Let go, relax, then re-engage

24th August 2007 at 01:00
Are you there? Have you reached the peace and tranquillity you dreamed of in May? I wonder if you stuck to your promise to cherish every minute of lie-in and every day of self-determination.

My summer holiday goes in three phases. First is the early stage in which the exhilaration of getting to the holidays is mixed with mourning for what has ended. I have colleagues who deal with this by going away as soon as they can. Others drift in and out of school, finishing things off or starting something for next year because they find their minds can't yet focus on other things. They leave early in the afternoon because they can.

This gives way to the second, "freedom to be" phase. Perhaps I have been reading a book for an hour, but I feel no guilt about jobs not done. I can just plough on. That DVD I've been waiting to watch, the friends I've been trying to catch up with all these things happen in this beautiful period. I am equally happy doing things I want to do or doing nothing at all, especially if I am doing that nothing with my wife and children, whom I fall in love with all over again.

Yet this stage doesn't last long, and rightly so. In our job, we are at our peak when our creative juices are in action. Sure, we need time for our inspiration to be re-stocked and our energy topped up, but I become aware of that third stage of the holiday when my body is still enjoying the peace but my brain is firing up. Like my first car, which used to stop when it rained, then fire into life once it dried, I begin to have flashes of what I want my classroom to look like, or songs I want to sing with my class, or activities I want to try. It is this busyness of mind and spirit that will spark a busyness of body, impossible to imagine as I flick through the morning paper at what will be playtime in a few short weeks.

I have learnt in the past few years to try to be as positive about this third phase as I am about the other two. Rather than resent the end of the holiday, I try to seize this productive time and use it in a way that will carry forward goodwill into the new term.

For a few years, I used this creativity to set up my new classroom, going a bit nuts on displays or fancy nameplates. But I resist that urge now. Those jobs always get done, however much or little time you allow, and they are largely irrelevant within a week or so. Instead, I grab medium-term plans and let my mind wander with the freshness that will have gone by the time I get to those November lessons. I gaze at new resources that will seem too much effort when they become relevant, or think of extra- curricular ideas that will broaden pupils' experience while I still have the perspective to know how important that is.

As I sit on a beach in Norfolk, I am surrounded by holidaying workers on their mobiles, checking in with the office or talking with clients. I am so glad their job is not mine. I will enjoy my space to be, knowing it will soon be time to do. And when that time comes, I'll enjoy that too.

Peter Greaves is deputy head of Dovelands primary school in Leicester

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