Without the stress of students or the day to day grind of preparation, the summer is a great time to intentionally develop a new habit or two that, if carried into the next school year can have tremendous benefits. I am a huge believer in the idea that habits run our lives. I don’t think that we make very many choices during the day. We just do what we usually do. Because we have been doing what we usually do for a long time and now those things are automatic habits.
I learned a long time ago that it takes thirty days to create a new habit. I don’t know if that is really true or not, but it’s something to shoot for. I did recently read a book called, The One Thing by Gary Keller. He talked about a habit taking sixty-five days to really become a habit. So, maybe it takes longer than I thought. I don’t know that it really matters. What matters is that you know that starting a new habit is hard, but that it gets easier over time.
The intention of starting a habit is that you do it in your life consistently, from now on. Right? So, does it really matter how long it takes for something to become a habit? Maybe, but in my mind you just keep doing it until it’s a habit. That is easy to say and I have lots of examples of personal failure in implementing new habits in my life. But some of them have stuck and that has made all the difference.
So, what habits, in my opinion, would be good for teachers to develop over the summer?
Practicing Mindfulness – What do I mean by mindfulness? Some kind of meditative practice or prayer that you do for between 5 minutes and 30 minutes each morning. There really is a vast amount of ways that this mindfulness practice can take shape. You could focus on everything that you are grateful for a few minutes. You could just pay attention to, and release whatever thoughts come into your mind. You could spend time visualizing the new day happening exactly the way that you want it to. You could look into learning Transendental Meditation and get a coach to help you learn how to do it.
My mindfulness practice changes every so often. I get bored and need to do something different. I’ll do guided meditation for a while, then I will listen to nature sounds while I imagine being in a beautiful place. Then I will listen to music that supposedly changes your brain waves to get you into a deeply relaxed state. I don’t know if it works or not. I will say that over time I have learned to become very relaxed, very quickly. So, it’s probably helped. I don’t really know for sure.
What I do know is that practicing mindfulness has helped me to live a more centered and calm life.
Oh, one other thing about meditation. Author Tim Ferriss has a podcast whereon he interviews top performers in pretty much everything in order to try to deconstruct how they do what they do. He says that 80% of the people that he interviews have some kind of meditative practice that they do daily. It is a high leverage activity that has lots of benefits.
For a teacher, summertime is a great time to develop a habit of mindfulness practice. There is usually less stress and we generally don’t have to hurry out the door as quickly as we do during the school year. So, take a few minutes each day and as Shia LeBeouf would say, “Just do it!” (If you don't get that reference... just watch this short video. It is awesome?!?)
Exercise- If you were to look at the lists of goals that I would set for myself over the years, starting to exercise was always on them. I hated exercising. I think that part of the reason for that is, I pretty much equated exercise with running. So, to be clear. It is running I hate, even though I do it on occasion, but I have learned to love exercising.
“Sitting is the new Smoking.” I read this great quote in the May 30th edition of New Scientist Magazine. Just sitting around is really bad for us. I’m not sure if a sedentary lifestyle causes major health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, but there is plenty of research out there that says that exercise helps with all of those. Even if it is just moderate exercise, like walking.
Time is a common excuse when people say that they don’t exercise. Especially teachers. So, why not start the habit during the summer, when there is more time?
Adventure- I was going to label this little section Be Interesting, but thought that might be too subjective. Summer is a great time to have little mini-adventures, or maybe even grand ones, that can make you more interesting when the school year rolls around.
In her book Unshakeable: 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Every Day… No Matter What, Angela Watson talks about how important it is to share your authentic self with your students. It’s the first chapter in her book and so, my guess is, that she thinks it is crucial.
I think that having interests and experiences that add to who you are as a person is important. Being appropriately open about your life is a powerful tool in helping kids see you as a person and helping them connect with you.
Pay attention to the unique experiences that you have throughout the summer. Collect the stories and the learning experiences. Being adventurous doesn’t mean that you have to do some amazing trip. It just means that you are open to new experiences and are open to learning from whatever is going on in your life right now. It is about getting ‘from’ the day instead of just trying to get ‘through’ the day. Those adventures add to your interestingness.
Read, In and Out of Your Subject Area- Actually, I can’t think of a teacher who doesn’t read, a lot. My only suggestion here would be to read a variety of things. I have recently started reading more fiction. For the longest time I only ever wanted to read books on personal or professional development. Then I listened to a podcast on the importance of reading fiction. So I am trying it. It is all part of that adventure thing. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I just realized that none of these habits really have anything to do with teaching. They are basically just about taking care of yourself. Which, in all actuality, the most important thing. For you, for your family, and for your students.