JunePile 2023

I am a school superintendent, and it is Board Meeting Night. My amazing team and I have been preparing for it. We are prepared! Still, with everything swirling around me, it feels odd to pause to do a little writing. Yes, I have work to do. However, as I gaze across my office at the empty bulletin board that is no longer covered with these adorable walruses, I simply must take this time to reflect and consider what’s ahead.

Throughout the school year, the incredible art teachers in my school district share their students’ work with me by creating a gorgeous, thrilling rotation of art in my office. The walruses were from kindergarten, and were created through guided drawing. When I had these, I picked out a new one every day as my favorite. I’m particularly fond of the one on the bottom right, the little guy with the “giant forehead”, identified as being fabulous by a guest in my office one day.

Below is the breath-taking art that came down from my board last week. It came from fifth and sixth graders. Can you believe it?

Students needed their artwork back because the school year is ending. As of today, there are only nine days left. Nine beautiful, meaningful, active days. And, emotions are everywhere. That goes for students, staff, families — those who are leaving, coming, wondering, worrying, celebrating, and reflecting. My board is empty, and I hate that. I’ll fill it with some professional looking plans for the future that I typically have elsewhere in my office, and that’s all good! But oh, I will miss having it plastered with our students’ learning and creativity.

The art coming down last week was a marker for me that indeed the school year is ending. I realized that it was time to revert to JunePile thinking. If you’ve read some of my past posts, you may have come across this before. I’m revising a little as time goes on, but the point remains the same.

It started when I was a teacher. Every year, every May, there would come a day when I would just start tossing things in a pile to deal with “later”; later meant after the last smile was shared with a student, after the last grade was given, after Field Day. After the last day of school. I never knew when the day would come — just one afternoon I would realize that there were only a few weeks and lot left to do with my class, and I could only spend precious time on papers, projects, and tasks that would really mean something to my students. The rest would have to wait until school ended, in June. The JunePile.

It continued when I was a principal. I tried to keep an organized office, so the JunePile became a JuneBox which was stashed under my desk. And if something wasn’t important to others before the end of school, well, then, it wasn’t getting done until everybody went home.

Of course, now, most of my JunePile is electronic — more of a JuneList, if you will. And as superintendent, I have many projects that are best done in the quieter summer months, anyway. But nonetheless, the habit continues. I’ll get very stressed about how quickly the end of school is coming, and one day will breathe a little sigh of relief when I remember that there are SOME things on my list that don’t have to get done right away. And anything that won’t directly affect students, families, or staff gets put in the JunePile to be dealt with after the school bus pulls away for the last time.

The end of the school year is always such a rush, isn’t it? Educators are amused when folks who have not devoted their lives to school ask in May, “So, is school winding down?” Winding down? Winding DOWN? Hilarious! School does not wind down. We run like crazy to the edge of the cliff, and try very, very hard not to fall off of it. That’s it, and everyone who lives by the rhythm of school knows it.

But that last day of school WILL come, and then indeed it will be time for me to dig into my JunePile. I do wonder, though, why am I even considering doing things that don’t have a direct impact on students, families, staff, or other administrators? So, perhaps my primary responsibility on my first day after school lets out should be to cull the pile, continuing my commitment to spend time on work that is important. Yes, there is filing that went undone this year, and I’d eventually be sorry if I couldn’t find something I need. Ok, I’ll crank the music up in my office and file. But I’ll hold myself accountable for ensuring that everything else enhances the work or life of someone, or supports my own learning and reflection.

Of course, summer is much, much more than a time to catch up with work. We all have a right and reason to use time in the summer to do whatever is most meaningful for us. Many years ago, inspired by a Chicago Tribune column, I was motivated to capture my summer memories by buying a pack of notecards, numbering and dating them, and every day of the summer writing down at least one summer activity that I enjoyed that day. I still have those cards in my nightstand, and occasionally use one for a bookmark, and I find peace, adventure, or luxury in a summer memory. One example (and the movie title gives you an idea of how old it might be): “7/3: Getaway to Wisconsin — Lazy Nap, Lovely Anniversary Dinner, Movie — Spiderman!”

Aside from work, my JunePile includes reading a stack of books that I can’t wait to get my hands on, riding my new bike, visiting the Botanic Gardens and enjoying other long walks with family and friends, lots of dining al fresco, and exploring parts unknown with my husband. Also: treasuring time to talk with the people I love.

Those summer pleasures are what really belong in the JunePile. So, what’s in yours?

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