Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies, and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website Acts of Composition.
My friend, Andrea Ellinor shared with me an idea she learned from the Artist’s Way (Cameron 20) – the idea of “filling the well.” Andrea was an early adopter of technologies and was always seeking out innovation. She worked tirelessly, but every once-in-a-while, she would stop and say, “It’s time to fill the well.” She realized that innovation, energy, and creativity need new experiences and ideas to remain vital. For Andrea, filling the well was visiting new places, meeting new people and considering new ideas. It was the process of “making the familiar strange” (a term from cultural anthropology) and of letting go of the intensity of work for a while to allow the mind and body to rejuvenate and grow.
This concept applies to us as teachers. Some of us have the opportunity to leave the classroom for a while and have our summers to recover. Others still teach but move at a slower pace during the summer. Breaks are our time to heal and fill the well to refresh and keep our teaching creative, innovative, and moving ahead. As we know, teaching is a full time job. Even in our time off, we think about our students, assignments, and classes and continually work to develop our curriculum and pedagogies. Although much of our work happens in the classroom, it is these places between where we often make connections and generate new ideas.
Summer Kim’s Ideas for Filling the Well
I have enjoyed the good fortune of taking a break during my summers. Every year, I ceremoniously transition from School Year Kim to Summer Kim -- who has a different perspective and can live a less scheduled life for a while (a break for which I am very grateful). I always prioritize fun and relaxation over breaks but also work to develop simple, mindful practices of creative productivity to fill the well.
Summertime . . .
A Time of Reflection – I take the time to look back on the previous year and consider how things worked in my classroom and in my professional life. I look at student feedback, modify assignments, and try to figure out what was successful and unsuccessful. Innovative teachers know that it is ok to fail and that it usually takes more than one run to figure out our assignments and curriculum. We always have our lists of “shoulda dones” at the end of a class or semester. We can use this time to recognize our moments of success and be open to change things that did not work.
A Time of Reading and Research – During the school year, I regularly curate articles and books that I want to read. Summer is the perfect time to catch up and fill the well with new ideas. This means reading for ourselves (personal reading, beach books, People magazine – gasp!) and reading to enrich our professional and teaching lives. I go back to my archived bookmarks and read and annotate articles in leisure when my mind is not cluttered with school-year content. I talk to friends and colleagues to generate recommendations and stack reading around the house (journals, articles, books, textbooks) to read in small bits. I actively extend my knowledge in areas I hope to pursue or deepen.
A Time for Technology – The thought of learning new technologies during the school year is a nightmare. We are all too familiar with the dread of our LMS switching vendors, online certifications or trying to keep up with the changing pace of technological developments. Online classes and tutorials help us keep up with our students and learn how users create and respond to new technologies. This work involves learning new software, analyzing audience trends, and studying cultural shifts in technology use.
A Time to Integrate Multimodal Assignments – I can’t leave this post without talking about multimodal assignments. Now more than ever, our students need these content creation skills to fully participate in both personal and professional conversations. We can rethink traditional assignments and integrate multimodal components into our curriculum. We can design new digital assignments, clarify instructions, find new resources, curate examples, scaffold steps, and imagine instruments for assessment, evaluation, and feedback.
A Time to Connect and Brainstorm – I try to get together with people I have missed during the busy school year. My most creative ideas come out of open-ended brainstorming and sharing with friends and colleagues. One of my colleagues and I even arrange a scholar weekend (we try to do one every quarter) to just talk, think, share, and work – uninterrupted. Our talk is always a lively tapestry of personal, professional, and intellectual conversation – and laughing. These collaborative communities keep us connected and engaged.
A Time to Clear Out: Operation 50% – It is hard to fill the well when it is full with other things. You can’t bring in the new until you let go of things that are no longer useful or weighing you down. Every summer I launch Operation 50% - in which I attempt to get rid of 50% of my stuff. I start small because it is overwhelming but I visit spaces like my kitchen junk drawer, my pantry, or my bookshelves and try get rid of half of the contents. The method applies to cleaning up my teaching materials to get ready for the next semester. I clean out file cabinets and organize data for my research. I reorganize my online classes and resources, eliminate duplicate files, fix broken links, and replace dated resources that are no longer relevant and I work on improving usability on my sites. I rarely reach my 50% goal but it keeps me moving and helps me break the overwhelming maintenance into achievable goals.
Ultimately, our breaks remind us to live in the now. We all need to stop every now and again, practice mindfulness and actively “fill our wells.” Teaching is an all-encompassing job that demands our rapt attention most of the time. Our passion for what we do drives us and provides boundless creativity and meaningful service to others. We draw energy from student relationships and embrace our responsibility to engage and enlighten. It is our challenge to make our breaks productive and peaceful and develop ongoing habits of mindfulness that take us through the school year. I have learned these practices throughout the years and they have helped me remain a strong teacher and afforded me the energy and desire to love my teaching life.