10 January 2012

There is no doubt that teacher stress and sickness is a massive issue.  I was looking at some statistics the other day that probably wouldn’t surprise anyone who has been teaching for five or more years:

  • The average teacher has 10 days off a year due to illness (don’t you love it when one of your students comes into class coughing and sneezing!)
  • America spends four billion a year on casual relief teachers
  • In Suffolk teachers accumulated a total of 10 500 sick days in one year (that is equivalent to fifty years teaching time)
  • In some African countries on any typical day as many as 40% of the teaching staff will be absent (imagine trying to staff that)

We all know what is like to return to work after having a vacation and within a day or two feel like you did just before you left!


A couple of years ago I was sitting in a leadership conference listening to a world renowned counsellor (Allan Meyer) speak about how to maximise your vacations so that you can return to work refreshed, energised and with the headspace to think clearly.  I had taken bits and pieces of his advice with no real benefit until this Christmas break where I followed his advice step by step.

Here is what I did.

I took three weeks and completely unplugged from everything.  I didn’t use my holidays to catch up on tasks I had on the back burner.  I didn’t travel except to see family.  I didn’t turn on a computer, read a blog post or write a single word.  It seems simplistic, but for me this was a radical change.  Normally my holidays are a combination of a little bit of rest.  A lot of reading and socialising and time to catch up on tasks that have been hanging over my head.  There are four principles that make this work:

1.  Take a minimum of 3 weeks as a block of time.

You are going to need 3 weeks to complete the cycle of detox and rejuvenation.  I have tried every way to shorten the process and modify the plan over the last couple of years and have not received the benefits until I gave in and followed the plan this year.  In the first week you are just trying to slow down and stop.  It took me the whole week to get my mind and body to slow down to a reasonable pace.  In the second week your body gets the rest it needs.  In the third week you start to feel energised, think clearly and experience that sense of refreshment that you have been missing after your other vacations.

2.  Allow yourself to go through the ’emotions’

When you stop working your body has to adjust.  I am fairly driven.  I love to be active and always have a goal I’m working towards.  Towards the end of last year I was working about 100 hours a week, so for me to go from long days with lots of travel in and out of different time zones to forcing myself to unplug from everything was a hard transition.

You will go through the following emotions:

  • Initially in week one you will feel agitated and frustrated.  I felt like I needed to be doing something, be somewhere and found that even my muscles ached from doing nothing.
  • Next in week two you will feel depressed and sleep a lot – this is when your body is detoxing and rejuvenating
  • Then in week three you will feel energised and refreshed.  I found that in the third week I was thinking clearer, and was able to develop a sense of vision for my teaching and business.

3.  Don’t rush the process

In the past I have done a little of phase 1 but not really allowed myself to completely stop.  I found that for me to do this I had to force myself to completely unplug from everything.  I stopped reading, blogging, engaging on twitter (didn’t even send out a merry Christmas tweet!).  I found that in the past I didn’t really stop.  I would still read blog posts and books telling myself that I enjoyed it and it energised me but because my mind was still whirring I didn’t really disengage and get the deep rest I needed.

4.  Don’t miss a step

The temptation for me in the past has been to abandon week 3.  After going through the frustration and depression and now feeling great I would immediately start to get busy again only to feel like I had never had a break.  This year I used the third week to think, reflect, set goals and dream.  I was tempted numerous times to open twitter and see what was going on and blog about all the great ideas I was having but found that at the end of the third week I was not only refreshed but energised and totally ready for the year ahead.

Let me encourage you to start to think through your next vacation and allow the time needed to totally detox and come back to school ready to maximise your effectiveness in the classroom.

I’m interested.  What do you do to come back rested after a vacation? Share your ideas in the comment section below.

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