According to traditional school calendars, summer should be well underway for most American students and education practitioners. If my memory is at all accurate, it didn't come a minute too soon! My wife is quick to remind me, having observed me navigate the business of education for decades, that every year I seemed to be crawling on my hands and knees toward the finish line. It's true. Every year it was the same, no matter my age, where I was in my career or the degree of my physical stamina. The conclusion of the school year and feelings of exhaustion seemed predictably to go hand-in-hand.
Non-educators might read that opening paragraph and legitimately have reason to question how that could be the case. "The school year is only nine months long," they might observe. "You have seasonal breaks and a lengthy summer vacation. Why should you be so tired?" Makes sense. Compared to the schedule of virtually every other profession, where a two-week vacation plus a holiday off here or there offers the only respite, the public school calendar must look like a walk in the park. However, caution is required and advised. Don't be too quick to judge it until you've lived it. Trust me . . . being an educator is just plain hard, and when summer comes, you're pooped. Enough said.
It's indeed summer and it's time for RLD&C. I can read your mind, as "what in the world is RLD&C?" is the question on the tip of your tongue. It's the right question, and we'll get there. But, first, relax. Though relaxation is not what the "R" of RLD&C stands for, it is a critical use of one's time during these "dog days of summer." Engaging in what one finds relaxing must be the first priority if there is any hope of recharging the battery and preparing (mentally, emotionally and physically) to re-engage with the work in the fall. Finding relaxation is also the prerequisite of RLD&C. To engage effectively, one must be in a relaxed state.
I believe that summer is the perfect opportunity for professional educators to engage in RLD&C. Consider RLD&C to be "summer's gift." The more dedicated and committed educators are to the challenges of the work, the more willing they will be to embrace RLD&C. In fact, I believe that engaging in thoughtful RLD&C exercises makes good educators better ones, and that RLD&C has the transformative power to make great practitioners into exceptional ones. So, here we go. Here are the key components of RLD&C.
REFLECT. As you sip your cool beverage in the shade of the yard or experience that moment of exhilaration on the mountain top, reflect. Reflection does not involve judgement. Rather, it is simply an honest conversation with yourself about yourself. Allow your memory to rewind and your mind to slow down enough to recall where you've been and to remember what you've been up to since last summer, when you were similarly relaxed. What did your year consist of? How did you prioritize your energy? How did your experiences feel? Simply go into a neutral mental state and recall, remember, reflect.
LEARN. Educators, above all else, are learners. So, what did you learn? What did your reflection teach you, what insights did the process yield, what "ah hah's" did it reveal? Allow your reflections to be instructive. If you were to be totally honest with yourself, what grade did you earn for your efforts? Why? As you recall your recent professional experiences, what are you proudest of? What do you regret? What, if given the opportunity, would you do differently? Did you satisfy the professional goals you set for yourself? What worked for you and what got in your way? Allow yourself to be your teacher. “Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” ― Isaac Asimov
Finally, DEFINE & COMMIT. If we are to be totally honest with ourselves, the definition of why we do what we do, the reason we return to the schoolhouse each fall to engage in the magical enterprise of teaching and learning, has changed over time. That's a good thing!. The definition of our aspirational purpose must evolve. But, here's the hard truth. We can get so caught up in the demands, pressures and complexities of our work that we forget to pay attention to that evolving definition of what we're doing and why we're doing it; resembling gerbils on the wheel in their cage. Stop! Pay attention to why you do what you do. Reconcile why your work is important, to you and in the lives of others. Recognize why you are the right person for the task. Define these things. And then Commit to one or two priorities you will make, and what you will accomplish, in the coming year. Write these definitions and commitments down and post them where you can be reminded, every day, of both your true and aspirational purpose and your renewed commitments to your professional practices and the communities you serve.
Don't squander the gift of summer. Engage in RLD&C. You'll not only return to your post relaxed and refreshed, you'll arrive better prepared to embrace what is arguably the most important work of our society - the education of tomorrow's citizens and leaders.