• Encouragement,  Goals,  Lifestyle

    Don’t Waste your Break

    It’s that time of year again– summer break! Or, at least it is for all you Northern Hemisphere folks. Here in the Southern Hemisphere, we’re rugging up for winter. Thankfully, we have a two week break coming up in a few short weeks. I couldn’t be more excited!

    Over the last few years of teaching, my husband and I have come to realise that I don’t do well with extended time off. I can vividly remember one day about four weeks in to my first summer break where I had reached the end of my rope. Kent worked full time at a summer camp, so my downtime was his busiest time of year. When he got home from work, he excitedly asked me how my day was going. I immediately burst into tears because I hadn’t done anything that day! I napped, not because I was tired, but because it passed the time quicker than being awake. It happened again this year, but was only made worse by me being homesick for my family at Christmas at the same time. Honestly, we began to dread breaks.

    I can’t change that teachers have massive breaks, more-so than workers in other industries. If I wanted to stay in teaching (which I do), I knew that I’d have to find ways to cope with these times. I thought about what the main difference was between my life during the school year and during breaks and here’s what I came up with:

    After going non-stop for so long, an extended time off can be a shock to the system. As teachers, we work so much on structure. We have routines and procedures. We have weekly commitments that fall at the same time: library time, staff meetings, specials, etc. When I’m on break, all semblance of structure goes out the door. Going from a lot of structure to none is really unsettling and often leaves me feeling lost with what to do with such an extended period of time in front of me. These instances have been a wake up call to me about how I should prepare for break times.

    It wasn’t that I needed to avoid break times– I just needed to give structure and purpose to them. I know some of you are cringing at that. Honestly, I was too! I didn’t want my breaks to be regimented, but I did need a little more guidance than waking up and thinking “hmm, what will I do today?”

    Enter: The Break Time Bucket List

    While perusing one of my favourite blogs for inspiration, I came across this post on a summer fun list. I love Emily’s approach to having a Summer Fun List in order to make the most of your time off or to make the most of the season you’re in. I decided to adapt her approach to meet my need for a little structure on school term holidays.

    Instead of giving myself a schedule for my break times, I decided in the weeks leading up to my school break, I would make a bucket list. My bucket list consists of anything I’ve been wanting to do and haven’t gotten to, as well as things that are purely fun. This has been such a great solution for me. Sometimes I plan ahead and think of what I want to do on each day, but on days where I don’t I can just look at the bucket list and pick something to do that day.

    I drafted my bucket list on a blank page in my Powersheets so that I’d have it for easy reference next month.

    While many of these things do fit into my yearly Powersheet goals and could be made into an item on my monthly Tending List, they aren’t extremely time-specific. Therefore, I’d rather not include them. Also, having it as a “Bucket List” makes the time away from school feel more set apart and special.

    This is the first school break where I’ve had no travel plans and haven’t had anyone coming to visit. To me, what’s most is amazing is that, unlike previous breaks, I don’t feel anxious or worried about what I’ll be doing while on holiday. It’s quite the opposite– I couldn’t be more excited to get started on this bucket list. Sixteen days to do what I want sounds pretty great to me!

    Do you have any way of structuring your break times or do you go with the flow? Either way, I’d love to hear about what you’re doing on your upcoming break in the comments below!

  • Classroom Community,  Encouragement,  Teaching

    A piece of encouragement

    “The dumbest thing you can do as a teacher is to keep on doing something just because you already planned it.”

    These wise words were spoken by one of my favourite professors at Meredith College, the small women’s college where I completed my MAT. Even though I graduated a few years ago, I find myself coming back to them more and more often.

    Have you ever felt the urge to take a particular unit in another direction because your students weren’t interested? Or maybe you’ve experienced the flip side– they’re super interested in something else, something you’re not covering in your class. Well, everyone… here’s your permission: make the change.

    I’m often hesitant to make these changes. “But Bethany, you put so much thought and consideration into this lesson! Were those thoughts wrong? Of course not! Just keep going! It’ll work out eventually” These thoughts ring in my head hour after hour as I agonise over the decision of whether I should pivot and change or stay the course. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a time where I was glad that I stayed the course or ignored the “urges” my kids have. And never have I regretted following them.

    I saw this most recently in my class with our reading of The Lightning Thief, the read aloud I planned for Term 1. While it took us a little bit to get into the story, eventually we were having 15-30 minute discussions about Greek mythology following every read aloud session! My original intention was to use The Lightning Thief as a mentor text to model novel study roles and responsibilities, then teach key fiction comprehension skills. I had planned 8 weeks worth of content surrounding this novel and then linked it to what was happening in the novel the students were reading. We did the book tasting so that we’d be set up for novel studies. The kids had their books, they made book club treaties, and had even begun to read! However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe engagement would be higher if I followed their urge to learn Greek mythology and we abandoned our novel study. I felt like if I stuck with our novel study then I’d be wasting an opportunity. After all, how many times do we get literally our entire class engaged on a single topic or unit of study? Answer: Never.

    I ended up handing the decision over to my students in a Google poll. They could vote to continue to do the novel study and learn Greek mythology concurrently, or to put off the novel study and do Greek mythology full time this term. Do you know what they voted?

    Seriously– that’s their vote! Twenty four wanted to do Greek mythology and two wanted to continue with novel study. So… we made the switch!

    The change in our literacy block has been pretty profound since we “abandoned” our novel study and followed where the students wanted to go. In the two weeks since we made the swap, I’ve rarely had a moment where students weren’t engaged. We’ve created profiles of various gods/goddesses, learned their histories, created plays about other greek myths (King Midas and the Golden Touch, Poseidon and Medusa, The Trojan Horse, just to name a few), and are moving into theme and character traits. We even linked this with narrative writing to create our own Greek god/goddess and tell of how they became heroes in Ancient Greece. I’ve even had parents emailing me saying that their students are asking to go to the public library to check out books on Greek mythology.

    Am I a little bummed that we didn’t get to do our novel study? Of course. I can’t get back the hours I worked on that unit; however, it will have it’s time… it’s just not right now. And my future self will still be thankful.

    Have you ever abandoned what you planned to follow a student urge or interest? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!