Summer Dinosaurs

Summer here, it’s time for some must needed renewal. Even for those of us who love what we do, education is a profession that demands energy. To do it well means not scrimping on engagement, taking time to do things right, and giving of ourselves in the service of something great. The pace, never slack, seems to pick up as the school year rolls on, bursting into an outright sprint by the time April turns into May.

This wild rumpus is amazing, filled with adventure and often the unexpected. But sometimes, as emotions run high and the rush of the world makes it difficult to keep perspective, those adventures take us to places where the opportunities to make a difference feel more like climbing a mountain than walking on the beach.

Lost WorldSummer means beaches.

For me, in addition to the literal visit to the coast, renewal comes from familiar quarters. Family. Good books. Time in nature.

A recent trip to Lincoln City provided just that renewal. Poking around a little used bookstore I happened upon a book that had dodged my reading life for decades. I’m a confessed Sherlock Holmes fanatic; from my easy chair I’ve enjoyed hours on the moors with Arthur Conan Doyle tracking the footprints of a gigantic hound, but I realized that I’d never formally met Professor Challenger, the hero of his 1912 potboiler about a plateau in South America where the Jurassic Period never ended, The Lost World.

It was time to chase some dinosaurs.

Now pterodactyl pursuit is not an activity for the school year. Too many pulls on time and real life stresses vie for attention. The real world gets in the way of many a ripping good yarn.

Being a principal means finding a way to display fortitude while discovering renewal in little gulps. The long days and daily responsibilities, as positive as they can be and as filled with possibility as they often are, demand attention, and the reality of knowing that at any minute the phone might ring with news from campus or our school community. This could cut short a night out, or turn a weekend into a workday.

But, ah, summer.

Summer is a time for dinosaurs.

So I put aside planning for a long afternoon, left off the work that I’ll be better able to tackle with the fresh perspective that comes from a little time away, and left the bookstore with a paperback of The Lost World.

Back on the beach I read Doyle’s epigraph:

I have wrought my simple plan
    If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
    Or the man who’s half a boy.”

How important it is for those of us who work with kids to allow ourselves to revisit the feeling of youth. Taking care of ourselves is not always something we educators do best, though to be our best selves it’s something we need to do.

Sometimes that’s time with family, a hike, or paddling a kayak. Sometimes it’s allowing ourselves to follow footprints in the sand that might belong to a gigantic hound …or maybe a dinosaur.

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…and Gingerbread

Summer reading. If there are two more beautiful words, I don’t know them. As an educator, the phrase takes on a special meaning; summer is a time with fewer work responsibilities and more time and mental space to enjoy reading than any other time in the year. It’s when the inspiration between two covers has a chance to inform the preparation for the year ahead, and we have an opportunity to plant the seeds of ideas that will grow and blossom from August to June.

Asked to come up with a short list of the best education books to read in the summer, I looked not to the stack on my desk that makes up this summer’s reading, and I hope includes a volume or two I’d add to a list like this if asked again in a year, but back over the books I’ve found valuable to the work I do with kids.

mindsetMindset by Carol Dweck would sit atop the stack I’d wish next to any educator’s hammock. I’ve written about it before, and even included it as a selection for our Diegueño Book Club. It strikes me as important reading for teachers, administrators, parents and students too. Shifting schools to embrace a growth mindset, and leave the fixed mindset of rigidity and academic condemnation behind us, would be more transformative than the introduction of computers in our classrooms. It’s an idea important enough to me that this year I put Mary Cay Ricci’s book Mindsets in the Classroom on my list of books for July.

10770677Kenneth R. Ginsburg’s book Building Resilience in Children and Teens is another volume worth reading for anyone working with kids. With a clear and systematic approach, Ginsburg does a nice job of articulating the importance of building resilience in this world of increasing stress on youth. His examples ring true and his advice isn’t preachy or high handed, but feels like a friend offering pointers. With an emphasis on high expectations and unconditional love, Ginsburg gives both parents and educators ideas about how we can help our students grow into the best adults they can.

9781932127287_p0_v1_s260x420Two books that offer some on the ground advice for teachers and schools are Professional Learning Communities at Work and Whatever it Takes by Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker, et. al. I read them both a lifetime ago, and have them on my list to re-read before school begins again this fall. As we understand that we need to work together to help students learn, and even more so to help students when (at first) they don’t learn, these books do a nice job of providing some hands on ideas for nurturing professional learning communities at our school.

9780812966060The last book on my list: Hound of the Baskervilles. Well, not exactly. I’m not saying that everyone needs to read Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story about a demon hound, but I do believe that everyone should have a little time reading something that isn’t for work. In Walden, Thoreau called such works “gingerbread” and discounted them as less filling than the classics. I’d argue that our favorite transcendentalist was wrong about that one; reading for escape isn’t shameful. It’s renewing. Whether Margaret Atwood or Henning Mankell, Arthur Upfield or P.D. James, alongside those tomes for school, I like having a paperback or two with as much educational merit as a quality comic book.

Summer has the potential to be a time of renewal, when we can open our minds to the big ideas we’d like to put into practice in the fall, winter, and spring.

Read.

Learn.

…and bring that home and excitement to the kids in August!