" highlights the need for focus, steady steps, adaptability, and a safety net while balancing work and family during the summer. Each person's situation is unique but by maintaining your balance and staying mindful of both sides, you can make the most of your time with loved ones while responsibly getting some work done. Communicate openly, plan in advance, and be willing to adapt as needed.

What did I cross off this summer? I completed some website updates, designed and ordered some new signage, and wrote some new policies for our athletics and activities handbook. I would love to hear what you crossed off or how you tackle your summer balancing act!


Nick DeForest has been in Vienna Austria since 2000 and works at the American International School Vienna. Nick founded the Globetrottin' ADs before the onset of the pandemic and has continued to bring the international school community together with his podcast, book, and online conferences ever since.

His first book, A Global Playbook: How Every International School Can Raise Its Game is an attempt to show that a successful athletic program can improve the culture of an entire school community. It hopes to raise the game of all international schools by giving directors, principals, teachers, coaches, and athletic directors ideas from top-notch schools around the world. You can find A Global Playbook on Amazon.

Email: [email protected]

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