Professional Learning

Teachers: 5 Ways to Ease Back into School

July 25, 2014

Does the thought of returning to school result in a tense knot in your stomach, or a joyful flutter in your heart? For most of us, it's probably a mixture of both. I love my work -- I wake up on a Monday morning feeling excited and grateful, and I love weekends and vacation. Sometimes by mid-July we can start feeling a wave of dread creeping up as our summer winds down and we start getting emails about returning to school.

Here are some strategies to manage those feelings, focus on the possibilities, and ease back into the rhythm of teaching:

#1 Take Little Steps

For some, a cold plunge back into work and teaching might be the only way. For others, the shock can be alleviated by slowly easing ourselves back into work. Create a timeline from now until school actually starts and plot out everything you have to do -- meetings and trainings you have to attend. Then list all the things you want or need to do: unit and lesson planning, classroom set up, gathering materials, etc., and plot those out on the calendar. You'll feel better when you've actually identified everything that has to be done; we're so often daunted by a feeling of overwhelm before we've actually named all the components of a big endeavor.

The key when plotting out these tasks is to space them out so that you're easing your way back into work. In the first week that you're "back" try to schedule no more than three hours a day of work. This might mean that you have to move your start timeline up a bit and your summer will overlap with work, but it can be really helpful to our cognitive and emotional systems.

#2 Make the First Steps Fun

Whatever you do during the first week you identify as your first work week, make it as fun as possible. If you're doing unit planning or curriculum development, try doing it in a café, or a park, or somewhere that has perks like good coffee and snacks, fresh air, or amusing distractions.

Also, try to do some of the more fun back-to-school tasks first-shopping for bulletin board materials, compiling poems for community building lessons, creating new posters for your classroom, and so on. Do the easier things that remind you of how much you love teaching.

#3 Find a Friend

Many of these back-to-school teacher-tasks can be done with a colleague. Writing unit plans in a café is even more fun if you've got someone to bounce ideas off of and get support when you get stuck. Of course, you can also incorporate storytelling about your summer and other conversation, you'll probably just want to make some agreements about how much you want to get done. If you have colleagues at your school who are friends, you can help each other set up your classrooms, organize materials, and so on. If you know that on that first day you will return to your classroom you'll have a friend to help and talk with it'll be much easier.

#4 Connect with Kids

As a teacher when I'd return from summer vacation as soon as I saw some of my past or present students, I'd feel an immediate surge of happiness. Sometimes I'd run into them when they were registering for school, or some would just drop by my classroom and give me a hug. A reminder of why we're doing all that we're doing made me instantly excited about the school year starting and also relieved the end of summer blues.

Once I noticed this trend in myself, I started intentionally planning to see kids on my first day or two back to school. I'd call a few of them and ask if they wanted to help me organize the classroom (in exchange for pizza, of course). Their enthusiasm and presence made those first days much easier. They did some of the tedious tasks, like sorting boxes of math manipulatives or alphabetizing our classroom library, and they got to have input in how the classroom was organized. This year, try inviting in a few kids on your first day back, even just for a couple hours.

#5 Organize your Mind

Our mindset is the key to how we experience our reality. If we can help our minds land on thoughts that are energizing, empowering, and affirming then we'll experience our return to school in an easier way. This doesn't mean that you need to always be focusing on the positive, mostly it means that you want to be aware of what you're thinking and notice if you have a lot of "rut stories." Rut stories are interpretations of what we experience that drag us down and make us feel victimized. The key is learning to shift these stories into interpretations that offer possibilities and empowerment.

If, for example, you're teaching a new grade level this year, you could think, I can't believe they switched me to first grade after I've been teaching fifth grade for years. This was a way to punish me for last year. They're trying to make me quit, and I don't even know the curriculum for first! This is clearly a rut story. A different interpretation could be, I wonder what I might learn by teaching first grade? I am curious about the curriculum and I think I'll need some support understanding it. This second story is one in which the teacher has a greater chance of having an impact on kids and enjoying her year.

Our thoughts create our realities. If we can notice our tendencies and make shifts towards those that give us energy we'll have a much better re-entry into the school year.

I hope you've all had a little time off this summer. Between teaching summer school, attending professional development workshops, and tending to our families and personal lives, I know that many teachers have very busy summers. I hope you've rested, rejuvenated, and played even just a little and that you'll have smooth transitions back to the classroom.

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