Active rest is a term I first heard in the gym. I didn’t know how well it would apply to teaching when I first learned it. However, active rest became a game changer every winter break, spring break, or summer break that I took.
In the gym, the idea of active rest is to recover from an exercise while continuing to move. It could be some light biking in between a set of heavy lifts, or a slow paced walk in between sprints… The point is, you allow yourself time to recover without stopping.
Active rest works by allowing your heart rate to slow down and your body to recover from the stress of the exercise, while keeping you moving. You do not go to a complete rest, where you will have to start back up from scratch to exercise more. You remain ready, but receive the break that you need to push further.
Applying Proper Rest to Teaching Breaks
What does this mean for educators? So many of us stop and start in a 0 to 100 manner. We overwork ourselves like crazy throughout the school year, only to crash and spend entire weeks on the couch during breaks. Start. Stop. Full effort. Total break.
There is no denying that teaching requires an intense amount of work and that every break is well deserved. However, this doesn’t mean that you are better served by spending your break in total stagnation.
Making your rest “active” during break does not mean that you have to grade papers or lesson plan during vacation time. In fact, I would not recommend that! That would be like doing squats at the gym, and recovering with… more squats. All it would do is make your return to the classroom more difficult and consuming.
The active part of your rest just means that you are challenging yourself and flexing some of the muscles that you use in education, albeit in a relaxed, low pressure environment. The key components of active rest on a teacher break are that you utilize your passions or hobbies, that you grow in some way, and that you include others.
Active Rest Methods
If I tell you to do something educational over break, some would be tempted to read a book just to knock out the educational task. This becomes problematic if you do not enjoy reading books as a hobby, or if you are reading a book you aren’t interested in. It will not become an active recovery. It will instead be the barrier in the way of you relaxing and recovering. If it is a passion of yours, by all means make it happen!
Stay within your hobbies and passions. Take the things you would already want to do, and attach educational activities or personal growth to them. This can look so different for so many people, but the point is to rely on your interests to keep you moving.
Take charge of your growth. Whether it is your health, academic knowledge, skill of some kind, ability to be engaged with your family, or pursuit of a new credential, make it about growing. When I say growth, don’t be intimidated into thinking that you need to leave break as a whole new person. Rather, think about one thing you could improve on that would make your daily life more satisfying.
Include other people. A massive contributor to burnout is isolation. If you hide over breaks and become reclusive, you will leave break feeling more drained (even if the break itself is quiet and peaceful). It is difficult to go from complete silence to the chaos of the school. Instead, surround yourself with people who will support you, give you little pressure, and who are able to simply enjoy life with you.
Put it Together
Passions, growth, inclusion. These ingredients are helpful by themselves, but supercharged when put together. Involve people in a passion of yours that helps you to grow as a person. If you can successfully do that, you will have maximized your break.
I wish a restful break to every teacher out there. But I also know that a complete rest can lead to a very difficult return to work. I encourage you to make your break meaningful and special, rather than letting it become a blank part of your life. Find your joy and take it to another level!
Read next: 3 Tips for Teachers After a Break