As usual for the last podcast episode + blog post of the season, I want to be a little more informal and off the cuff, give you a bit more personal reflections, and send you off with something important and thought-provoking to consider in the coming weeks.
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A recap of my September/October projects
This fall has been a really productive and enjoyable time. I co-created a course with Dr. Rebecca Branstetter of the Thriving School Psychologist. It’s called Reverse Educator Burnout: 10 Shifts to Help Educators Enjoy the Journey and Stay the Course.
Rebecca and I have been friends for over ten years and one thing I love about her is how she incorporates playfulness and fun into everything she does. So we didn’t just make another online PD: We did a 60s hippie road trip theme filmed in San Francisco. I’ve always been a flower child at heart so this was a no-brainer. We wore bell bottoms and borrowed her neighbor’s green van that reminds me of the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine! You can see a bunch of pics of us on the enrollment page.
The course itself is set up in easily digestible 7-10 minute videos. (Don’t worry, we didn’t go overboard on the theme — we’re wearing professional clothes in the actual trainings.) Rebecca — as a school psychologist — talks about the research and neuroscience of reversing burnout, and then I talk about the practical classroom application. Each module also has a guest expert who shares their unique perspective on reversing burnout.
You can buy the course on your own but it’s really designed for school purchases: we really want districts investing in their faculty’s wellbeing and mental health. We’re losing so many of our best educators — and our new educators don’t even have a chance to thrive — because the institution of school just completely burns them out.
We need schools to prioritize teacher retention and help their educators thrive — most folks who are quitting don’t want to quit, they used to love teaching — it’s just not a sustainable career path anymore because the stress is breaking them. This needs to be addressed at a systemic level and the course Rebecca and I created is a tool to help school do that, and you can pass this link along to your admin if you want to help spread the word.
So that was my main focus in the month of September. In October, I focused on the second edition of my new book, Awakened. And then I’m trying something new as my focus in the month of November, and then as long time listeners know, I always take an internet sabbatical in December.
My project for November
I’m going to be setting aside the month of November for really deep work. Deep work is a concept based on a book of the same name by Cal Newport — I highly recommend it — and involves carving out blocks of time for important, meaningful projects instead of just staying busy with and distracted by email, social media, meetings, and other stuff which fill the bulk of our days.
I’m using the month of November to focus on a set of new resources for kids and grown ups that teach the skills of time management, attention management, and energy management. I’ve had a vision for this work for several years now but was never able to prioritize it because I had other things on my plate. So in October, I batched my work and got ahead with my other work responsibilities like this podcast so I can spend November focused on this new project.
It’s just beginning to take shape and I don’t like to talk about my ideas very much in the beginning stages because I find I start comparing my ideas to what other people have done, and then I sometimes get imposter syndrome. I feel like “This problem is too big to solve, who am I to think I have anything to offer with this.” I also find that hearing feedback or input from other people too soon in the process throws me off course: I get distracted by all the things I COULD do or what would be nice to offer, and my original vision gets muddied.
So early in the creative process I like to keep my ideas for myself. I protect them and nurture them while they’re little fragile seeds and don’t expose them to the harsh elements until they’re stronger and rooted down and firmly planted. Other people’s input is super important later in creative process and really helps me refine what I have and make it better.
But early on, it’s just for me. It’s a really beautiful stage of the writing and creative process, where I’m not yet thinking about what other people want or need or how to market it or how to make it relevant and adaptable for all kinds of folks — it’s just sort of downloading messages, being the conduit for ideas, using the process of writing and brainstorming and list-making to find out what I want to say and how I want to convey it.
The process of watching a feeling and spark of inspiration grow into something tangible that I can share with others is really very magical, to see something I can hold in my hands grow out of something that used to just be a fuzzy possibility in my mind. That’s the process I’m in right now and I’ll share more with you in the new year when I’m further along.
My December sabbatical
So November is my deep work month, and December is my sabbatical month.
Two years ago around this time, I was in a serious state of burnout, struggling with both depression and anxiety. In August 2020, I got back on medication for these issues.
That helped tremendously with my mood stability and being able to generally function as an adult, but it did not help my creative burnout.
So, in December 2020, I decided to take the entire month off from the internet — no writing new blog posts, no podcast episodes, no weekly emails to folks subscribed to my list, no finding resources to share on social media, no posting or interacting on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. I decided this in advance, and prepped my team accordingly so that their work schedules were adjusted in ways that helped them also have a break without losing income.
That time off was so vital to my wellbeing that I knew immediately it was going to become an annual tradition. My December sabbatical in 2021 was even more fruitful, because I entered it as a preventative measure before hitting a state of total burnout.
During the first half of this December, I’ll still do some check-ins for email and such as needed, just to make sure my team and customers have support from me.
There won’t be any new content from Truth for Teachers though, and I won’t be posting anything on social media other than scheduled posts in the 40 Hour Facebook groups and weekly emails for 40 Hour. (It’s a paid course that runs the entire year, so it will continue to be maintained, and we’ll have customer service available for anyone who needs it. I’ll just be scheduling the Facebook posts in advance.)
