August. The month for educators of excitement, anticipation, and the start of a new (school) year. Many of us left our classrooms and schools in June with a list of books to read, conferences to go to, and big ideas for the next school year. If you are like me, June, July, and August are months that help me ramp up for the next year and focus on not just professional learning, but also extended time to be with family and friends.
Then come the final weeks of August. If you are a parent, student, educator (or, like many of us, all of the above), back to school can bring excitement as well as a little anxiety. Between reestablishing bedtime routines, school supply shopping, and worries about what the next year will bring, we forgot to pause and continue moments with our families that we had established during the previous weeks. Below are four tips to regain that balance that either I or my professional learning network (PLN) has tried and applied to our lives. I hope they help you stay balanced and productive while giving you some peace of mind.
1. It isn’t a race—slow down.
Sometimes the business of back to school can feel like a race or competition. Every year, starting back up brings a list of tasks to accomplish, but making sure you prioritize, not “urgentize,” these tasks is key. No medals are given for the parent who gets their kid’s school supplies first. Take your time, and if you can’t find that magenta red folder, it will be okay.
- I use the “Todoist” organizing app and have different folders of tasks with set due dates. For me it is like an electronic Post-it note. I break the tasks up into measurable steps and love seeing them disappear once I have completed each one.
- I shut my door. Sometimes the “do you have just a minute” requests throw off what I was in the middle of doing and make it hard to regroup. If I have a parent phone call or a very important note to send, I shut my office door for that brief period of time. Giving myself an interrupted 10 minutes saves me from taking it home at night or not giving 100% of my focus to that specific task at hand.
2. Find 10 minutes to connect with your family as individuals.
Take small steps to put the technology away and spend time with members of your family as often as you can. Ideas around this might include card games, making dinner together, going for a walk, or maybe even school shopping together.
- I have started using Adam Welcome’s “Airplane” mode on weekend outings with families. I can still take pictures and watch the time, but I am not distracted by social media, texts, or emails.
- Thanks to Todd Nesloney, our family has evening read aloud time. I read a few chapters from a book that they might not necessarily choose, which gives us structured downtime to do something as a family.
3. Start your morning routine again.
Summer provides a little more R&R time for many of us. Even if we are working, before that back-to-school bell rings, it is at a much different pace than after the school year starts.
- In our house, we get a little relaxed with bedtimes and morning routines as we have a little extra time. A week or so ahead of the start of school, begin your morning routine a little earlier—so that when you have to get the kids up a little earlier, it isn’t such a shock to the system for everyone.
- Pack the night ahead. Even with two boys going into sixth and fourth grade, our mornings can get a little crazy. Making sure we (and I mean me as well) are all packed up for the next day ensures at least one task is done before we wake up.
4. Find some white space on your calendar.
After being out of the routine for a few weeks or months, it is easy to think you should just jump right back in and fill your calendar with meetings and tasks from start to finish. What you end up with when this is done is a lot of carryover (that might come home), as well as exhaustion and not feeling connected or accomplished.
- I am really trying hard to have at least two 30-minute blocks of free time on my calendar every day. I use that time to get out of the office to check in on students/staff, or just get a little fresh air and new perspective.
- This is the tough one. I am trying not to bring home schoolwork this year (gasp). My mornings are time for reflection and reading, and after the kids go to bed will be my fun professional learning time (Twitter chats/Voxer groups and Mastermind). I am hoping by setting some boundaries, I give myself permission to make time for the other activities that will fill my cup and help me keep growing professionally.
I am so grateful for my PLN on Voxer and Twitter that challenges me to keep perspective. At times, the start of the school year kind feels like the start of a half marathon—the gun goes off, and I am scrambling and weaving by people a little frantically and off pace. But after that first half mile, I have to remember that I have about 13 more miles to go—and will never be able to maintain that current pace.
Recognize the start of the year is a little higher in endurance and pace, but pull back so you have enough energy for the rest of the year—and make sure to stop, reflect, and take pictures along the journey.