Just last month I was outside trying to get the lawn mowed before the weekend. I had 20 plus children coming over for a party and they needed somewhere to run around. We had just moved into our new rental, which sat on 1800 square metres of land. I was halfway through already, because I had started the afternoon before, so I dragged my lawnmower out to finish the job.
I brought the lawnmower down to where I was up to. Checked it was full of petrol and oil. Put the lever into the start position. Pumped some petrol into the motor and began to pull, expecting it to start fairly quickly. Instead, my arms began to get tired as I continued to pull on the cord 5 and then 10 minutes later. I was getting frustrated, but I was determined to get this lawn done. I took a short rest and then began to pull again, but this time the starter cord broke. It was clear I was not going to be able to mow this lawn with my own mower.
Why had the lawnmower not started though? Why was it that in the end I had pulled that cord so many times that it just broke off? The answer was pretty simple. I have never taken my lawnmower to the shop for a service.
The same thing happens to us as teachers. We are too busy getting our work done and don’t have time to stop and recharge our own batteries. Instead, we dive straight into the next task. But what we are doing is burning ourselves out!
Author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, tells the story of a man who is cutting down the tree. He has been cutting for a long time and another person comes along. They see the man struggling with the saw and ask the man how long he has been cutting for. The man says he has been sawing since sun up, he is hot and bothered and the saw is not working nearly as good as it once did. The person suggests that he stop, have a break and sharpen the saw. The man angrily replies, I don’t have time, can’t you see that I am trying to saw the tree.
The 7th habit of highly effective people is to sharpen the saw. We must ensure that we have a balance between our productivity and personal care. As human beings we need to remember that we are not capable of continuing without rest. When God created the world, he even rested at the end and then commanded people to rest 1 full day a week.
Rest can occur in many different ways and can be defined as “interrupting physical and mental activity resulting in a relaxed state.” This can be achieved in many different ways, such as: going for a quiet walk, reading a book, listening to music, having a cup of tea or coffee with a friend, meditation, spending time with a pet or even watching a movie.
We need to take some time to recharge our own batteries before they run out. Ensuring that we rest will help us in more ways than just improving our effectiveness at work. It helps to reduce our stress, lower blood pressure, decrease irritability, and improve our quality of life.
Too often as a society and culturally within teaching, we focus on our productivity. We create to-do lists and love ticking things off, but also never see the end of the list as we constantly add new tasks to it. We don’t even weigh the to-do list (more on this later) we often get the easiest thing done first so that we can begin to tick things off. This is not an effective way to work, though it might be productive. We need to shift our thinking to being more effective, not just productive.
We also need to ensure that we are purposeful in our personal care. Looking after your wellbeing is often something we teach at schools to students, but rarely something we apply to ourselves. Wellbeing incorporates much more than rest, but taking rest and time to look after yourself is a part of this. We all know that if we don’t look after ourselves we cannot look after others. And if you are a deputy or a principal or a head of welfare or wellbeing at your school, you need this more than anyone else.
You cannot mentally manage the emotions of your role without looking after yourself. I have been a deputy principal and acting principal. Dealing with sexual assault, family abuse, bullying, student’s mental health issues, suicide attempts and much more takes its toll. The inability to be able to share this with others just makes it even more taxing. You must schedule time in and have a rest. This is especially hard with mental fatigue, but we must find the time to stop, to switch off, plug in and recharge so that we can give our best to these students.
Cal Newport identifies the need for our rest to not be “free time”. He proposes instead that we plan our rest to make it more meaningful, because the brain really just wants something different. It needs a change, not to be doing nothing. So, ensure you identify activities that you will be doing as part of your rest, you will actually find it more relaxing.
This article is a small section from my upcoming book "Work Less, Teach More". Subscribe below to get the book outline and to ensure you get further sneak peaks into the book before it is released.
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Nurit, W., & Michal, A. B. (2003). Rest: A qualitative exploration of the phenomenon. Occupational therapy international, 10(4), 227-238.