By Brian Disney, IPLI Mentor & Principal at Mooresville High School
One of the beauties of the school year is its cyclical nature with endings and new beginnings. Often forgotten in these cycles is the built-in times to relax, reflect, and recommit. Fall break is a perfect time for these activities. I encourage you to use this time well for yourself personally and professionally.
As educators, we work extremely hard and work hours far beyond their contract time. Whether you are a classroom teacher, counselor, administrator, or other certified staff member, your work is very demanding and goes well beyond your contract hours. You make hundreds of decisions daily, some of which are extremely complex and gut-wrenching. You also work closer to 60 hours every week than 40 including weekends and do not benefit from overtime pay. The school year is about one-fourth of the way complete and you are exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Therefore, I urge you to take time to relax this fall break. Whatever you are passionate about in your personal life, do it! Read a novel, go for a long walk at sunset, sleep in, play with your kids, or go on a short vacation. Spend some time on yourself and do not feel guilty about it. You have given all of yourself to students and colleagues. Now you need to take time to relax and recharge your batteries. A relaxing break now will help you be more effective between now and winter break.
Another opportunity for growth over fall break is to reflect on the year so far. At the beginning of the year, you likely set goals to implement a new teaching strategy or program, to spend more time in classrooms, to give better feedback to teachers, or to grow in some other way. You have been working extremely hard so far this year completing tasks and may or may not have lost track of your goal. How is the year going so far? What have been your successes and challenges? How well have you progressed towards your goals?
I encourage you to use this fall break as a great time to reflect on your progress this year. Action research as Nancy Dana presents at IPLI summer seminars and in “Leading with Passion and Knowledge” provides a valuable framework for this reflection. Rather than just using your gut or intuition to evaluate your progress, find some data to inform your findings. Dana (2009) proposes a number of data collection strategies including quantitative measures, student work, observation notes, pictures/videos, and journaling. If you have been collecting any data, see if you can find some. The next step after taking actions and collecting data is to analyze the data. Reflect on the data you have collected and find the story the data tells.
After analyzing your data and reflecting on your findings, decide on your next steps and then recommit to professional growth between now and winter break. If you have achieved your goals, set new goals (or develop new wonderings). If you got distracted on your journey towards your goal, refocus on the important tasks. If your original goal no longer makes sense, create a new goal. After you have a goal, select small specific action steps you commit to taking over the next couple months to move towards this goal. Do not forget to include how you will collect data as a part of this new action plan. Then commit to this action plan for your professional growth.
This fall break, take time to relax, reflect, and recommit. This will provide you with the energy and intentional focus to thrive over the next two months.
Dana, N. F. (2009). Leading with passion and knowledge: The principal as action researcher. Corwin Press.