I used to treat winter vacation as a chance to work more. In my first few years of teaching, I’d bring home piles of work to grade, thinking, “All right, now I have time to catch up!”
After a few years, I started to realize that during vacation, I needed a break. A real break, not a “catch up with work” break. I started organizing my work so that before vacation, work was graded, lessons were planned, and I could travel, read novels, watch movies, go hiking, and take a break from teaching. After mentoring new teachers, I learned about the Phases of First-Year Teachers’ attitudes towards teaching, which highlighted for me how important that first winter break is to fully rest and rejuvenate. There is a dip in morale in December right before winter break, labeled “Disillusionment,” and then a huge rise in morale after winter break, called “Rejuvenation.”
Turns out I needed to re-learn how to take a break.
This year, right before winter break, I found the book The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact by Michael Fullan. I was intrigued by Fullan’s ideas, and thought, reading this could make me more effective as a principal.
So before the winter break, I plopped the book into my bag. “I’ll read it over break,” I told myself. “It’s not really work.” As I packed my suitcase for Florida to visit family, though, I slipped The Principal from my carry-on into my suitcase– if it was in my carry on, I’d probably feel like I had to read it. And honestly, I didn’t feel like it. On the plane I read The Color of Lightning, a novel about Texas settlers captured by a Kiowa tribe, and was transported to another world. Should have been a clue that I didn’t put The Principal in my carry-on.
On Day 2 of vacation, I started to read The Principal. It made so many good points—and . . . I couldn’t stop thinking about work. I was applying everything Fullan wrote to my job, and I couldn’t shut off work, even when I was taking a beautiful walk or watching a movie with my family.
A fun leadership book– getting warmer
I took a visit to a local bookstore and found Permission to Screw Up by Kristen Hadeed. When she was still in college, Hadeed started a highly successful cleaning business hiring students as maids. In the first scene, as she’s eating a caesar salad and congratulating herself on her success, 45 of her employees walk in and quit. In the middle of a huge job.
I was hooked. I bought the book and devoured it in two days. Reading it didn’t feel like work, yet it was nourishing—Hadeed revealed her mistakes, her successes, and showed her vulnerablity as a leader.
OK– if I’m being honest, I still applied the book to my work. Couldn’t help it. It’s a leadership book and I’m a leader.
Next on my list was a biography of Churchill– a great leader I admire, and we have the same birthday .
Then, I happened upon Elena Aguilar’s article for educators, “Why You Must Shut Down This Winter Break.” That said it all. I officially moved The Principal back into my suitcase, gave the Churchill biography a raincheck and decided that both had to be great books, but this is vacation. I wouldn’t touch either until after the break. And I didn’t.
For the rest of the break, I gave myself permission to get lost in the novel Pachinko by Min Jin Lee . The novel spans 80 years and tells the engrossing story of four generations of a Korean family living in Japan, weaving together their lives, loves, disappointments, and tragedies. My kinda book. I was fully absorbed, and gave myself permission to just read a great story.
I had told myself that as I’ve gotten better at managing time, I didn’t “need” the break the way others do. But actually, I do need it. Resting isn’t a failure. I work at a job that I love, but it’s demanding, and in order to truly love it and truly do it well, I sometimes need to let it go.