When Teachers Take a Break, We All Win

My good friend (and co-author) John Spencer, shared this on Twitter a few days ago:

Teaching is an exhausting gig. It’s okay to take a break in the summer. Read a book. Watch movies. Go hiking. Swim. Binge watch Stranger Things. Kick the soccer ball around with your daughter. You’ve poured your heart and soul into this gig. You shouldn’t feel guilty for resting.

Image Created by John Spencer

Image Created by John Spencer at SpencerIdeas.org

I’ve seen a lot of talk online and in my own school district about the role of “summer” for professional learning, for curriculum writing, for all kinds of things.

But, let’s not forget that rest is extremely useful.

In fact, without rest, we can’t improve. We can’t create. And we can’t get better or think differently about what we do.

A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves creativity and that skipping breaks can lead to stress, exhaustion, and creative block.

In a recent article, author Thomas Oppong wrote:

According to research, the brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus remains constant over time. You lose your focus and your performance on the task declines.

When faced with a long creative problem, it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task and improve your idea generation approach. A structured downtime can help you do your best work.

We tend to generate redundant ideas when we don’t take regular breaks. If you’re hesitant to break away because you feel that you’re on a roll, be mindful that it might be a false impression. Your brain needs downtime to remain industrious and generate better ideas.

So, please, don’t forget about rest this summer.

Be intentional about rest, if you want to be intentional about creativity.

But, What If I Want to Try Something New

Oh, by all means, please do! I use summer as a refreshing start to think about problems differently. The key here, which took me too long to realize, is that we can’t focus on ten new things at a time.

Our brains don’t work that way.

If we want to be successful in starting something new this summer and planning for a creative change to our practice next year, then we must focus on one thing.

Cole Schafer calls this the 40% Rule:

Jets burn 40% of their fuel during take-off.

There is a metaphor in there, hiding somewhere.

When we start things — initiatives, books, projects, blogs, etc — we need to get them up in the air before we move on to start the next thing.

Something creatives everywhere struggle with is trying to get multiple planes up in the air at the same time.

They get a few hundred feet off the ground, they putter and then they crash and burn.

The next plane you choose to fly, make it the only one. Get it up in the air and let the wind take it from there.

Then and only then, move on to the next one.

Take time this summer to focus on what you want to focus on (and be sure to rest and enjoy life). And if you are anything like me that rest will lead to some creative thoughts and breakthroughs. Take them one at a time, and crush it 🙂

How are you spending your summer? Would love to hear in the comments below!

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Such a good word; thanks!

  • I never leave comments so I suppose I’m someone who lurks in the background. Always on the lookout for nuggets of wisdom from other instructors. But this article caused me to comment. Why? This past year has been the most exhausting year ever for teaching. Students didn’t want to do homework believing that osmosis would suffice for learning. They found out it didn’t work until you actually attend classes. Very frustrating. And, now comes the annual reporting that the college needs (wants?) on assessment. Thank you for reminding me that I need to take the time to rest.

  • Couldn’t agree more. We often look to summer for our respite but I think we should examine our school calendars to find some extra time in there for longer breaks. It’s so important to avoid burnout–and not just for teachers but for students. In our school calendar (mind you I teach overseas) we get breaks every 6-8 weeks. Just when I am about to fizzle out, life gets reinjected with a long weekend and this makes such a huge difference. I “catch up on stuff” and find time to connect with things that matter to me–mostly my family but other interests that impact my well-being. The kids always come back fresh as well. Their growing brains need a moment to consolidate neural networks and find renewal. I think that’s why EVERYONE looks forward to summer holiday because of the impact it makes on our mental and emotional well-being. I wish school districts would examine this phenomenon more closely.

  • Julia says:

    I don’t feel guilty taking a break… But it’s also just not possible. We all need to work second and third jobs… I will never make it to the top of the pay scale I’ve been in the same district for 15 years and I’m only halfway there. It’s a nice thought to think that we can take a break but truly we can’t.

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