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GUEST POST: Breaking Out of My School Box

January 10, 2022 8:28 AM | Ashley (Administrator)

Breaking Out of My School Box

By:  Joy Kirr

Take care of yourself… Make time for self care… Educators are constantly being told to do this - as if we didn’t already know. Um… Really? If we weren’t able to take care of ourselves last year, we wouldn’t still be in this profession this year.

So, really, make time for an educational conference? I’m trying to take care of myself. I’m trying to have time for ME. Make sub plans for the day(s) I want to go? Even if I’ve gone practically every other year, I’m trying to not add more to my plate. I’m learning how to say NO. I’m trying to do LESS. If you’ve never been to the IDEA conference (IDEAcon), I can totally understand the doubt about attending this year. I’ve been there - I’ve said no to many opportunities this past year. But will I, personally, attend IDEAcon this year? Yes. Yes! I will make the time, and I will create the sub plans, so I can attend this particular conference. Heading to the IDEA conference IS “self care” for me. Let me tell you why…

I teach in a building - much like a box. My classroom is a box inside a larger box. In my little box, I am surrounded by (mostly) smaller people (13-year-olds) coming in and out, needing me to be there for them - needing me to be my best. Sometimes I move to other boxes within the large box, for lunch, or for a meeting, and then I get in my vehicle and zip home. 

This means I talk to the same people every day. I’ve got a great team of teachers I work with, and this school year is much better than last year when it comes to consistency. However, this year teachers (I’m no exception) have different issues we’re dealing with, and even though we always try our best, it’s still a huge strain on our minds and bodies. I keep checking the calendar to see how much we have left, and I’m against countdowns! Even though I love so many aspects of the job… even though I have a lot of autonomy in my little box… even though I learned so much last year about how to stay mentally healthy… I keep bugging my husband to rethink when it’s my time to retire.

So how will heading to IDEAcon help ME? How is it that I can consider this “self-care?” It’s all about my surroundings… 

Every year I’ve attended IDEAcon, I’m surrounded by educators who are in the same storm as me. They come from their own boxes within boxes. They’ve gone through similar hardships and have tried different solutions I haven’t yet heard of. The educators that attend are searching for - and open to - new ideas. They bring ideas they probably think aren’t the best, but many of them are better than any I’ve tried. We have time to share with each other and to ask questions. We make time to build on each other’s ideas, and it’s typical that I come back with a few gems to share with those who stayed in my building and couldn’t make this conference. These ideas are then spread throughout my setting, and voila! Many of us are rejuvenated or further inspired! 

As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of the lightbulb icon for this conference - the switch is turned back on, and the electricity gets flowing once again. Inspiration has nestled into the neurons of the brain, and once it’s shared back in my school box, the ideas grow, morph, and infect more minds with more possibilities. 

Inspiration may come from one of the large keynote sessions that make me feel like I’m where I belong. There is often a message in this presentation that makes me feel seen; my feelings are validated. I feel supported by those around me.

Inspiration could come from one of the smaller sessions that seem to be tailored just for ME. These educators respond to a need I have. They often provide a very specific activity to take back with me for the very next week with my students.

And then there are the hallway “sessions.” When you meet an educator friend you’ve only met on Twitter. When you stop for a second, say hello, and then find yourself eating a quick snack on the hallway floor with this person, and you feel like you’ve known them your entire life. They don’t live too far away, and you end up setting a date for a drink next month to discuss this great idea you two just started to develop.

I’ve been to this conference when it was called the ICE Conference - many times. I’ve presented, I’ve been a “spotlight speaker” (full of nerves), and I’ve taken many selfies with those educators I admire. I’m looking forward to taking them in masks this year - something different for the scrapbook! After a year off, I’m heading back. I’m presenting a session, and I bet I’ll learn something from someone who attends, as I usually do. If nothing else, I’ll enjoy hearing stories from educators in other school boxes - we’ll be breaking down the walls that separate us. We’ll be lifting each other’s spirits, and that has got to count for something during our second February of a pandemic. 

Take care of yourself… Make time for self care…  One way I’ll be doing that this year is to attend IDEAcon. If you see me, stop for a selfie! Is it really called a “selfie” when it’s two or more people? I’m sure someone at IDEAcon has heard another term for it that I’ll be using soon…

Click here to register for IDEAcon. I can't wait to see you there!


Joy Kirr is a 7th grade ELA teacher in her 27th year of teaching, and the author of the books Shift This! How to Implement Gradual Changes for Massive Impact in Your Classroom, and Word Shift: A Different Kind of Dictionary for Educators to Nullify Negativity and Promote Positivity in Schools. She is passionate about students owning their own learning, and has even gone so far as to be the first at her school to try learning without using points. She enjoys being known as a “Genius Hour Evangelist,” and is grateful for how her students have stepped up their learning while giving and receiving feedback in lieu of grades.

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