By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder
Use your summer to relax, reflect, and recharge. In a school year fraught with challenges, after you record the last grade and attend the last required meeting, it’s time for you to get in your own 3 R’s.
Forget “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic,” I’m talking about RELAXING, REFLECTING, and RECHARGING. Those 3 R’s will sustain you for the next school year. If you neglect them, you will find yourself as frazzled when the new year starts as you feel right now.
Common physical effects of stress include: headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, upset stomach, chest pains, sleep issues, and a change in sex drive. Stress also causes these common mental effects: anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation, feeling overwhelmed, sadness, depression, and irritability.
By the end of the year, most teachers are exhibiting many of these traits. How you approach your summer will either make or break you for next fall.
Seek relaxation for physical and mental benefits
Your body needs time to decompress from the stressors of a school year. You need both physical and mental relaxation.
Some of the benefits of relaxation include:
- Lowered blood pressure
- Increased blood flow
- Reduced pain
- Relaxed muscles
- Increased energy
- Better sleep patterns
- Increased confidence and calmness
- Decreased anxiety and depression
Social distance from technology
One of the biggest time sucks and drain on emotional energy is the technology that allows teachers to perform our job. When you complete the year, put away your computer. For real. Stick it in a closet, and do not look at your school email for a few weeks.
What if the battery dies?
Let it. As a yearbook adviser of a fall delivery book, my summer didn’t even begin until July, so I did some preparing for the next school year while we still completed the book in June. As soon as that last proof was back at the yearbook plant, my computer went off until the beginning of August. I spent one glorious month unplugged from school. If your job allows even more time away, take advantage of it.
What if someone needs to get a hold of you?
For you young teachers who have never taught without email, trust me when I say, if someone needs to reach you, they will. I remember whole summers when the only contact from school was a letter in August telling you the schedule for the first day of school. Unbelievably, schools functioned just fine without a bombardment of emails.
Find your happy place
With technology put away and fewer demands on your time, find what brings you joy and total relaxation. Think about the place and activity you love that allows you to feel completely relaxed. Where can you physically feel the tension in your shoulders ease, your breathing slow down, and your whole body relax?
For me, that means my swimming pool. I find nothing more relaxing in the summer than floating in my pool looking at the bright blue sky framed by the green foliage of our trees and watching the white clouds go by. With a cool drink and a good book, I am in the epitome of relaxation!
As I step into the water, I can literally feel any stress leave my body and a sense of calm and wellbeing fills me. Find that place for you and visit it frequently. It really works like magic in allowing your stress and tension to disappear.
Try relaxation techniques
When you cannot slow down as much as you want, be sure to work relaxation techniques into your day. These are skills you can employ year round.
Things to try include:
- Breathing techniques like the 4-7-8 breathing technique can reduce anxiety and increase sleep. (Breathe in four for seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then slowly release your breath for eight seconds.)
- Progressive muscle relaxation by tightening and releasing muscles along with controlled breathing can induce relaxation.
- Visualization and guided imagery techniques help relieve stress and put your mind and body in better balance.
- Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace, and balance. Besides YouTube videos, there are also a variety of apps you can download for your phone. You will just have to experiment until you find one that suits you.
Use summer to reflect
Besides relaxing, summer and the end of school is an excellent time to reflect. While many people use January 1 as a time to begin again and reflect on the past year, for me, that occurred once school was out. That is when my year ended, and I began to contemplate the next year.
Reflect on the school year
According to the University of Edinburgh, “Reflection is a process of exploring and examining ourselves, our perspectives, attributes, experiences and actions / interactions. It helps us gain insight and see how to move forward.”
Floating in my pool, I often used that time to reflect on the school year. I spent a lot of time reflecting on my classroom.
- What projects worked particularly well? Why?
- What changes should I make?
- How can I do it better, make better community connections, make each project more “real world?”
- What projects were total flops and needed to be thrown out?
- Did I handle specific situations in the best way possible, or should I adjust my response the next time that comes up?
