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What Is Summer to a Sustainable Teacher?

May 18, 2021

I have an analogy for you that will take us through the duration of this episode.  Here it is.  Throughout the school year, we each have multiple spinning  plates in the air as teachers and as human beings.  Each facet of our life is one spinning plate, and it’s our job to keep them spinning and in the air lest they drop and shatter.

Summer break, then, is a time for us to put down all the educational, teachery plates we keep spinning for 9-10 months of the year so that we can focus on other plates.  Summer is an incredible thing for teachers - this is no news to you - but truly, it is time for us to refuel and rejuvenate in whatever aspect of our life we want.

In this episode I’d like to offer some food for thought on how we can use summer to fuel our sustainability throughout the year.  Hence the title What is Summer to a Sustainable Teacher.   So stick around areas within this topic that we’ll be pondering and discussing today, and if it’s an episode and a message that you’re loving, I would so appreciate you letting us know by subscribing, rating and reviewing the podcast.

Alright, let’s get to it.

Spinning Plates

Remember the analogy from the intro about the spinning plates?  Well, instead of completely putting down our teacher and all things education plates, what if we stopped them long enough that we could analyze them, and make necessary adjustments so that what we’re actually doing is making them more effective, self-propelled spinners, so to speak, requiring less maintenance throughout the year.

Visualize this analogy.  

You’re holding all these plates and need to physically take your hand and get certain plates spinning again as they  slow down throughout the year.  A lot of us will use the two inservice days before school starts to put the plates back  up  and frantically   getting them spinning  as fast as we can before the  kids come back.  But what I’m proposing is more sustainable maintenance of our plates, so that when we spin them and get them going at the beginning of the  year, they continue to spin for the rest of the year  without much effort from us.

Now, this advice probably only applies to our teacher-plates, but the analogy works for all of our plates.  Summer can be a time where you’re able to pause your teacher plates  so you can focus on your spiritual, relationship, self-care, or hobby plates.  But  remember, if you  take my  advice to do some  maintenance on  your  teacher-plates over the summer,  they  wills pin more  efficiently (even more sustainably, which fits nicely) that  in turn allows you  more time t throughout  the  school year to keep those personal plates  going  instead of neglecting them as we normally have to out of sheer teacher-survival.

So, I ask you, teacher-friend, what approach will you take with your plates this summer?  Which  ones will you put down, which ones will you analyze and do some  maintenance on, and which ones will you focus on again because it’s hard to keep them spinning throughout the school year.

Get into the Sustainable Teacher Podcast group, which  is linked in the show notes, and let us  know  on the post about  spinning plates.  I’d love to hear from you.

Work ON your Classroom not IN your Classroom

My  next piece of advice is probably my favorite one, or at least the one that I really want you to hear and takeaway from this episode.   So  if  you are distracted right now, come back to me and really hear me  on this.

If you’re going to take the summer to improve some things about  your daily teaching  life, like in the analogy with the spinning plates, please take the opportunity to work ON your  classroom not IN your classroom.

Here’s what I mean by that.  Over the summer you have the brain and time space to think about your classroom as a whole.   You don’t have daunting lesson plans that need to be made, or students to manage, so take the time over the summer to really NOT do those things, and instead work on improving the major aspects of your classroom - the structural makeup of your classroom, the processes and procedures, things that fuel your classroom as its own entity and can work for you instead of you always working for it.

We teachers have to start preaching to ourselves that we are not slaves to our classrooms.  We are professionals and  our talents are best used in building a classroom that works for us, that allows us  to be effective.  I’d rather you  spend 20 hours  on just the structural makeup of  your classroom than even one minute of lesson planning over the summer, because THAT is what’s going to sustain during the school  year when you can barely come up for breath from those lesson plans.

And taking your summer to make those structural changes is ABSOLUTELY NOT a waste of summer if you do it the right way.  Sure if you  spend 40+ hours per week continuing to work , then no, that’s not worth it.  But if you  start  your summer with some reading on the strategy or maybe a course.  And then as you go, you work a little here and there - maybe at baseball practice or while the kids play at the park.  Sure you  want to spend that time with your kids, but you’ve taken them to the  park three times that week already, mom can take a little time to work on her classroom.

It’s those big  decisions you make in the summer that have the most impact on how sustainable your year is.  Do I have research to back up that statement?  Nope, but my experience, and that over hundreds of teachers I’ve worked with shows that to be the case.

Turn off for the Summer?

My last piece of advice goes back to making your summer what you need it to be.

Could you turn everything teacher-related off and not think about teaching for 2.5 months?   

Let’s be honest, you could.   You absolutely could.  And I do recommend you do this for at least a week, if not more like 3 or even 4 weeks. I would always give myself one month, which was often June, but sometimes bled into July because that’s when we’re taking most of our vacations.  But by  the end of it I was missing teaching - I was missing the cool parts of what I do, and so I gradually got back into and by then I was totally ready.

But, really, in  reality, turning everything  off for too long isn’t going to serve  you.  You know how unsustainable teaching was before the pandemic.  And  then the pandemic hit and was like, “Oh, so you thought it was bad before, huh!  Hold my beer!”

No, but really, if we know that where we’re at right now in the pace of our teaching lives is unsustainable, and if we know that no one (and I mean absolutely NOone) is going to fix it for us, then we need to take some intentional steps to help our future selves.  And the summer is the  perfect time to do that.

Something I have for you that I hope you find helpful in reaching for more sustainability in your teaching life and is perfect timing as most of us are approaching the end of the school year at the time that this episode will air, is the Sustainable Teacher Challenge.  When you sign up for this free 7-day challenge, 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. Simple as that. It is a challenge, in that it’s not easy to make these changes, but it’s meant to challenge your thinking and decision making around your own sustainability… it’s NOT meant to challenge your calendar, so it won’t take long to work through each day’s action steps, I promise.

Alright, teacher-friend, there you have it.  Now  that you’ve listened to this episode, I hope you feel equipped to use your summer wisely in a way that will refuel you while setting up your school year for sustainability.  Because, like I said, we all know it’s unsustainable, but we also know that no one is going to change it for us.  So let’s take some manageable steps now to help our future selves.

I’ll see you next week, same time, same place.  Bye for now.

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