It’s the first day of a hard-earned spring break, so naturally I’m up at 4 AM, energized and ready to attend to parts of my life that I’ve neglected since New Year’s Day. This is my predictable reaction to breaks from school after weeks of focused, intense work with students and colleagues in and out of the classroom, but I’m still amused by it since I struggled to get out of bed just the day before to hit my 7:15 AM start time at school. In a few days, I’ll have my equilibrium back; I’ll begin to stay up past 9:30 PM as I realize I have more energy when I’m not closely observing 120+ students and making 1,000-1,500 decisions a day (see our post, Decisions, Decisions). I’ll begin to find balance between work and home and family during my week away from my classroom.
So why are breaks from school so important? Aside from the fact that public schools have been thrust into intense, drastic changes brought on by new, national standards, new grading practices, new assessments, new teacher evaluations, and increasingly rigorous graduation requirements for seniors, everyone involved with K-12 education must do more to achieve, including students and their parents. Even as a college student, I didn’t need the day planner and electronic calendar that my children in 8th and 11th grades require to keep on top of their schedules and academic work loads.
Times have changed. In fact, public schools are now in second-order change, which creates a new way of seeing our work and demands new learning through new systems (see Robert Marzano’s Two Types of Change for schools; it’s not light reading, but if you’re an educator, knowing the demands of second-order change might help you understand the intensity of our current climate and why it’s so scary and exhausting). Also know that second-order change demands creativity and deep problem-solving, processes that require stepping away from work and reflecting on how to best proceed.
Spring break offers a respite from what educators must do to impact student achievement. Teachers and principals have bloated schedules and dizzying work paces; we are mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the school day. Away from school, we have rushed dinners and clipped conversations with people we love. Breaks away from school offer down time and balance in a seemingly over-caffeinated world. We crave our breaks when we don’t have to worry about being somewhere or pushing through fatigue to get the next paper scored or the next lesson planned or write the next letter of recommendation for a deserving student.
How will you spend your break? Aside from getting things done around our homes, we will let our five days off play out as they will: maybe a trip to the beach, certainly lingering over a cup of coffee while reading as much of the newspaper as we want, and, of course, long walks and quality conversations. We’ll feel rich with time during this week. But we also understand that spring break is a vital ingredient, a vitamin b shot to help us handle the challenges we’ll face through the end of the school year. We honor this week away from our work as a way to invite creativity and inspiration back into our lives.
May your spring break offer you shelter and abundance, too.
Joan Flora and Pattie Sloan: two teachers challenging classroom status quo