Growing up in the Midwest, the sight of crops was common to me. There were times when I would pass by a long field of wheat on my way to school. In the fall, my family would go apple picking at a local orchard. The most common crop in our area, however, was corn. And as it turns out, you can learn a lot from studying corn.
Corn is what’s known as a soil-exhausting plant. In order to grow, it draws a large amount of nutrients from the ground. These nutrients can’t be easily replaced, and if corn is planted repeatedly year after year, the soil will eventually get depleted. To keep the soil healthy, agriculturists recommend practicing crop rotation, removing hazardous pesticides, and ensuring proper irrigation and drainage. It turns out we cannot live on corn alone.
I bring this up because I sometimes worry our schools have adopted a “culture of corn”. Like a farmer who repeatedly plants soil-exhausting crops, educators are always asked to do just a little more each year. The results are the same; both the soil and the educators get completely depleted. I imagine that most of you know at least one educator who has withdrawn from the classroom after suffering severe burnout.
Our bodies and minds are pretty good about letting us know when we need to rest. Trouble is, we’ve largely been trained to ignore them. Our culture prides itself on a solid work ethic. Rest is often portrayed as laziness while exhaustion and sacrifice are depicted as necessities to achievement. But knowing when to stop, recharge, or take on a lighter load is an invaluable life skill. It’s also a fundamental part of being an effective educator.
Steps for Healthy Planting
If you’re worried that you may be overextending yourself in a culture of corn, it may be time consider some of the following strategies:
- Take Time to Reflect: Sometimes we just need a moment to sit with our thoughts. Create a space in your day when you can simply stop and breath. You can use the opportunity to meditate, journal, reflect on events in the classroom, or anything which helps you decompress.
- Collaborate with Peers: It’s always good to build connections with other educators. Take a moment to call up a colleague and ask how their week went. Make goals with them and map out plans to collaborate while identifying areas of improvement. When we work together, our burdens become so much lighter.
- Do a Digital Detox: There’s something refreshing about stepping away from social media for a day. Instead of scrolling through Twitter or Instagram, choose a day to put down your screen and rediscover something you love. Solve a puzzle or read a good book. Better yet, head outdoors. Take the day to walk a nature trail or explore a park.
- Celebrate Your Success: This last one is probably the most difficult because it goes against our nature. Instead of jumping into a new project the moment another is completed, take the time celebrate your success. Give yourself credit for what you’ve achieved and remember to be proud of your accomplishments. Don’t forget to thank the people who supported you too!
A Healthy Harvest
Don’t let your school take root in a culture of corn. Educators need rest is we’re to help our students become curious, creative, and critical thinkers. We can’t allow ourselves to get burned out by taking on too much at a time. So, give yourself permission to rest. Attend to the areas of your life that need replenishing. Then, once you’re ready, return to the field and watch how well your students grow!