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Bring Your Summer Self to Work

My colleague, fellow designer, and coaching partner Cheryl Zigrang and I have had the honor of working with several faculty groups on a life coaching for educators series called “Bring Your Summer Self to Work.” It’s a light-hearted, yet heartfelt take on the transition from school year to summer all K-12 educators undergo, regardless of whether they are working in the summer or not. The pace changes, the work changes, and so, we hypothesize, the person changes.

The series reveals much—for Cheryl and me as coaches, for Edjacent and our work moving forward, for building leaders, and for teachers—about the stark differences between our spring, summer, and fall selves. One of the first things we do in this series is ask educators to complete a Wheel of Life. Here is an example from one participant:

The educators are told to identify the eight most relevant categories in their lives in this moment. (The Wheel changes significantly depending on when the participant fills it out.) They can choose professional categories, like paperwork, leadership, instruction, and assessment, or they can choose personal categories like family, physical wellness, and spirituality. Interestingly, although we often meet with people in a professional context, most participants opt to include personal categories over professional, reflecting what Edjacent often observes about self-authoring and emerging self-authoring educators: the conflict between personal and professional is pronounced in educators who are in crisis or experiencing dissonance in their life. Whether we like it or not, this describes many to most educators in the spring of a school year. They revert to who they are as a person during these times, rather than hyperfocusing on who they are as a professional.

We ask participants to consider the following:

  • Who do you talk to most when you feel frustrated or upset? Is it a colleague or a friend or family member?

  • Where does your stress manifest the most when you are under pressure? Is it at work or at home?

  • When you are busy, what are the first facets of your life to take a back seat?

  • How are these variables different for you in the fall, winter, spring, and summer?

If you are like most participants in our series, your spring Wheel of Life is likely a bit unbalanced. You may score high in some categories, but you are also low in others. What you give in one area could be taking away from another, leaving you with a sense of inadequacy, frustration, and guilt.

During summer your Wheel might be far more balanced. You drink more water, cook healthier meals, spend more time with your family, focus on fun and leisure, and sleep more. Educators often follow a pattern of hibernation (spending time alone, in the home, or with only a few people) and socialization (catching up with family and friends, going lots of places, and engaging outside of work more). These types of activities fuel us, but here’s a warning for you:

A human cannot live healthily by resting for 3 months and feeling increasingly worn out for 9 months. 

This is not a debate about educators getting “summers off” but rather a warning and a plea. 

  • How does it feel after eating healthy meals for weeks, then overindulging in one big feast of food and drink? 

  • How does it feel to sleep on a regular schedule, then suddenly shorten your sleep time by 2-3 hours every night?

  • How does it feel to talk to your best friend, your mother, a sibling, or your grown child on an almost daily basis, then barely once a week or month?

  • How does it feel to move your body, spend time in nature, and get some natural sunlight, then start going to work in the dark and coming home after dark nearly every night?

There are major systemic and institutional barriers to self-care for educators. Too many of them are beyond our control. Our wise summer self, the self who nurtures our mind, body, and spirit, deserves more than 3 months of our year! In a 30-year career, we give nearly 22.5 years to our fall, winter, and spring selves but only 7.5 years to our summer selves. No wonder we are burned out!

Here’s a simple exercise to bring your summer self to work:

  1. Complete a Wheel of Life for your summer self. Look at what areas are scored high, which are scored low, which are balanced, and how much control you feel you have over the variables that create strength in each area.

  2. Compare your summer Wheel of Life to the Wheels you would have completed for the school year. What do you sacrifice when you get stressed? What are your most important priorities and how do you honor them?

  3. Set a goal. How can you commit to armoring yourself (realistically!) for the next school year STARTING NOW? What habit can you develop that you can sustain into the fall and beyond that would make a big change for your sense of well-being?

  4. Identify an accountability partner. Explain your goal, why you set it, and ask them to check in on you to make sure you keep up with your plan.

At Edjacent, we have the highest hopes that our colleagues will get plenty of rest and refresh and recharge this summer. We want you to soak up the sun, spend time with family, read into the night, go to the beach, and make healthy meals. We also want you to do these things during the school year. Let’s end the feast-or-famine mindset and double down on bringing our summer selves to work this fall. 

We’d be honored to hear your thoughts and commitments in the comments below so we can learn and grow together!

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