Summer Fitness Plan for Educators


There is a huge volume of writing and rhetoric these days about teacher evaluation.  Some of the underlying questions driving the debate include: “How can we ensure that the very best people are in classrooms every day with our most precious resource?” and “How can someone with permanent employment status stay motivated to continue learning, growing, and improving as a professional?”  There is a lot of talk about raising the bar to get into the profession, like in Finland (I recommend everyone in education watch Tony Wagner’s film “The Finland Phenomenon” as food for thought – or even as simple provocation), and certainly lots of noise being made (righteous noise I’d say) about paying teachers more as a way to attract better people and elevate the profession to the status enjoyed by law, medicine, etc.

I believe that the palpable tension around these questions is proof positive that we all work in the right profession – one that society is depending on to develop the thinkers, leaders, and creators the world desperately needs.

(As an aside: I hope that a survey of all the publications and op-eds written about teacher evaluation reveals a 1:1 ratio with articles written about leadership evaluation.  Right now I think we are far short of that ratio – so we have some work to do!)

As a way to celebrate the magic of summer, I’ve developed a foolproof way to help all educators get better at what they do.  As we know from the sporting realm, there is no better time to “work on your game” than the off-season; the “off-season” in education is, of course, summer!  So here are a few ways (five to be exact – I seem to be stuck on five!) for us to get bigger, faster, stronger, quicker – not to mention wiser, deeper, more adaptable, more 21st Century-literate, more collaborative, more reflective and open to criticism, more prone to put that reflection and criticism into action, and generally just more excited, happy, and joyful to be working during such a fascinating time of change in our wonderful profession/avocation.  Really – this plan is a no-brainer and only asks that you stay well-hydrated as you venture forth into the golden rays of summer light!!!

(Please note that my choice of words is deliberate; when I say “educators,” I do indeed mean all people working in education who have contact with students, parents, and other educators.  The solution to a better education system doesn’t just ride on having better teachers – it depends on having better everyone who has anything to do with education.)

Summer is the time of renewal and possibility.  We all understand that the school year, once underway, grinds us down – just like a season in professional sports.  So how do we get ourselves bulked up to deal with the wear and tear ?

1) Travel

Nothing teaches adaptiveness and going with the flow like travel.  It doesn’t matter where you go, how you get there, or how long you stay.  In stepping out of our normal context we engage all of our senses in deciphering the subtle, and not-so-subtle, differences in how life is lived elsewhere.  Geek out while you’re there and go check out a school; you are guaranteed to see something unexpected (on my recent trip to Brooklyn, I saw how PS 29 turned their blacktop into a garden with raised planter beds). Lastly, traveling is the most surefire way to get lost – and getting lost from time to time is good for us; it means we are really somewhere new!

2) Read something weird

It can’t hurt you.  You’ll feel like your students often do as they confront new and unexpected things in their classes.  It will be good for you to feel what they feel.  And you just might develop a taste for something new and fresh – or, just weird.  Weird is cool too.  In fact, weird might be the new cool.  So visit a bookstore or library and go to the section you have never visited and take a risk.

3) Do something you’ve never done before

I don’t mean something death-defying, like base-jumping or running with the bulls.  I mean anything you have allowed yourself to develop a fixed mindset towards – or something you’ve simply never thought about doing.  Grab the Sunday paper and open to the events pages.  Throw a dart.  Pack sunscreen, a bottle of water, and a pad and paper to take down any revelations that come your way when in the midst of this brand new, first-time-ever experience you are having.  We want our students to be open to new ways of thinking, seeing, perceiving, and expressing – we better be too!

4) Get outside – a lot

We are indoors far too much during the school year.  If you live somewhere oppressively hot during the summer, get up at dawn to bike, run, walk, garden, or play ball at the local park.  If you have children, this category is the most brainless of no-brainers – even when it’s oppressively hot.

5) Write

Educators are writing things all the time.  Most of what we write serves to further our daily work, and because of this it falls within some very defined parameters of form and substance.  At any given time, all of us with the power of literacy have the ability to write whatever we want as a means to express our ideas, develop our thinking, or simply experiment and play with the grand mystery of language.  Writing with no obligations, no parameters, and no timelines can be like yoga for the mind – slowly unwinding our ritual pathways and opening up our thinking to new possibilities.

It’s the cheapest form of travel yet invented.

Seth Berg’s terrific post on practicing mindfulness and presence in all things is another great summer fitness booster.  Toward the end of the post, he recommends that everyone keep an engagement journal.  Whatever form your writing takes – even if it is a single daily Tweet – make it an opportunity for you to sit quietly with your thoughts.  Sharing – optional!

You will be shocked at how buff you get.

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