The choice to stop sharing content for the entire month is one I’ve made intentionally.
I want to lead by example, and model what it looks like to give one’s self permission to stop giving / creating / sharing / helping / supporting others for awhile in order to center one’s own needs.
This is also intended as pushback against the tyranny of “feeding the beast” of social media, keeping up reach, playing to algorithms, and posting constantly in order to stay “relevant.”
I’ve been supporting teachers online for nearly 20 years (since 2003) and the current influencer age is the most exhausting one yet. I refuse to play the game and be constantly on my phone. I’m going to show up online in a way that feels meaningful, sustainable, and authentic to me.
None of us need to be in service of others 24/7. And, none of us need to be creating and sharing things every single day of our lives without a break.
So, I’m mostly offline the first half of the month, and then completely off from Dec 23-Jan 2. And I hope you’ll join me during that approximate time period for your own sabbatical. Episode 244 explains in more detail how to do this, if you’re interested.
The idea is that you take those 10 days (more or less, depending on your preferences and time off) for a sabbatical from doing school work or even thinking about school.
In episode 244, I talk about how a sabbatical doesn’t need to be a perfectly restful, meditative experience (although it certainly can be).
Rather, it’s an opportunity to be fully present in whatever you have planned at the end of December without allowing the weight of work responsibilities to pull you away.
During your sabbatical, you don’t have to DO anything, and you don’t need to have an agenda or list of things you’d like to accomplish or experience.
You can try making a list of things you’d like to do over your sabbatical: watch a certain movie, hike a certain trail, bake a certain dessert, etc.
Then, see how it feels to have a list. Do you feel like you’re completing a holiday bucket list and find it super rewarding, knowing that you’re creating time for all these awesome experiences and checking them off? Or does it feel like pressure to you, like you’re not making the most of your time unless you’re getting things done?
Neither of these perspectives are right or wrong. It’s just about what works for you.
The great thing is that productivity is a lifelong experiment, and at least for me, sabbaticals will be, too. Every December, I hope to understand more about my own needs for thriving and go deeper into the sabbatical practice as I uncover what works for me.
So, think of this December as an intentional holiday sabbatical experiment. Try out an approach or two, and learn from it. You might even find you develop practices you can repeat on shorter breaks and long weekends, and even on regular weekends and weeknights.
One word of caution: avoid anticipating that every day of the sabbatical will feel blissful, and recognize that you may not return to work feeling 100% restored and energetic.
Instead, trust the process. Trust that your body and mind are benefiting so much from not solving work related problems or making work related decisions for nearly 10 entire days.
Trust that you’re opening up new possibilities for your energy levels and thought processes which you might not see immediately, but will become apparent as you ease back into work.
Trust that you’re gaining new and valuable insights about your needs and preferences that will enable you to ensure your needs are met all throughout the school year.
My hope is that this intentional time to rest from everything school-related will help us return in January feeling reinspired and deeply grounded in our purpose and mission.
I want us each to be the strongest, healthiest versions of ourselves (mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually).
I’ll be back in January with my next message for you, and lots of new articles, resources, podcast episodes, and more coming in 2023.
An encouraging send-off from my new book
I’m going to send you off with an inspirational message from my new book, Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching.The book is a tool to help you develop the resilient, flexible, positive mindset you need to keep doing the job you love and do it well.
I will be running a free online book club in February 2023 so you can discuss the ideas with other educators, so if you’d consider reading it and gifting it to educator friends this holiday season, we can talk about it together afterward.
I appreciate you supporting my work by purchasing and recommending it, and even if you can’t at the moment, I want to leave you with this message from Awakened. I hope it will help carry you through the next few weeks, give you something to meditate on over your holiday breaks, and set the tone for your new year coming up. It’s this:
When you feel like giving up yourself because the issues seem too big to solve, remind yourself of how much you’ve already overcome.
You’ve already survived childhood and everything you experienced during it. You survived your teenage years, and every experience you had then. You survived every friendship, partnership, and relationship you’ve had. You survived the first day of school as a brand new teacher. You survived a pandemic.
And now, you’re in this place in your life … maybe not where you wanted or hoped to be, but look at all that you’ve overcome. Notice every single accomplishment that seems minor to you but is actually something that shaped you into the person you are today. Recognize every hardship that could have ended in a much darker scenario.
You. Are. Still. Here.
Find the peace that comes from knowing how much you have adapted to in the past, and how many lessons you’ve learned about what NOT to do and how NOT to live. Think about all the ways you’ve diverted from the path of negative influences in your life and chosen better, even when it was hard.
Your past resiliency is proof that you are a survivor, that you can keep pressing forward. You have already adapted to circumstances you never could have imagined for yourself.
Practice radical acceptance: this is the life you’ve lived. This is the person you are. You’ve already done amazing things, and grown into an amazing human being.
You are becoming wiser with each passing year. You are unlearning old patterns, growing as a person and an educator.
You’ve already done so much — you can do THIS, too.
I’ll be back with you in January, friends. Wishing you a much-needed time of rest, and a wonderful new year.
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