Strategies for Creating a School-Life Balance During the Summer
This month, we have been connecting with our newest consulting teachers to discuss ways educators can fully appreciate their time away from school (you can read previous entries here and here). However, while it is important to find ways to take a break from the rigorous pace of the school year, it is also not as straightforward as simply turning off your teacher brain when summer rolls around and turning it back on again when fall arrives (the fact that you are reading a Responsive Classroom article in June is a testament to this). Below are some insightful meditations on how our consulting teachers have navigated this work-life balance during the summer in ways that honor both work and life.
Focus on the Positives
Emily Achilles Stefanich: Every time I start to plan my next school year, as I spend time thinking through what worked and what didn’t work, I take the time to celebrate all the things I’m grateful for. I have a box I call my Sunshine Box. It has notes from kids over the years, all the way back to my first year of teaching. I sometimes open it up over the summer and go through it to get myself reenergized for the school year.
Sarah Tiamiyu: This is my twentieth year of teaching. Earlier in my career, I was always so brokenhearted going into summer. Then, coming back from the summer would be like a double-edged sword because I loved being able to start with a blank slate, but it was incredibly overwhelming having to move on from the previous year.
Now, in my twentieth year, I know that is the one career that stays habitually gratifying. This summer, I can look at the success of every student because everybody has grown in some capacity. And now I leave the summer feeling excitement about how I’m going to set the space up, what I am going to try differently, and what I can tweak to make it better. I feel like there are always opportunities for gratification. And the summer is my quiet time just to let the sand settle before I get to circle back to teaching.
Susanna Mellor: I don’t unplug entirely from school, which is kind of helpful, but I’m more mindful about how I think about education and teaching and how I think about my job over the summer. I like to focus on one aspect of what I do and really zoom in on it without all the other distractions. I’m able to have blinders on and not think about all the other stuff, like progress reports, that aren’t as much fun to think about. It’s nice to get into a state of flow and kind of lose track of time.
Emily Achilles Stefanich: I could do this job all year round and be totally okay with it, but I know I would burn myself out. Being with my toddler reminds me to be very present and enjoy the moment. We could spend thirty minutes staring at a dirt clod. In those moments, I tell myself, “I’m going to be present because this is what we’re doing. We’re just looking at dirt, and that’s okay.”
Amy Stenlund: When the summer is just beginning, I’m still reflecting and unwinding from the school year and wrapping things up. And I’m really tired. But then, over the summer, I get the rest I need and do those things that make me happy, and that helps me move away from the previous school year. It’s just so important that you take care of yourself and make sure you get time to do what you enjoy. It’s a cliché, but you have to put the mask on yourself first before you can help the other person. That way, as the new school year approaches, you can feel ready for something new.
Susanna Mellor: It’s nice to keep one foot in teaching, but I think it’s best to set some limits on technology and not check my email as often. I read somewhere that when we check our email too often, it’s like getting up and seeing if someone is at the door every five minutes. So that’s something I remind myself about.
Emily Achilles Stefanich: In the months of June and July I will only check my work email one day a week. I decide which day it’s going to be in advance, and I put up an out-of-office message explaining that I will be sporadically checking emails. Once August hits, I try to check two or three times a week because the year starts to pick back up, but at least in June and July I give myself that space from being constantly connected.
Share Your Experience With Others
Michael Kaponyas: I find the best way for me to enjoy my past successes is to talk about that school year with family, friends, and loved ones—really anyone who wants to listen. I love talking about my class because their effort and the work that they do is very impressive, and the memories that we’ve made all together can be very entertaining as well. If there’s a lull in a conversation, I might say, “Hey, do you want to hear a fun story about a student of mine from this past year?” Those moments of sharing bring me joy and make me think, “Wow, I really chose the right field.”
- Michael Kaponyas is a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher and teaches kindergarten at BASIS Independent Brooklyn in Downtown Brooklyn, New York.
- Susanna Mellor is a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher and teaches first grade at an independent school in Salt Lake City, Utah.
- Vonn Nguyen is a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher and is in her seventh year teaching kindergarten in a K–8 public parent-participation school in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- Emily Achilles Stefanich is a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher and the district curriculum coordinator for Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District..
- Amy Stenlund is a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher.
- Sarah Tiamiyu is a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher and the K–6 director of Learning Support at The Potomac School.