I recently was driving in the car sans children so it was very peaceful and serene. Not to say my time in the car with my three boys isn’t wonderful - it’s just a louder version of wonderful where I don’t get to sit in quiet or do what I ended up doing on this particular drive which is downloading a book that I forgot I had waiting for me on Audible and click play.
I’m going to recommend this particular book to you in this episode so I will talk more about it later, but for now I need to share how the book struck me in a way I was not anticipating.
So I’m driving along and I’m listening in as the author tells a story and brings wisdom to something I had been feeling for most of my life, and she gave such clarity I didn’t know I needed. I was even brought to tears - not tears of sorrow necessarily but tears of feeling seen in what I thought was just all in my head.
And the book, so aptly named, is Jennie Allen’s Get Out Of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts.
The book title doesn’t necessarily matter for the purpose of me bringing it up in the intro of this episode. What matters is a few key things that will serve as another part of this episode where we talk about what we teachers can get out of our reading when there seems to be no time and no energy left over to do anything for ourselves… even picking up a book.
Those key things are this:
I’ll get into each of these items, plus some, and recommend my top 5 recent reads, but the goal is that after listening to this episode you’ll not only have that list of 5 recommended reads from me, but also some strategies or practices I’ve used to maintain some semblance of reading of books amidst the craziness of life, raising a family, and running a business while teaching part-time.
Because here’s my truth or reality I want to get across to you listening today. Before all of the commitments I hold near and dear to my heart in my life right now - being a mother of three boys, a principal’s wife, running a business and teaching, plus a few others - I read almost non-stop. Then my reading came to a crashing halt when I became a teacher, and then even more so when I became a mother. And for some reason I felt guilty about that. As if it was the indicator of the fact that I’m NOT able to do it all.
This may seem like a nothing topic to you, which that’s totally fine, but I’ve learned a few things over the last five to ten years that I’ve reflected on and want to share from a place that is a working-mom-teacher perspective.
So, if you’re ready to join me, I would so love it if you took a moment to share this episode with a friend - and this time it doesn’t only have to be a teacher-friend. You can click on the share button where you’re listening, and send the episode in a text or email, or even share it on social media. It would mean the world to me.
Alright, let’s get to it.
Today’s episode is brought to you by the Full Focus Planner. If you’re like me, you totally geek out about planners. Especially the super colorful and organized teacher planners with the stickers and the tabs. Seriously - so cute. But as I searched and tested multiple planners, they only became more work to maintain and didn’t necessarily serve the work I was doing in my classroom.
Then I found the Full Focus Planner.
Teachers know the power in backwards planning, right? We start with where we want students to be, then we plan our lessons backwards from there. It’s just good practice. So why don’t we do the same with our goals, whether professional or personal?
Well, the Full Focus Planner allows us to do that. It also does NOT tell you absolutely everything you need to do or accomplish. Yes, you heard me right. It doesn’t put everything in your face to where you’re bogged down by the weight of it all. Instead it allows you to prioritize your tasks so that you are focusing on what’s most important right now.
To learn more about how I use my Full Focus Planner and how it can help you get a hold of your unsustainable to-do list, head over to Teachonamission.com/planner.
First off I should say that I am a serial book reader or killer, depending on how you look at it. Like I said, I was an avid reader before taking on all the incredibly important commitments I have in my life now, and I finished all the books I started. No exceptions.
Now, that’s not the case. I have a stack of books I have started and not finished. And I say this to say that I’m no reading connoisseur, so as much as I will make some suggestions on maintaining a sustainable teacher life while trying to keep a reading habit, please know that I am not perfect… by any means.
But, I have learned a few things that I’ll share here and hope that you find helpful.
First up is to rotate through topics. If you’re anything like me, you have quite a few genres you find yourself drawn to. Mine are:
If I focus on any one of these areas with more than one book in a row, I get burnt out on the topic quickly, end up not finishing the book and then glean nothing I could have if I had taken the time to read a fun book or something from another genre I like.
So that would be my first suggestion for you, to rotate through the reading topics or genres you like the most.
Likewise, don’t feel guilty if your reading is not professionally or teacher/classroom focused. You’re allowed to not be a teacher. Heck, if you never picked up a teacher-focused book I would say kudos to you! Keep your reading sacred and focused on you, not on teacher-you. But if you want to work one in there every once in a while, go for it in the name of mixing it up and be able to actually glean something from the reading because you aren’t already burned out on the topic.
My second suggestion is rooted in something I recently learned about myself, felt bad about it for a small moment, and then moved on. Don’t feel guilty for abandoning a book or being what I call a “book player.”
