7 Back-to-School Habits That You Can Use in Your Everyday Life, Too

7 Back-to-School Habits That You Can Use in Your Everyday Life, Too

There’s just something about fall that evokes a sense of longing for fresh notebooks, a brand new pen, and a snazzy backpack. Although you may not be attending classes or sending little ones off to school yourself, there’s still a reason to push the reset button. So this year, take a cue from all of the back-to-school buzz and recommit to making positive strides now instead of waiting until January 1 to establish better habits. 

Who knew that your time on the cheerleading squad, endless amounts of homework, and having a locker would help you in your adult life? Although you may not be using algebra or diagramming sentences (thankfully!), here are seven back-to-school habits that adults can use in everyday life.

Write down your homework.

Start using a planner once again, even though it’s not Jan. 1. The zest and fervor you feel after purchasing a new journal and marking out significant dates can be easily achieved in the fall, too. Many academic planners have autumn start dates so that you can get a head start on organizing, or you can opt for a customizable design that lets you move the pages around yourself. 

Keeping a planner handy helps with scheduling, but you can also use it to take notes and serve as a tangible record to reflect on later. “Academic life has taught me to keep a planner not just for things I need to do, but for a record of what’s already happened,” says Teresa Lynn Hasan-Kerr, who taught English in Tetouan, Morocco. “It helps tremendously to know what the bottom line of a meeting was, or when I traveled for work.” 

Adult life tends to be more sedentary as playgrounds and kickballs give way to desks and computer screens. Tailor outdoor time to your abilities, tastes, and weather each day. Sit on your front porch and watch for wildlife. Go for a quick 15-minute walk between meetings. If you absolutely can’t get outside on a given day, open a window.

Add movement into your routine by doing what is accessible for you, even if that means stretching your back, circling your arms, or wiggling your toes. Expending a bit of energy can help you think more clearly and will give your mind and eyes a break from your workload.

Keep your eyes on the end goal.

Even if your high school goal was to get a diploma and move on to your next life stage, there were steps to achieve those milestones. Small actions like tackling dreaded homework assignments and finishing group projects — and yes, looking forward to vacations — helped along the way. “Making goals allows me to prioritize my to-do list, which I write every day,” offers Melissa N. Edwards, a 5th grade teacher in Orlando, Florida. “I like to check off boxes and see that I am making progress, so there is a feeling of success.”

Edwards also suggests organizing your list into both long- and short-term goals to keep things manageable. Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist and relationship coach, agrees with breaking down long-range objectives into smaller chunks. “Try to not focus on what needs to be accomplished tomorrow,” she says. “Instead, look at what you can accomplish in that year and work backward. That way you can compartmentalize events into months and feel a sense of accomplishment in each goal achieved.”

Many students count down until the final bell rings as schedules regulate school days. Whether you adore routine or like flexibility, create a pattern to structure your day, even if it’s a loose one. “As a teacher of students with dyslexia, I tend to stress routine and repetition. This helps students with executive functioning,” says Edwards. “Adults thrive when there is routine and create a routine that works for you.” A schedule can simply be having something to look forward to each day or week, or you can manage your days with time blocks. Agendas will look different for each person, but, above all, consistency is key.

Education doesn’t have to stop when you finally turn your tassel. If your job requires you to give presentations, take a public speaking course, or brush up on the latest presentation software during a free hour of your workday. Honing a skill or learning something new offers a therapeutic escape from the daily grind and builds confidence.

Raising your hand and asking for help or training can also help you feel less alone in the day-to-day. “For many, trying to manage work and life can become stressful when you try to take it on all on your own,” says Silva. “Including elements in your day that help you recharge and replenish is restorative and preventive for your mental health.”

Keep your locker organized.

Instead of scrambling to find your phone, keys, and laptop each morning, store your items in the same place each day. “Designate a spot in your house for essentials,” says Dianna Radcliff, a 5th-grade English language teacher in Tampa, Florida. “Keep a file box, basket, magazine holder, or something of this nature on your desk or table.” An organization system can reduce morning stress, especially if you need to rush out the door before that first cup of coffee kicks in.

Participate in extracurricular activities.

Whether you were second string on the basketball team or the chess club’s mastermind, extracurricular activities were an opportunity to gather with others with similar interests. “While school creates relationships of convenience, adults are learning to create connections around adult affinity play groups,” advises Dr. Akua K. Boateng, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in therapy for individuals and couples. “Emotional connection, which is core to our growth, does not have to end when school days are over.”

Outside of work enrichment, take a creative class, such as watercolor or photography. You can also try out for a musical at your local community theater, take a group exercise class, or join a book club. Trish Barlowe, who teaches adult pottery classes in Lynchburg, Virginia, has seen students challenge themselves while appreciating a new art medium and getting in touch with their creative side. “Students report feeling grounded, calm, and distracted from everyday worries,” she says. “The students feel a satisfying sense of achievement when they complete a pottery project that started out as a ball of mud.”

Not only will you be using a different part of your brain, but you’ll make new friends along the way. So whether you join a plant mom tribe, get together with a travel collective, or organize regular game nights, prioritize getting together with like-minded folks. Going back to your school days — at least with your mindset — can open up new opportunities and organize your daily life.

5 Ways Remote Learning Can Change for the Better

5 Ways Remote Learning Can Change for the Better

Teaching is unlike any other profession, but that’s an understatement for the job in 2020 and 2021. After living rooms, bedrooms, and other at-home spaces turned into makeshift classrooms, many people now have a more nuanced idea of what teaching is: Gone is the perception of teachers simply being there to provide students with knowledge, and having summers off.

