Reflections

April 2018 No-Work Challenge

What if I told you that I made it the entire month of April without doing any work-work at home? Would you believe me? That’s right, no lesson planning, no emailing, and no grading at home for an entire month. As crazy as it sounds, it was a necessary leap.

Why I started this challenge

This past year I’ve been working toward a healthier work-life balance. I’ve written a few blog posts about my journey, including: Work Hard, Rest Hard, Work, Work, Work…What About Life (co-written with Meagan Kelly and Aubrey Yeh), and Navigating the Sea of Shoulds. I’m grateful for some excellent friends who have walked with me in this learning experience.

The no-work month challenge started on a whim, as I ended spring break and realized I had enjoyed periods of time without doing work-work or even thinking about teaching. However, I honestly doubted I could do it. I mean, I always have so much to do, and my to-do list never seems to get any shorter.

My guidelines

Very simple: All work-work had to be completed at work. Including grading, lesson planning, and checking email. Oh, and taking attendance.

I spent a lot of afternoons playing with my dog, Ollie.

There were text messages about work to friends, but nothing like serious work. Also, work-related errands (because birthdays, celebrations, science supplies) could be completed outside of work.

Tracking my progress

I kept a Google Doc journal throughout this month. I didn’t write every day, only when I thought of it and had something to say.

I’ve set the permissions to “anyone with the link can comment” and I would love it if you would add in a comment on something that resonated with you, or if you have a question.

What I learned

Aside from my reflections in my challenge journal, there are a few things I learned about myself:

  • Work is like a gas, it fills the container you put it in. If I allow myself to work all day, every day (except Sunday, because that work-limit has stayed strong), then I will have enough work to fill that space. Therefore, if I decrease the size of the container, then work will still fit.
  • Doing this challenge has forced me to put limits on what I say “yes” to. In the past, I have a hard time saying “no” because I can reason I can get things done at night or on the weekend. It just ends up being more stress. Unless I’m getting paid extra duty for these extra projects, I’m carefully considering additional commitments. This is a procedure I’ve had to put in place to safeguard my personal balance. Of course, there are exceptions for exceedingly cool things, such as working in the school garden on a Saturday morning.
  • Never do something you can have a kid do for you. I’ve always lived by this motto, but it really ramped up in the last month. Plus, my students love any opportunity to help. I need something taken to the office or another teacher? Please take this. There’s a lab to be set up? I’d like 2 volunteers who are done with their work to set up materials for tomorrow. Now the lab needs to be cleaned up? I will bribe you with chocolate if you stay for 5 minutes to help clean. Please, and thank you!
  • I have my brain back! I don’t find myself thinking about work every single second of every single day. It’s really refreshing; I’m learning to see myself as a human outside of my teacher identity. Don’t get me wrong, I love my teacher identity, but I felt like I was losing a bit of myself in the process. I’ve reclaimed something for me, and I’m much more relaxed.

Our district’s motto is “Putting Students First.” While it sounds counterproductive, I’m putting my students first by taking care of my own needs so that I can be a better teacher for them.

What’s next? I only have a month of school left, and I plan to continue this habit through the end of the school year. This summer, I will reevaluate my personal limits for next year.

Maybe this exact challenge isn’t for you. How will you ensure you set your own limits on your work-life balance?

Reflections

Navigating the Sea of Shoulds

Welcome to our adventure. Please keep your hands, feet, and shoulds inside the bus at all times.
Should is a word that has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Every time I hear, think, or say this word, I cringe. I’m trying to change my mindset, by first changing my vocabulary.
I don’t run a makerspace. I don’t fully integrate robotics and coding into my science curriculum. I haven’t tried flexible seating in my classroom. I don’t have Flipgrid Fever. I’m not certified in every app, tool, and program out there.
Some of y’all are thinking, “oh my gosh Mari, you really should try __________.”
Should. Should. Should.
I know I am a great teacher. I build great relationships with my students, I design engaging lessons, I empower my students to be curious learners, and we have lots of fun in our class. I try new things and take risks, and I am transparent with my students on my successes and shortcomings. I want to be the best version of me.
One of my favorite authors and experts on the topic of shame and vulnerability is Brené Brown. She has published some phenomenal books (Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, I thought it was just me (but it isn’t), and more), as well as done some incredible TED Talks. I highly recommend them, especially Listening to shame (TED Talk).
My favorite takeaway from Brené Brown is when she differentiates between shame and guilt, “Shame is, ‘I am bad.’ Guilt is, ‘I did something bad.’” I feel guilty when I forget to submit my attendance. I feel shame when I’m not doing all the things in my classroom and with my students. After reading her books and watching her TED talks, it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one struggling with attaching self-worth to what we do and don’t do.
When I get excited about a new tech tool or idea, I immediately sail out onto the Sea of Shoulds with the Shame Sharks ominously circling my boat. I’m 100% sure I’ve sent subliminal shame messages to friends and colleagues as I’m trying to get them to use this “Awesome New Tool” that they just can’t live without. When I say, “You should try this!” it becomes less about the tool, and more about their shortcomings as a teacher.
When I start attaching “shoulds” to my suggestions, I am also unintentionally adding shame to the conversation. Me telling you, “you should try this!” inherently attaches shame–the hidden message here is “You’re not doing enough. When you try _____, you’ll have more value in this edu-world.” I apologize, and hope you’ll give me another opportunity to share…in a different way.
I am working hard to reshape my language and approach. Rather than telling people what they should do, I am taking time to hear their needs and ask how I can support their needs. When I am beyond excited for the “Super Awesome Thing,” I’m shifting my language to “I just learned about the Super Awesome Thing, I’d love to share with you how it’s impacting students in my classroom.”
Thank you all for being on this journey with me!