I’m telling you - and my husband will defend me with a giant eye-roll right now because he’s not like me but can testify to this fact - I have four books in my nightstand right now that I have starter, maybe even made it halfway through, and then started another. Then I’ll return to a book I started two books ago, and then get back to the one I most recently started.
This is the definition of a book player. And I’m ok with it. You know why?
Because I’m able to get what I need from any one of those books in the short while that I’m reading it, and I’m getting quite a lot, especially if it’s a book that I’m reading in order to learn.
I despise reading through a book just to get to the finish when there were exercises, lessons, and resounding messages that I needed to let sit and simmer for some time before moving on. Instead, I’ll put the book down and while cooking dinner or on my next commute, I’ll think about what I read, consider how it applies to me and how I can best go about implementing what I learned.
Does that mean it takes me forever to read a book? Yep. And that’s ok, because this isn’t a race.
Oftentimes we think this about our classrooms. Like it’s a race to get to the finish, and yet we’re not even sure what we’re in a hurry for.
I’m not reading to be productive. I’m reading any particular book so that it has an impact on my life (this is less true for the fun books I read, but you get what I’m saying), and that doesn't happen quickly.
Again, the same is true for your classroom. The truly meaningful lessons you want to impart on your students (the life ones, maybe not as much the content ones), they take time. Intentional, dedicated time, so don’t be in your head about rushing through just to get to the finish. Trust the process you’ve created to make it happen.
Alright, let’s shift and talk honestly about how unsustainable it is, or maybe unobtainable is the better word, to read when you are a full time teacher and a parent; or a teacher and a coach; or a teacher and business owner. Whatever your combination is, you’ve got one that prevents you from sitting still for a moment and reading a book. And when you do get a moment, you don’t want to stimulate any part of your body, particularly your brain because you’re exhausted and just need something to numb you.
I get it. And I’m there too.
A quick side-bar I’ll throw in here though is something I’ve been reflecting on a lot recently and that is this status quo of exhaustion in today’s worldy culture, particularly when it comes to our profession and our kids’ schedules. The status quo is that we are exhausted at the end more days than not, and don’t have energy for anything else. So my question is, why? Why is it the status quo to be exhausted from our work? Why is it the status quo that we need numbing in the first place? Why can’t we do a good day’s work without feeling exhausted by the end of it?
Those questions and that discussion is for another time that I hope we get to eventually.
So here’s my suggestion - listening can be reading too.
Think about WHY you are reading any particular book. Most of the time, except for some of the professionally-focused books you read, it’s to listen to the stories, the accounts of others, and bring their perspective, teaching, or clarity into your life.
This can be accomplished by listening, not just by reading words on paper.
Now, if you’re an avid on paper or device reader, I totally get it, and you keep doing you. But in this phase of my life, sitting still and reading a book is not something I’m able to do as often as I would like. Or at least not as often as I’m able to maintain my attention and remember what it was the last time I was able to sit still and read.
In this phase of my life, when I’m sitting still, it’s with my kids or next to my husband, or amongst friends, and if I whip out a book in that moment, I’m immediately isolating myself from them.
But there are other moments where I’m sitting still, or my mind is still, and reading words on paper is not doable, when listening is…. Like, when I’m driving, unloading the dishwasher, exercising, walking the dog, grocery shopping (who am I kidding - Picking up groceries), you name it.
Unless it’s a step-by-step, here’s how you implement kind of book, I’m more likely to listen to it now. And listening to a chapter here and there, then reflecting on it has become a nice balance of reading and practicing what I’ve learned, and for this phase in my life, it’s working.
We are talking about all things sustainable teaching on this podcast - whether it’s sustainable grading, systems at home, or classroom strategies - it’s all about helping you feel supported and sustained as an educator. If you’re feeling you want more - more ways to be sustainable, or tips and ideas from me and my team at Teach On A Mission, I want to challenge you.
Meaning, I want to welcome you to our totally free 7-day Sustainable Teacher Challenge. Each day I’ll show up in your email with a training video and a workbook of prompts that will help you reflect on and ultimately make more sustainable decisions for your classroom. You can register when you’re ready by going here, and I’ll see you inside.
Let’s finally get to those top 5 recommended books I’m reading right now or have recently read, not that they will be books you order or download right away, but maybe inspire your genre rotation and you might add to your to-read list for later.
You can find all of these books on my Amazon store which is linked below where you’re listening and in our full-length show notes on our website so they are easy for you to grab as you’re listening. Here we go.
