The pressures and stresses of the past year took a toll on us. They sapped our energy, challenged our resilience, and often humbled us despite our considerable skills and experience. There was no road map to follow and the conditions under which we led the learning of our students seemed to change constantly. Now, as this incredible year is behind us, it’s time to think about how to take care of ourselves and be ready to re-engage when the time comes.
This summer, maybe more than any other, calls for a plan to help us move beyond where we find ourselves. Some people recommend a summer completely disconnected from work. While such a shift can be a good start, as the summer unfolds, we also need to capture what we have learned and how we have grown, and then begin our preparation for a successful start to a new year in the fall. Consider a three-phase plan to renew your spirit and energy, reflect and learn from your experience, and build your readiness to return to the important work of nurturing learning.
The first phase, refocusing, involves letting go and shifting your attention and energy. Now it is time to let go of what has worn you down, tested your resolve, and left you exhausted. Find time to relax, focus on yourself, and do what renews your spirit. You may find that a few good fiction books can refocus your attention and give you energy. Maybe rediscovering and engaging in a long-standing or new hobby can give you the separation you need. Volunteering in an area of significance to you may also be a good option. Returning to a regular cycle of physical activity could be the answer to your renewal. Or maybe your source of renew is spending time with family and friends. The key is to focus on what you need and give adequate attention to your emotional and physical health.
The second phase, reflection, presents the opportunity to revisit what you learned and celebrate wins from the past year. You may find it best to delay this phase until you are feeling renewed and re-energized. With the refilling of your emotional and physical energy tank will come a readiness to revisit the experience of the past year with greater objectivity and perspective. Even though the year presented unusual, even unprecedented distractions and disruptions, it offered opportunities to learn, grow, and meet significant challenges. Reflecting on what you learned about yourself can be an important source of insight and professional pride. The instructional strategies you adapted to a new environment and developed to meet new challenges despite all that was happening can offer opportunities to enhance the experiences of students going forward. Of course, not everything will translate directly to a post-pandemic context, but your reflection will likely uncover a significant collection of options and opportunities to enhance your professional practice.
The third phase, readiness to re-engage, draws on the energy you have refreshed and the insights and understanding you gained from your reflection. You may have identified aspects of your practice that you need to strengthen. You may see opportunities to go add to your instructional tools and strategies. An online or in-person workshop may offer the resources and support you need to get ready. Also, consider reading articles or listening to podcasts on the important impact educators have on the life trajectories of students and how educators often instill hope for students who may be struggling or experiencing tough times. This may also be a great time to reflect on and revisit the reasons that led you to decide that education is your calling and renew your commitment to be the force in students’ lives that will make a difference regardless of their backgrounds, circumstances, and current challenges.
Summer may seem to stretch long into the future. Yet, we know that the time will pass quickly, and we need to take advantage of the break to refocus and renew ourselves. We need to reflect and capture what we have learned. And as the summer passes, we need to ready ourselves to re-engage and continue to make a difference in the lives of our students.