As a teacher, I went from being surrounded by 22 elementary students every day to filming videos of myself teaching so that they could stream lessons on their iPads at home. Like in any challenging situation, my students and I learned as we went what worked for us, as well as what old methods of doing things no longer serve us. Here are five things that I hope never go back to the “normal” that many teachers knew before — and how you can get involved with the students in your own life to support them through their learning. 

Don’t: Compare Students Against One Another, in Academics and Beyond

Unfortunately, the United States education system puts a lot of emphasis on comparing students to each other. Between standardized tests and various competitions, students are taught from a young age that they need to be “better” than their peers in order to succeed.

I have always found the act of comparing students to be demoralizing, given that each student is an individual who deserves more than a standardized grading system. This belief was only reinforced in the past year and a half: Within days, it became clear how resources such as a stay-at-home parent to help, and/or money for a private tutor can give certain students advantages. Where I teach in remote Alaska, few people have internet access at home (myself included); the learning curve for families to even access videos on school-provided iPads was enormous. The added stressors caused by a dearth of resources likely impacted some students more severely than others, in ways we will see play out for years to come. 

Because of this, I hope the routine of comparing students against each other becomes a thing of the past. I’ve switched from using tools like the controversial public behavior chart  in favor of a private classroom management system where I conference with students individually, and remind them of all of the positive choices they have made so that they have a more well-rounded understanding of how their actions affect others. Each student is an individual and it’s time schools and their families and support systems treated them that way.

Don’t: Work All Hours of the Day, Every Day of the Week

Teaching is one of those careers where the hours for which you’re contracted to work and the actual amount of hours you work almost never correlate. When I taught in Philadelphia, my commutes usually began at 6 am so that I could prepare for and teach classes that started at 8 a.m. and ended at 3 p.m.; my commute home usually happened around 7 p.m.

This predicament became even more profound when I moved to remote Alaska, where teacher housing is usually only a few hundred feet from the school. It became so easy for my colleagues and I to say we were “just running over to grab something” before staying for three hours to work.

Yes, dedication is admirable and there are times when working more is necessary, but it shouldn’t be an every day, all-the-time situation: Everyone deserves and needs time off. For me, this means setting very specific boundaries with my work hours. Unless there’s an emergency, 6 p.m. is my absolute cut-off and I take at least one full day off every week. It’s a habit I hope to keep in the years to come.  

Don’t: Self-Fund Classrooms (or Other Workspaces) Without Any Support

Another persistent standard in education is that teachers are all but expected to fund their own classrooms. Many educators spend the summers following the sales and collecting books, crayons, paper, and everything else necessary for classrooms to function. Considering that teachers are already making less than most other degree-requiring careers on average, this can have a huge impact on a teacher’s livelihood.

This long-running problem was only exacerbated by the pandemic, given that remote learning meant that I could no longer simply hand a student a pencil when they needed one. When students ran out of something, I would deliver the supplies to their homes. I personally ordered over $2,000 of books for my students to take home with them — an expense I could only have managed with the support of Donors Choose

This shift provided further perspective on how much inequality there is within different school systems. While I am going to continue advocating for more equity in school funding on a national scale, I also have become more confident about utilizing resources like donations and reaching out to higher-ups in the district to tell them what my students need and remind them of their responsibility to provide it. If you have a student in your life, check in with them (or their parent!) to see what they and their classmates need, and contact your local politicians about prioritizing local school budgets. The more people follow up about this problem, the sooner it can become a thing of the past.

Don’t: Exclude Families From Day-to-Day Decisions and Classroom Happenings

Familial involvement has always been one of the most important pillars of education for me and, throughout my career, I have continually involved families in all aspects of my students’ education. Unfortunately, I know this isn’t the case everywhere: I have seen schools exclude parents from decision-making processes, and simply not inform them of happenings at the school. When schools began shutting down for in-person learning, families became even more integral to their children’s educations.

Education is a partnership, and good schools and teachers make it a point to include families in the process, and families should feel empowered to be included as well. When parents or caregivers reach out to me to ask questions about what’s going on in the classroom and how they can be involved, I know that they value the work I do. While I understand that not everyone is able to visit a classroom in person (especially now), getting involved is so beneficial. The saying “it takes a village” is a cliché for a reason, and I know my students have so much to learn from everyone in their lives, not just me. 

Don’t: Focus Entirely on Certain Academic Subjects (or on Work in Your Own Life, for That Matter)

Schools can often switch between  focusing on academics and social-emotional learning, based on which area they think students are lacking, rather than working continuously to maintain a balance between the two. This is especially true at the elementary level, where so much emphasis has been put on literacy and mathematics over the past few years that students often aren’t provided with an opportunity to explore other areas, such as science and social studies. This leads to many students being able to recall information easily, without having the opportunity to explore what might truly interest them. 

There are so many aspects of learning that are vital to a student’s holistic growth, from practicing critical-thinking skills to learning how to name their feelings and having opportunities for social interaction. Each of these skills are important for a child’s development, and are things that parents and siblings can model to the children they know. You can also do this by exploring your own interests and hobbies outside of work — not only will you help yourself recharge and avoid further burnout, but the students in your life will see there’s more to life than plugging into work, and follow suit.

Taryn Williams

Contributor

Taryn is an educator and freelance writer currently based in the Alaskan Bush. After graduating with a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, she decided to pursue a life without planning too far ahead to see where the wind took her. When she isn’t teaching or writing, she is off seeking her next great adventure.

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