Now, this book is a business-focused one, but in a kick-ass applicable to life kind of way that I would absolutely recommend to any teacher (or any professional, really) who is looking for a perspective or mindset to use in building a more sustainable work-life balance.
I loved listening to this one so much that I actually created a desktop background on Canva with the quote “Let it be easy.” It’s a mantra I’m using for this entire year, and may even continue on beyond this year because it calms my mind and helps me do just that, to let it be easy, when the world says that it’s overwhelming or too hard.
This is the book I talked about in the introduction to this episode. It is one that I will recommend to every single woman I will ever meet who may be looking for the next book to read.
Jennie Allen is a Christian author and speaker, as well as a self-proclaimed neuroscience nerd (which makes my Psychology teacher heart melt), and her perspective of stopping the spiral of our toxic thoughts through the lens of what God has to say and how our minds scientifically work was mind-blowing for me… pun intended.
My next recommendation is by the same author, Jennie Allen, and it’s her newest book, Find Your People. At the time that I’m recording this episode, tomorrow night starts a book study I’m doing on this book with our church’s moms group. I’m so incredibly pumped to read Allen’s perspective on the post-pandemic, but truthfully always been there, loneliness we feel, and how our community and family network may need some revamping in order to live the full life God has for us.
Alright, let’s recommend a for-fun book. I am done with my Nicholas Sparks and Harry Potter days - those were my main focus in high school and college, and have moved on to a much more adult version in Diana Galbadon’s Outlander series.
I have to be honest, I watched the shows on Netflix first. Yep, cardinal bookworm sin. But #sorrynotsorry, it was awesome. And where the TV series ended, I picked up in the books. She’s got at least three more books past where the TV series left off, and is still writing more!
My inner history nerd and secret love-story enthusiast totally geeks out on these books and the tv series. I’m fairly certain I’ve only ever completed an entire tv series a handful of times. And that’s quite unusual in the Netflix, I-can-stream-anything era we find ourselves in. Not that I deserve a badge of honor, it more so comes from a place of needing to be productive and doing something all the time, which is a flaw of its own… but NOT with this series.
I even brought up these books on a live Q&A session I did in the spring of last year with my AP® Psychology teachers inside of our Sustainable Psych Teacher membership™. A totally professional, let’s-get-your-questions-answered kind of scenario, and there I was talking about Outlander. It was cool though because the teachers in the group liked going off topic and talking about our interests and real-life scenarios of needing to not be a teacher and just get lost in a story for a bit.
Our brains are built for stories. Just google it, and read the research. I’m not an expert in that research, but it’s there. It’s why we can so easily sit for 2+ hours through a movie, or even more through an entire Netflix series. It’s also why kids can sit for hours and play video games… It's about the stories. So find one, or two, you don’t mind getting lost in, especially when you’re needing a break from your teacher-brain.
The last recommendation for you is an education-focused one, and it is not something I recently read, so I’m kind of breaking the promise of this episode’s title, but I feel good about it and here’s why. On this podcast, I have a few episodes on the topic of grading. I also have an inbox full of questions about grading. It’s just a hot topic in the lives of teachers who need more sustainability.
So I’m going to recommend a book that I read on my own accord as a teacher, and one that both my husband and I used in our research for what was my master’s thesis, and my husband's dissertation. It is Transforming Classroom Grading by Robert Marzono.
Now, what I’ll say about this book is that you could take the perspective of learning from it, much like a college course or professional development scenario, and try to implement absolutely everything you learn. That wouldn't be a bad approach, but my recommendation would be to get through the book reading and taking your notes, let the overall message about the grading system sink in a bit. Then reflect on what you want to do about it in the walls of your classroom, making sure to plan out what you can sustainably accomplish and maintain when you go to make changes.
This book, along with some other professional development, is what has inspired my husband and my passion for the topic of grades, giving us a perspective or mindset to act from rather than a list of to-dos in most cases. I hope it can be that for you as well.
Alright teacher-friend, there you have it for episode 67 and my 5 Recommendations based on what I’m reading right now.
Now that you’ve listened to this episode, you not only have a list of 5 recommended reads from me, but also some strategies or practices I’ve used to maintain some semblance of reading of books amidst the craziness of life, raising a family, and running a business while teaching part-time.
Remember to follow this podcast so you don’t miss any new episodes - we release a new one each Tuesday, and we would so love it if you would share this episode with others, helping us get into the ears of more teachers like you who would benefit from hearing that their sustainability matters and we’re here to help them achieve it.
Wishing you all the best, and I’ll see you right here next week.
Bye for now.