Teaching on the Run

Anjuli Johnston

Growing up, I never liked running. It was tough and boring, and simply did not interest me. My dad was (and still is) an avid marathon runner and soccer player, so he gave me ample opportunities to be sure that running wasn’t for me. It definitely wasn’t.

I quit sixth grade cross country after our first meet. I was over running before I even gave it a solid chance.

One day in college, though, I saw a Facebook post from my cousin about a half marathon that she had just run with her dad (my dad’s brother). They had shiny medals and looked so proud together. It was then that I decided: I’m going to become a runner. 

Fast forward a little over a decade, and running has become a critical component of my identity. I’ve run several marathons (most with my dad) and have persevered through injury and illness. Running has provided me not only an excellent way to stay physically healthy, but a way to stay mentally and emotionally sound as well. When I am on a run, I can think through big problems, creatively tackle new scenarios, and develop new ideas to better the world around me. 

I recently ran my twelfth full marathon, and during the race began reflecting on the many lessons I’ve learned on the run. I’ve been a “runner” for the duration of my teaching career and have come to see many connections between the two. While these adages may feel trite, with the right lens (or pair of shoes), they shed light on some important teaching truths. 

It's a marathon, not a sprint.

Overused? Perhaps. True? Definitely. Your "it" could be a lot of different things: your school year, your teaching career, your school day. Whatever it is, teaching is about pacing ourselves. In this job, it is so easy to become burnt out due to our desire to meet the many needs of our students and colleagues. If we burn ourselves out too early, though, the rest of the "race" is going to be a struggle. Instead of overcommitting to too many things at the very beginning of a school year (or week or day), make meaningful choices with your time. You want to finish feeling like you gave it your all... but you definitely want to finish

Race the mile you're in.

When I'm in the middle of a long training run or when I'm running a marathon, it can be mentally terrifying to think about how much running I have in front of me. Thirty minutes into a run, I may still have 3 hours to go. I could drive to Canada in that amount of time! 

Instead of looking at how far I have to go, though, I remember to race the mile I am in. Keeping in mind that I have to preserve my body's resources, I focus on doing my very best in this one single mile. Then, I do the same in the next mile. And the next. All of the sudden, those miles start melting away.

Teaching is like this, too. It can be easy to look at the calendar ahead and think of all we have to accomplish in ten months. It can be overwhelming to imagine fitting all of our district-prescribed curriculum into a day. Instead of looking ahead and wondering how you can be a great teacher for every single one of these days and lessons, commit to giving your best one lesson at a time. 

Find your crew.

Generally, I prefer to run alone. I can adjust my pace based on my body's needs for the day. I can be flexible if I need to cut a run short or run 80 laps around my neighborhood's tiny park due to my daughter's nap schedule. 

However, there is strength building your own running community. Runners get one another. They understand the dedication, commitment, and sacrifice it takes to push the body past its limits. It's fun to talk about running with other runners.

I also know that I become a better runner when I run with other people. I become faster when I can get out and run with someone whose "base pace" is a little bit faster than mine. I rise to the challenge and sometimes surprise myself.

The same goes for teaching. If you are an introvert by nature, that's great. However, it's still valuable to surround yourself with great educators. This could be your team, college friends, or other PLNs that you've cultivated. There is no question: spending time with great teachers will make you a better one. Find an educator (or ten) you admire and rise to the challenge. 

What about you? Have you learned any teaching lessons through hobbies or interests? 

How could these same lessons apply to our students? 

  • elementary school
  • high school
  • middle school
  • Professional Development
  • STEM
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