Summer is here! Time for backyard barbecues, days by the water, and nurturing your inner teacher.
Many educators arrive at summer’s front door feeling nothing short of exhausted. We’re in a profession that demands much of us on a daily basis – physically, intellectually, and emotionally.
So, now that you’ve hugged your students good-bye, prepared your classroom for the summer cleaning crew, and marked the Little League carpool responsibilities on the calendar, it’s time to think about how you’ll take care of yourself this summer.
My wish for you is that this summer will restore and refresh you both personally and professionally. How? Today begins the first in a five-part series.
Tip #1 Take a brain break.
We know our students’ brains function better when we provide variety and periodic breaks during their learning day. But, too often we don’t apply those same principles to our own lives. Summer is the perfect time to slow things down, shake things up, and experience new things. Following are seven suggestions for adult brain breaks that will help you become more aware, playful, and present in your everyday life this summer.
As teachers we’re used to running bell-to-bell by the clock. We gulp down our lunch while preparing for the afternoon and feel lucky when we can squeeze in a bathroom break. If our class arrives at the cafeteria at 11:28 rather than 11:26 and the head server scolds us for getting the schedule off track. So when school’s out, some of us really struggle with slowing down, even though there may be more flexibility to our days. But an intentional slowdown is essential if we are going to truly recover from the deep fatigue that most of us carry.
- Listen to your body. Rest when you feel like resting.
- Turn off the alarm. Take a nap. Go to bed early.
- Enjoy your meal, savoring the flavors of summer, rather that rushing to beat the bell.
- Read a book in the middle of the day, even though you could be scrubbing the kitchen floor instead.
A close cousin of the slowdown is spontaneity. If there ever there was a season that calls for spontaneity, summer is it. But, because we’ve developed the mindset that we must maximize every single minute during the school year, many of us are prone to drive our summer days with detailed to-do lists and self-imposed schedules. When we over-schedule our lives, however, we miss the opportunity for spontaneity. Life is short and many opportunities only present themselves once. Summer provides a great chance to practice being ready to take advantage of life’s opportunities whenever they come.
- Try existing without a to-do list or agenda at least one day each week.
- Follow the day where it takes you.
- Say “Yes!” to fun as often as you can.
- Pack a bag with a few essentials (sunscreen, towels, wipes, snacks, a few bottles of water, books for the car) and have it in the wings ready to go when the moment arises. A pre-packed bag of goodies can make it easier to say, “Yes” when the moment arises.
- Eat when you’re hungry. Sleep when you’re tired.
- Try to stop looking at the clock.
Do interesting things.
Whether you learn to quilt, try paddle boarding, eat Indian food for the first time, restore a piece of furniture, or study the ant hill in your backyard doesn’t matter. What matters is committing to try some novel and interesting things this summer. You’ll expand your outlook and come back to school in the fall a more interesting person, with stories to tell and experiences to relish.
- Make a list of at least three new and interesting things you’ll try this summer and hang it in a prominent spot. Check each of them off as your experience it.
- Get in the habit of asking others for suggestions about interesting things to try. You’ll be amazed how much is waiting to be discovered right in under your nose.
- Snap some photos of your adventures. Let the world know about the interesting things you’re pursuing.
Although we recognize the value of play and playfulness in the lives our students, many of us are play deprived ourselves. Play can take many forms, but ultimately it is defined as anything we do for the sheer joy of it, with no practical goal or outcome in mind. Below are a few ideas to get you thinking about ways you might play this summer:
- Jump on a swing at the park with your kids.
- Buy some soft and new PlayDoh even if you don’t have little ones at home to create with you.
- Dig out some art supplies and paper and see what emerges.
- Build a sand castle or a house of cards.
- Blow bubbles in the breeze.
- Run through the sprinkler.
Spend time in nature.
When it comes to our students, we know instinctively the benefits of time spent in the fresh air as well as the consequences of kids not getting enough time outdoors. (Oh, the dreaded days of indoor recess!) But what’s good for the children is also good for the adults, and it turns out very few of us are getting enough time outside these days. Time spent in nature has a myriad of proven benefits. It can make us both smarter and stronger. It can help clear our minds and inspire creativity. Ultimately, it has the power to renews the soul. So, this summer, get outside as often as you can. Enjoy a sunset. Climb a hill. Visit a local park. Hunt for frogs. Kayak the lake. Or, simply sit in a lawn chair and listen to the song of the morning birds.
- Try to spend some time outside every day this summer.
- Take tasks and projects outdoors as often as you can.
- Break up your car trip by stopping periodically to get out of the vehicle and into nature. (Historic markers are a great opportunity for this. They allow you an easy way to stretch your legs, take in the beauty of an area, and learn a bit about its history all within a few quick minutes.
- When given the choice, always choose to eat outside. Eating outdoors makes food taste better, the conversation more relaxed, and the brain happier.
Clear out some clutter.
According the ancient Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui, we can make room for new and positive things to come into our lives by letting go of past baggage. Summer is a great time to clear out some clutter, at home and at school. A lighter load prepares us to be more nimble in our journey.
- Take a look in those cupboards and drawers and challenge yourself to get really honest about what is essential and what is simply taking up space.
- Ask yourself, “When did I actually use this last?” If you haven’t used it in the last year, it’s probably time to let it go.
- Share your abundance by developing the practice of giving things away to others. You can do this by donating boxes and piles to a local charity or by strategically matching items with the people in your life you’d like to offer them to.
- Weed through the duds in your book collection at school. Keep only books that kids will love and that are in good shape.
- At school, share extras (in good condition) with new teachers who are working to establish their first classrooms.
In this world of hyper-connectivity, it’s easy to miss out on real life while we’ve got our eyes on the phone, tablet, or computer. The last two summers I have challenged myself to completely disconnect for at least one week. No email, no web surfing, no Twitter, no Facebook, no Tetris, no computer, no outgoing calls or texts. The first day is usually excruciating. The second day, sometimes even harder. But, by the third I start to experience this powerful sense of freedom as well as painful awareness of things I’ve neglected with too much screen time. Whether it’s for a week or just a few days, this is a summer challenge I encourage everyone to experience.
- Set up an e-mail responder letting people know when you’ll get back to them.
- Tell your immediate family or friends what you’re doing or who to call or contact in case of an emergency. This will prevent their panic when you don’t respond to a text within the usual five-minute response time.
- Put your devices out of sight. If you need help getting through the first couple of days, turn them over to a loved one for safekeeping, telling them.
Off You Go!
That’s it. Time to give yourself a brain break now. Turn off the device. Go outside. Play a bit.
The next installment in the this series will focus on building your ideal Professional Learning Network (PLN) this summer, right from the comfort of your own backyard. And don’t worry. If you’ve decided to disconnect for a while, it will all still be here when you return.