Last week I wrote about the importance of teacher renewal in the summer months, particularly after the strenuous and emotionally taxing year we have had, and received a good response to that topic. So I thought I would stay with it this week, share some ideas you gave me, and share a few of my own methods for renewal.
The first thing that should be said about teacher renewal is that it should be intentional. I know, we are so intentional in our teaching, in our parenting, in our relationships, in every aspect of our lives - I thought you said we could just take some time off? Well, yes, that’s fine if you want to have unstructured time all summer. But when you have done that in the past, at the end of the summer, did it bug you a little bit that you weren’t really sure what happened to the summer? That you felt like you weren’t sure what you did with that precious time? My suggestion is that the calming affect of the time off and the amount of battery recharging that takes place will be greater if you are somewhat intentional about it.
I already alluded to that last week when I suggested that you get a big piece of paper and answer some questions about what you want to be thinking about this summer, and how you plan to recharge. I hope you have done that, and that it opened up some ideas for you that you want to think about more with the less frantic time of the summer months.
One of you wrote about making a commitment to read non-work reading in the mornings during breakfast on the patio. Exactly. Put that on your calendar - a recurring date - and get yourself in the habit of doing that. No matter what you do with the rest of the days, at the end of the summer you will be able look at having done that as an accomplishment. Also, by putting it on your list, and doing it every day, if that is what refreshes you and recharges your batteries then you will be refreshed and recharged when the school year begins, which is the whole point.
Others mentioned taking more walks, and gardening. Both of those activities are well known to be recharging activities, and it is fairly obvious why. Both require immersing oneself in the less-hurried rhythms of the natural world. Nature is endlessly fascinating and well, grounding. Here’s another related one, from me: get a bird-feeder. I have one that I set up a few years ago that is directly in my line of sight when I am having breakfast. Where I live, we do not have a lot of very interesting backyard birds - mostly the titmouse and chickadee, although we do get the occasional finch breeding pair. The male gets the beautiful yellow coat in spring, but the female is a gorgeous olive - which you will notice if you look for it. During the Covid lockdown, it was immensely calming to me to see the birds come and go. They didn’t give a hoot about our trouble, or even know what Covid was, of course. Their ancestors have been around for thousands of years, and their descendants will be for thousands more (we certainly hope). It helped me to keep our immediate scares in perspective, if only a little.
These activities in nature are calming because they involve noticing. Noticing something apart from ourselves and our daily worries. Have you ever noticed how the trees when they are leafing out generate these tiny perfect leaves before they grow to full size? Every year, I make the effort to stop and look and marvel at those.
Another thing you might try is journaling, if you don’t already. For many years, I had tried journaling and mostly failed. I would write for a month or three, but never consistently for a longer period. But I was always intrigued by it. I could tell it would help, somehow, with being intentional about each day - though I couldn’t say exactly how... since I could never get it to stick.
But over the last six years, I have been more successful with it, and it has expanded too. For me, one thing that has helped has been nerding out on the journal itself. I happened upon this perfect (for me) little yearly book made in Japan. It is called the Hobonichi Techo LifeBook. It is A6 size, so 4.13” by 5.83”. I figured I could fill just that small amount each day. And for me, it has mostly been a simple log of what happened that day. I have a Zink photo printer, and occasionally print a small photo and paste it in the pages for a visual of what I wrote about that day. Somewhat to my amazement, I now have five years of these volumes, and am well into my sixth. Do I have empty patches? Yes, a few. A few stretches when I just couldn’t or didn’t write anything. They usually last only a few weeks. Maybe two months. Last summer was a blank stretch - it was just such a depressing and fearful time, it seemed to take all my bandwidth just to get through the day. But when I went back to it, I recreated a few entries. So, yes - it is OK to skip days, and it’s OK to fill something in later. An intentional practice, perhaps, but not meant to be a perfect one.
And now I find myself even more surprised that my journaling practice is expanding. I have another journal in which I write about my creativity blocks, in an attempt to break through them. I have one for a spiritual group I am part of. And I am considering starting another one this summer with details from the backyard garden my wife and I are attempting to grow and tend.
There is a LOT of information about journaling on the web, of course. There’s a Reddit group, Instagram sites - where people post pictures of their journals, and you might want to look into Bullet journaling, a method of tracking daily ToDos and accomplishments devised by Ryder Carroll. The best thing is to be inspired by what you might see there - lots of people are dedicated to their journaling practice - but not be intimidated by it. Your journal is only for you, and it can look plain, and be in a cheap spiral notebook and written with a Bic pen. The details should serve you - and make you smile - not anyone else.
Finally, for me, this weekly exercise of writing a newsletter on aspects of teaching that I care deeply about has been affirming and enjoyable for me. An intentional practice, a public journal of a sort. The feedback has been helpful - keep it coming please. Click those comment links, and please forward this to a friend who you think might benefit. Writing, and watching the community grow, is helping with my own renewal - so I hope you will let me know how I can help with yours.
Letters of Recommendation
A particular kind of journaling mentioned here is described in The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future, which I can recommend. I ultimately decided that Bullet Journaling wasn’t for me - I prefer something more freeform - but many people swear by it, and Ryan’s book explains how.
Q of the Week
The Q of the Week is a Question, again:
Do you have a journaling practice, or another method of intentional renewal that you are intending to implement this summer?
I am not good at keeping a journal, but can attest to its value when done with intention. I recently found some of my own journaling - specifically from the beginning of second semester of law school, during the rest of law school, and for almost two years when my children were very small. The law school journaling was not so insightful (I was young, angry, uninspired, and directionless) though it made clear to me 3 plus decades later how not to journal. Half of the writings are too obscure to understand anything other than a strong underlying emotion. That said, the journaling from when my children were very young (the first two years for one of them and the 3rd and 4th for the other) are priceless. They are short, pithy, and purely descriptive. They had us (my wife and I) laughing, reminiscing, and smiling. So, David, you are right - journal! And be descriptive so that your later self (or others, if you dare) can understand what you were seeing and experiencing.