Ideas for Making the Most of Winter Break

Dec 9, 2021

Alison Staudinger, Director of Faculty Development & Career Advancement

Although their relatives might think otherwise, faculty are busy over winter break. The time between submitting fall quarter grades and the start of the winter term offers the tantalizing possibility of completing those writing projects that didn’t quite get finished. Grant deadlines loom, including the PROF grant due at the end of January.

And syllabi for Winter quarter need polishing or creating, especially if faculty are reconsidering their pedagogy or teaching in a new modality or context. It’s a great time to engage in some intentional professional development or strategic planning for the quarter. There are conference presentations to prepare, reports to file, data to analyze, and still so many emails to send. Before long, what once seemed like an empty month is stuffed with “to-dos”—and that’s without setting aside time to connect with loved ones or oneself. Too often, it’s New Year’s Eve and faculty are just as burned out as they were on December first.

Make an early resolution that this December will be different. But don’t make this a new to-do list to complete—take one idea that serves you and leave the rest.

  • Faculty Burnout has severe consequences for wellbeing, and often presents as chronic pain, exhaustion, and the inability to “turn off.” If you are burned out, devote at least two weeks, but perhaps the entire month of December to restoration and regrowth. This can be hard if you are pre-tenure or facing other professional pressures, but pushing through burnout will only hamper your productivity and creativity in the long run. Also, recognize that burnout is a structural, rather than an individual, problem; give yourself permission to take time off. (Colleen Flaherty, “Burning Out” Inside Higher Ed)
  • Instead of starting from a massive, undifferentiated to-do list or vague sense of dread, use some tools to identify the most important work you want to do this month. The, cut or compartmentalize other work. For example, would it really hurt if you only checked email once a day?
  • Let some things go, including guilt about letting them go. (Elsa, Frozen)
  • Too often we feel in competition with each other; resist this framing by joining a campus writing group and supporting your colleagues as you write together. Check out December Write-in-Place gatherings on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10am–12pm.
  • There are so many losses that we are mourning, both personal and professional. December can be dark and cold, but it also brings the solstice and the promise of longer days and more light. What would happen if you set aside some time to take a walk in the wintery woods, maybe with a friend, and fully felt your feelings about this quarter?
  • Do nothing, at least some of the time. (Jenny Odell, How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy)
  • Map your projects onto your actual December calendar—not the one you imagine. Block off the time you will spend on your hobbies, friends, family, travel, exploration. (See the NCFDD’s curriculum on the “Sunday Meeting”)
  • Connect with a mentor, or academic colleague. (Peter Felten, Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College)
  • Set aside some time for strategic planning for Spring. Join us at “Every Term Needs a Plan” or watch the NCFDD version, which is part of their core curriculum.
  • Check in with your body. (Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score)

Feel like the structural demands of faculty life make this impossible? Engage with existing initiatives at DU (e.g., Workload Equity) to improve things at DU or join a Faculty Learning Community. (Dean Spade, Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During this Crisis)

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