Wednesday, January 6, 2016

You Did What Over Break?

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Colleagues, it’s time to chat.

Like most of you, I’ve just returned from a long school vacation, one of the best perks of being an educator, and one of the best parts of having Christmas on a Friday.  My time off was relaxing, re-energizing, and gave time for reflection of the big pictures of work, family, and life.

As I returned to a virtual mountain of e-mail, it was clear some of you didn’t take this approach.  “Does anyone have a scholarship list they can share?” wrote one of you—on December 28th.  “One of my students just e-mailed me with a rough draft of their college essays” another one began—from December 30th.  And finally, this, from sometime over vacation: “I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d start checking 2nd semester schedules for conflicts.”

I realize this is a big world, and it is a much better place because everyone treats their work differently.  At the same time, I also know that the root word for vacation is vacate, which comes from the Latin “to abandon”, “to make like a tree and leaf”, or “to make like a banana and split.”  When one vacates a home, one doesn’t come back to check in on it now and again; you leave and never come back.

I also know that counselors know the value of unwinding and distressing.  We are familiar with studies showing how this actually increases productivity and learning in students, leads to longer lifespans, and makes us easier to get along with. 

Knowing all we do about the benefits of pulling a Queen Elsa and letting it go, I can’t help but wonder why we don’t actually let the office go.  Is it because we care too much?  Have we become the workaholic we entered the field to rehabilitate?  Is there really nothing we can do to make sure we can truly take time off, not worrying what awaits us when we return?

The answer is likely different for all of us, but after reflecting on the e-mails I’ve just read, I would offer this advice for you to consider for next year:

Create a December to-do list.  When you return from Thanksgiving—that’s when you return, not while you’re eating turkey—write a list of everything that needs to be done by January 10th.  Complete at least two of those tasks every school day, with the goal of having everything done two days before vacation starts.  That way, you have the scholarship list in hand before you go on vacation, and you have a less frenzied return to school after break.

Give students internal deadlines.  Starting November 1, I post a reminder in each weekly newsletter that my office is closed when the school is closed, and that includes Thanksgiving and December vacations.  If students want help with essays, they know they’ll only get read when school is open.  If students want a transcript sent for a college with a January 1st deadline, they need to let me know by December 5th.  Telling me after that guarantees it will be sent late, and some colleges might not like that, but it’s up to them to let me know on time.

These steps may not work the first year you try them, but it’s important to remember we set an example for students to follow—so if we want them to demonstrate balance, they need to see what that looks like.

Give it a try—and if you really relax by doing schedule changes, call me.  We could make a tidy sum opening a small online business. 

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