Free Space

Think about some of your best thinking. It often comes in moments of freedom or automaticity. Folding laundry, driving to work, taking a shower. And even better thoughts are also discovered while playing fetch with your dog, sitting by the beach, hiking, or taking a neighborhood walk.

I’m currently listening to When You Wonder, You’re Learning by Greg Behr and Ryan Rydzewski. In this text which explores many lessons for parents and educators which can be learned from Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood, there is conversation around how we schedule ourselves and kids. Overscheduled people will have less time to play, get curious, to wonder.

Being curious and wondering are critical skills for solving the world’s challenges, and well, there seems to be no shortage of big problems to solve in our future.

So, I have to wonder about the need for creative space, play space, blank space, whatever you want to call it – for educators. When you look at the schedules of educators, there is little space for reflection and wondering let alone time to run to the restroom. And yet, those of us supporting educators in roles outside of the classroom are often wondering how we can get teachers more interested in meaningful conversations about school and how to make school a more wonderful place for all learners – adults and children alike.

I’ve heard educators say in so many words, “All of this talk about self-care is great, but what we would love is time. All of the meetings on top of meetings on top of the regular school day are really making it hard for me to self-care.” I get it. And round and round we go with the need for change, the need for teacher voice and input in school decisions, and the need for teachers to have more time.

But unscheduled time is not wasted. It starts with our own limiting beliefs about unscheduled time. Personally, I find myself feeling guilty if I have a little free space on the weekends and don’t seem to be using it to prepare for the week. It’s easy to think, “Oh, I should be packing lunches or cleaning…” And those things have to happen, yes. They are a part of adulting.

But if we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to just be, what happens to the quality of our thoughts? The quality of our educators’ thoughts? The quality of kids’ thoughts? If we just do and focus on the doing, can we make the world better? I’m not sure we can make the world better without questions and wondering.

Some thoughts for us as we look at ourselves and school:

Schools:

-If our meeting could be captured in a well-written and well-timed email, perhaps we don’t need to meet? Teacher time is precious. If staff can’t find the value in the meetings we host, and fast, that can be a real culture killer.

-Make time for teacher reflection on profession learning days – meaning they get to truly reflect individually or with colleagues without “having to turn something in.” This is critical because as John Dewey would say, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

-We’ve all sat in meetings where we can’t focus because we have other time-sensitive work. What would it look like to give people some work space on PD days, so they can show up fully for the learning? Even an hour to start to the day or breaks midday to check emails, making copies, and attend to business might help us all show up more fully.

-As Katie Martin says, “Teachers create what they experience.” So, if we want to nourish creative thinking, wonder, and problem-solving in students, we must foster environments that do the same for educators.

Personally:

-What was something you loved to do when you were a kid? Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says that you would probably love it now as well. How might you make time for play and curiosity? It’s amazing what our brain can do when the world feels lighter and more interesting.

-Stop feeling guilty about free space. It’s part of the work. It’s perhaps what’s most essential and yet what’s most underrated too. Your brain is always working. Free space allows your brain to do it’s best work.

-If you can’t seem to get there with free space, at least give yourself the opportunity to do what James Clear refers to as “habit stacking.” Tasks such as loading the dishwasher or cleaning bathrooms require little thought, so enjoy your favorite music, dance a little, or listen to a book. Allow yourself to experience some levity and fun during those mindless moments.

You might be one clean toilet away from your best idea.

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