Both my husband and I spent our summers growing up in small lake communities. For me this place is called Iron City Fishing Club and is on a remote and gorgeous part of the Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada.
This place is special and I’m so grateful for it. Because of its constancy in my life, going back there year after year has helped me to observe patterns in myself and to touchdown on the ways I’ve grown and changed.
This place is like a very small town. Everyone who spends time there in the summers has know me my whole life and a typical part of any summer includes stories that start with “I remember when you were little and …” It’s like a family reunion - amplified.
What I notice each summer is that the seven year old, the 16 year old, 19 and 25 year old parts of myself are alive and present with me. When I’m there I’m far more likely to revert to one of these ages and tumble back into a time warp, acting shy and nervous like my child self, bickering with a family member like my teenage self, opinionated and bull headed like my early 20’s. These ways of being sit right on my shoulder, tempting me back to them.
Furthermore, people there remember me at these other ages. They, unintentionally, interact with me and I respond like I am still 23 years old. All the wisdom and hard earned lessons from marriage, parenting, and work are seemingly gone.
All this is normal.
You’ve likely experienced a similar ripple in time when you visit your old home town, go to a high school reunion, or get lunch with an old friend or family member you haven’t seen in five years. The younger parts of you come back.
Any time we go “back” to a place or a routine or a specific time of year (think: holiday season) what we often love is the comfort, the familiarity, and the nostalgia the returned to thing offers.
But what going “back” can also do is put us on an old auto pilot and have the younger parts of us running the show.
As educators, back to school is certainly one of these annual routines that can illicit the same rote approach as brushing your teeth can.
Routines can awaken the familiar in a helpful way. I always loved unpacking my classroom and setting things up with exacting care. I loved seeing my teacher friends again. I loved getting to know a new set of kids.
Routine can also remind us of past stress.
What I hear from educators a lot and have certainly said myself are things like:
“Back to the real world.”
“Back to the grind.”
“Back to the stress.”
I knew teachers who started the year knowing exactly how many weeks there were until winter break. They came back and automatically ran the programming, “I just want to leave.”
All this makes me think that sometimes going back is really going BACKWARDS.
We make up that how we felt and experienced last year will be the template for how we feel and experience this year. It’s our inner autopilot robbing us of our creativity.
It doesn't have to be this way.
With self awareness and conviction we can decide what parts of us we want to bring into this new school year and we can guide those we coach to be just as discerning.
As a coach we can be asking:
How do you feel coming back to work?
How do you want to feel starting this year?
What works for you in the back to school season?
What would you like to do differently this back to school season?
Is there a habit or practice that you would like to bring from summer into the new school year?
You’re going to have that teacher who loves back to school and they will tell you this is their favorite time of year. They will tell you about the hours they put in getting their room ready and how they stay late at back to school functions to meet every student's family. And as a throw away comment, they might mention that they’ll be exhausted by October but that it’s all worth it.
Catch that in yourselves and in others.
What are we believing is “just the way it is?” Where are we denying that we have grown smarter and better equipped to navigate our work?
You might ask yourself or this energized teacher, what wisdom could I use now, during back to school, that will set me up to feel good in October?
You can extend this question and the ones above out to any part of the year and make a plan or revisit these questions quarterly.
The point is that we don’t have to go back to anything that doesn’t work for us. We don’t have to go back to stress, overwhelm, lack of self care or anything else that doesn’t have us well in our work.
How do we turn the autopilot of our past ways of our being off?
We turn it off with attention, curiosity, and the insistence that we have a lot of wisdom that can help us in creating a new way.
Having a coach who reminds us of our wisdom and helps us stay awake to old patterns of thinking or behavior is really helpful too. That's way my curriculum, Integrative Instructional Coaching, is about so much more than just instructional strategy.
When I go on my family trip in the summers, I am more aware of the pull of my past selves on my present being. I can feel in my body when a younger part of myself is creeping in. So I practice mindfulness, I share stories of my life now, I do my best to honor and ask about people about their lives and who they are now.
This month, let’s make back to school about integrating our wisdom now with our past practices that work. And let’s help those we coach and lead do the same.
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I believe that together we can go FORWARD into a school year of support, inspiration, and community so that we are well in our work and having the impact we have always dreamed of!