Monday, December 2, 2013

A Vacation is Good For the Educator's Soul

At some point in the previous year, the decision was made to make our school district's 2013-2014 calendar have a full week off for Thanksgiving. This means when you leave work on a Friday, you don't necessarily need to return until 10 days later. This was a new scheduling change for the school year and was not initially well received. Part of the reason for the early murmurs was having to start school a few days earlier or knowing that we'll have to end school a few days later into the Summer. While administrators are already back at school way before the official staff report-by date, I will go on record that if I complain about an extra two days at the end of the year, I'll stop and refer back to this blog entry... and how glorious having ten days off from work after the mad dash of October and early November can be.

For the ten day break, I made a few decisions on how to have the most relaxing, least stressful vacation possible.

1) Get Away

On somewhat of a last minute decision, I booked two nights at the Applewood Inn, located about 30 minutes west of Santa Rosa. With twin three year old daughters, my wife and I don't have the opportunity to get away (or as we often say "escape") from our daily routines. We scheduled kid coverage for the days we'd be away (split between our Au Pair and parents) and took off for wine country. There, we ate great food, walked around Healdsburg and Guerneville, read a few books (already have our next UMS Reads book Wonder completed), and just enjoyed the quiet. One thing that a middle school isn't during the day (and this is a good thing) is quiet, so the opportunity to listen to the silence of a sleepy town is a nice change of pace.

2) Walk Lots

In a future blog post, I'll talk about the revolutionary UP Band I'm using and how (and why) it has changed my life. Two of my daily goals are eight hours of sleep at night and 10,000 steps during the day. Over the course of those ten nights, I managed to sleep at least eight hours seven times. Two of the less-than-eight-hour nights were extremely close. It's amazing how refreshed one feels in the morning after a full eight hours of sleep. I've realized, after the push of October and early November, it's really nice to catch up on one's sleep to prepare for the December school push.

For my steps, I now have a 17-day streak of 10,000 daily steps or more. While on vacation, we ended up taking the long way around town, staying out a bit later to walk the streets back and forth, and on our first night, I spent 40 minutes in the parking lot, walking up and down the paved hill in order to get my 10,000 steps for the day. Despite the freezing weather, I felt amazingly successful and proud of my accomplishment, even though I surely looked ridiculous out in the parking lot that evening.

3) Family Time

After our vacation, I made every effort to spend as much time as possible with my daughters. They too will be a subject of a future blog post, probably more than one. We went to more parks than I could count. We walked around our neighborhood enough times that they began to lead the way. I think our Costco visits almost hit double digits (no, just kidding, only three times over the week off). After sometimes going three days with not seeing them due to work commitments, it was nothing short of glorious to wake them up first thing in the morning and again at the end of the day when they're falling asleep. One thing about toddlers is that the growth they'll experience in a week turns them into entirely different children -- and it's nothing short of amazing to watch the transformation. Spending these extra holiday moments with your family helps make those long nights at school that much easier.

4) Limit Work Emails

Ok, I didn't do so well with not answering work emails over the holiday break. I went in with a positive outlook, but part of my belief as a site administrator is that our staff and school community receives an email response in a timely fashion. I know there are pros and cons to this practice, but if I were the parent with what I felt was an urgent concern, I wouldn't want to wait 10 days for a response. For me, it's part of my professional expectations that as a  school administrator, I'll respond within 24-48 hours to an email... and usually it's within an hour. While this isn't always the healthiest option, occasionally a parent will respond with respectful kindness as one of our school community members did over the recent Thanksgiving holiday.

The first email from this parent was incredibly respectful and polite. They were inquiring about a possible elective change for their student for second semester. Their email began with the following line: "First and foremost, I would like to thank you for the high level of education my (student) is receiving at your school. (They are) thriving both academically and socially." When a parent starts an email with such kindness, I feel compelled to respond. The ending to the email was perhaps even better: "I realize that you are a very busy individual and have to balance the needs of hundreds of students, and their parents alike. So I do understand your challenges as well. Regardless, I do thank you for your time in this matter, and again complement you and your team on the fine work they have done at (your school)." Not only well written, but very complimentary as well.

The email was written at 1 pm on the first Saturday of vacation. I replied exactly two hours later with a 542 word reply (I counted), outlining every option and roadblock with their schedule request. I heard nothing for the next eight days until last night at 8:42 pm. I received a follow up email that said: "Again, thank you for your prompt response to my email -- I actually waited until after the holiday week so not to bother you during your time off." Their email ended with "I truly appreciate your time in the matter and thank you for your continued support for (my student's) growth and development."

Would I have received the same response if I had waited the full vacation break before responding? Yes, it's possible... but part of the culture at our school is that parents appreciate the quick reply and will be incredibly respectful of our staff's own personal time. And of course I followed up today with my staff about this student and was informed, perhaps to no surprise, that they are an amazingly talented, bright, compassionate young adult that we are very lucky to have at our school.

These four decisions helped me return to work today with a renewed outlook and rejuvenated mindset for the next three weeks of school prior to the holiday break. Having this time to get away, to walk, to spend time with my family, and occasionally limit my work emails is something that I'm quite thankful for. In fact, I'm already looking forward to next year's week long Thanksgiving break.

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