As I reflected, I made mental notes for changes for the new school year, both to the activities and curriculum and also to the classroom culture itself. By taking the time to reflect, I felt more prepared to begin a new school year and usually had lots of new ideas I wanted to try.
Indulge in self reflection
I also use that time to reflect on my own life and relationships. What works well? What changes do I need to make in my personal life? Where have I overextended myself? Did I say no to the things I should have said no to?
The questions are endless, but the goal is to look back and learn from the past and make plans and decisions for the future.
According to Executive Coach Jennifer Porter, “Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning.”
Self reflection allows you to pause what you are doing and to think about your hows and whys. You need to figure out what is working and what is not working. What is making you happy, and what is draining the very life out of you?
Without self reflection you are like a hamster on a wheel – always running, always moving, but where are you going? You may be going exactly where you want to be going, or you may find out that you have taken the entirely wrong path.
Benefits of self reflection
Sometimes deep self-reflection can be scary because you may not like what you see, and you may have to make some tough decisions. However, it can lend itself to some strong benefits.
Self reflection can provide perspective in your life. When you shut out the everyday noise and concentrate on just listening to your inner voice you will see things you have not taken the time to see.
This allows you to approach situations from a different angle and to also see other people’s points of view. It will allow you to examine if you have been doing the right thing or are just following the path of least resistance.
Taking time for self reflection allows you to question yourself and your beliefs. The benefit of this is that you are able to understand yourself better and to be able to justify your beliefs.
It can help clarify your values. It lets you know what you stand for and to get you back in balance with your core beliefs. It helps you make better decisions and to do so with integrity.
Self reflection can provide the impetus for change. When you are running 90 miles an hour in your busy life, how often do you slow down and see if you are even headed in the right direction? Deep self reflection forces you to do that very thing.
Once you have time for that self analysis, you are better equipped to make changes you may need to make whether that be to change a career, drop an activity, or make new friends.
Self reflection allows you to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of yourself. The better you understand yourself, the more confident you will become. When you understand yourself you have clarity and are better equipped to make level headed decisions.
Clearly, self reflection is an ongoing process, but summer is the perfect time to devote some serious time to get started.
Use the summer to recharge
When your cell phone or laptop shows a low battery, you don’t think twice about recharging it. But for some reason, even when your energy is depleted, recharging yourself is an afterthought.
You must use summer to recharge. You need to recharge to reduce stress, feel better, increase creativity, strengthen your immune system, and maybe even live longer.
Being in a career that often requires extended work from home hours, stressful work expectations, frequent interruptions, hundreds of daily decisions, and often little respect, teachers definitely need to recharge.
How to recharge
We all get energy from different places. When my kids were little, I re-energized by spending time with them, playing games, going to the zoo, kicking a soccer ball around the yard, and creating summer adventures. I reveled in their laughter, dirt smudged hugs, and enthusiasm.
When they grew up, I found creative outlets to re-energize my mind and spirit. Crafting, gardening, and writing are ways I recharge. Give me a new project to work on, and I am a happy camper. Last summer, my new challenge involved ways to use the variety of peppers my husband planted. Let me just say the apricot-habanero jelly was a hit!
I also recharge by learning new skills. I love to learn new things, and each summer I select one new skill to add to my skillset like learning how to make a website in WordPress, how to use Adobe Illustrator, or how to make infographics in Piktochart.
How you recharge isn’t important. The important thing is that you take the time to do it. Recharge by not thinking about school for a while, unplugging from technology, and doing whatever makes you feel energized and alive!
You deserve the summer to relax, reflect, and recharge
The overall benefit of taking time to relax, reflect, and recharge is that you will feel like a new you! You will be ready to start anew and begin planning for the next school year. The school supply aisle may even actually make you feel a little giddy instead of a sense of overwhelming dread.
Use summer to relax, reflect, and recharge. Find those activities that bring you peace and joy. Not only will it benefit you mentally and physically, it will impact those around your. Your family, friends, and students will benefit from your improved mood, refreshed attitude, and renewed energy.
You don’t need to defend your actions or justify your need for this time. You have earned it, and you deserve it.