Final exams are over. Students have returned to families and work. Faculty are turning in final grades and most are taking a minute to exhale as we complete the fall semester. It always feels like a mad dash to the finish line, no matter how carefully we plan. I suspect it is built into the very notion of end points in learning. They are necessarily artificial, so they are always a little disconcerting. But, hooray, we’ve made it through another fall.
For administrators, the punctuation is a little different. Our vacations do not necessarily align with the semester breaks, and no one understands what we do all summer (lots, but that is for another day). We don’t have exams to grade (hard work, to be sure), nor do we have the elation that comes after they have been completed. For me, the middle of the academic year generally brings a moment of horror as I realize the number of projects on my to-do list that are nowhere near done. There are policy projects, accreditation projects, record keeping projects, software implementation projects, and the ever-present pressure to insure that our efforts at supporting students are working. Sometimes December just feels like a moment for panic.
Despite that panic, the end of the fall semester does allow for a moment of reflection and re-evaluation of my goals. I will take a look at that to-do list and take advantage of the opportunity to delete a few goals, restructure some others, and then enjoy a few days of uninterrupted efforts to complete the parts that I can do alone. Yes, with most folks off campus for three weeks, I have fewer meetings and more time for sustained reading and writing.
But first, I will pause. I might not have the whole mid-semester break, but I will depart for some quality rest and relaxation. It is time for a vacation during which I will mostly just sit still and read. Some of the reading will be about education, some will be fiction, all will be in a lounge chair by the pool, beach, or on the balcony of my vacation rental. And all of it will be restorative.
I have been thinking about reading lately, mostly because it is so hard to get sustained reading done during my general workflow. Like students and faculty, I am immersed in deadlines, email, meetings, and desperate efforts to stay informed of daily crises or breakthroughs in my field. My inbox is continuously filled with updates about higher education, ads for new technologies to help me do things more efficiently (ha!), and reminders to follow up on ideas, requests, or new initiatives. By the time I go home each night, I find my mind ready for a relaxing British police procedural and reading gets pushed aside.
When I go on vacation, I suddenly find myself with the capacity to read. When I first get started, I actually feel my body relax. I have logged off and given myself over to the book in front of me. Distractions are gone and so is the stress of trying to keep up. There is no deadline for this book, just the pleasure of the journey.
It is interesting to observe that it doesn’t matter if I am reading about education or just enjoying a novel, the effect is the same. I feel restored and even inspired. When not trying to keep up with the everything-ness of daily life, ideas have time to emerge. Some might be about the human interactions that are best revealed in novels. Others might be about learning or teaching, that arise from recent scholarship in higher education. I enjoy the opportunity to let the ideas wash over me. With more than a day to consider them, the ideas might even have time to develop into plans.
We should never underestimate the value of the pauses that we have built into our education systems. They are not simply vacations, they are the space to heal, settle our minds, and bring back new perspectives and attitudes to all that we do. And, we should not forget the difference between reading for survival and currency, versus reading for inspiration and reflection. The latter requires the unscheduled blocks of time that our breaks allow.
Of course, observing that means I’m already thinking about how we build more blocks of time into our regular lives, not just during breaks. After all, I would like to support more inspiration and reflection. But for now, I’m letting it all go and focusing on selecting books to take on my holiday. I’ll work on new ideas later. So, happy holidays, happy vacations, and congratulations on completing another term. I wish you all a restorative break. See you in 2020.