As the end of the school year approaches and summer plans begin to take shape, educators across the United States are preparing for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. It is at this time of the school year that educators often reflect on the past year and make needs assessments. They zero in on “what worked and what did not work.” In making these assessments educators also begin to develop their mental “next year I’m going to do this differently” lists. In that spirit, it is a good time to visit some strategies that I have used throughout my career to not only rejuvenate during the summer but also to stay fresh throughout each school year.
First, take time for you. Many outside of PK-12 education see the work schedule of educators as prime, having all major holidays and many other small breaks “given” as “paid vacation time.” The truth is, the breaks are nice. However, as all educators know, they are not paid vacations. They are simply off contract days. That said, there is no need to feel guilty about the time though. The 5 day school week does not equate to a 40 hour work week for dedicated hardworking educators. In fact, a hardworking educator’s work week is more like 60 or 80 hours on a consistent basis across a 32 – 36 week school year. The days off are well earned.
Knowing this, it is essential that you take a portion of the time away from school to rejuvenate. Whether your passion is exploring the great outdoors, visiting foreign countries on leisure or mission trips, or just relaxing at the beach with a good book, the time away is needed for spiritual relaxation. This allows you to return to work in the fall mentally and physically rested, ready to give your all for students for another 9 -10 months.
Second, view new initiatives as opportunities instead of obstacles. Those of us who have been in education for a while know that each new school year comes with new initiatives, in greater or lesser degrees. The challenge of new initiatives is that they push us out of our comfort zones. Just as we have established a routine, the requirements change. In addition, the changes don’t always fit our philosophy for the way things, say curriculum or instruction, should work. This dissonance causes much angst and can potentially drain the “mental energy” of educators.
So the question is, what should educators do in response to new initiatives? As previously stated, new initiatives have to be viewed as opportunities. They are opportunities to expand our current paradigms and practices. To be implemented effectively and with fidelity, new initiatives have to be reconciled with our current philosophies. A good example of this is the time when a county that I worked in as a teacher changed its extra credit work policy. The requirement to provide additional structured opportunities for students to earn credit was unsettling for many educators in the district. It was unsettling until they changed the way they perceived extra credit. In a large teacher meeting, one staff member stated “Isn’t it our purpose to make sure that students learn? If the answer to this is yes, then why can’t students be given multiple opportunities to demonstrate their mastery of the content? Isn’t that mastery learning? Isn’t that in the best interest of the student?” After that, extra credit was not an issue in that district anymore. Again, the way to meet new initiatives is to view them as opportunities. With this approach, you’ll stay fresh as you take on new challenges.
One final tip on staying fresh is to remember to tap into the “hive mind.” What is the hive mind? Well, just as bees live and work in hives sharing the labor to achieve common goals, we too must share the labor. Nothing is more draining as an educator than to work in isolation. It doesn’t matter if the task is developing a classroom test or planning the budget for a whole school district. If you work alone, you will tap your mental battery, fast, and you will find that your work is filled with holes that you did not see or anticipate. By working collaboratively/”using the hive” you amplify your capacity and increase the perspectives from which your work is examined. This results in increased working capacity and an overall better end product.
To close, remember that it is important to stay fresh and not just at the end of the school year but throughout. By implementing a few simple strategies that include taking time for self, viewing challenges as opportunities, and working collaboratively, you can increase your capacity and effectiveness. This will result in improved outcomes for students, which is the purpose that we all must remain focused on.