Wellness? Productivity? Meet While You Walk!
By Kasey Short
My well-being and productivity play a crucial role in my ability to create meaningful learning experiences for students. Over the past few years, I’ve begun to meet with willing colleagues while we take a few laps around the school.
Building these types of meetings into my weekly schedule has many benefits physically and professionally. If you’re able, I encourage you to try a few walking meetings this upcoming school year. Here’s what this looks like in my context.
Two good reasons to walk while we meet
Walking helps our physical and mental health. In my dual role as an administrator with some teaching responsibilities, much of my job can be done behind a desk and any opportunity to get moving helps refresh my energy and incorporate more movement into my day.
Education is a demanding field and as we walk, our blood circulation increases, oxygen flow improves, and we find ourselves more energized and able to tackle the next thing on our to-do list. It is hard to find time in the school day to simply walk for exercise and pleasure, but turning some meetings into walking meetings can help us accomplish at least two things.
Working through ideas and challenges. When we need to come up with a new idea, design a lesson, solve a problem, or talk through a dilemma, I find that walking meetings help improve focus and clarity. It always feels like my problem-solving skills increase after just a few steps and some fresh air. The change in scenery, relaxed atmosphere and movement can be like a “reboot” of body and mind.
A walking meeting with one or more colleagues also creates a more informal atmosphere where people are generally more willing to throw out ideas and be honest. Sitting across a table can feel formal while walking side by side feels much more relaxed and increases collaboration. When I’m wearing my administrator hat, I think it helps some teachers to feel more relaxed and comfortable talking to me and sharing their thoughts than when we are in a traditional meeting.
Sometimes when I’m trying to solve a problem of my own, I take a solo walk and spend the time thinking through all the possibilities. When I come up with something useful, I voice-record my idea on my phone to listen to and type up when I am back in the office. I’ve come up with some of my best ideas while on a walk. There’s less pressure than sitting in front of a computer, and there are seldom any interruptions.
Saving time and increasing productivity. I find that walking meetings are more productive and take less time to accomplish the same goals. Being in motion helps everyone to stay focused on the topic, prevents distractions, and reduces the temptation to multitask. In traditional meetings we’re often guilty of checking our email when we hear it ding or remembering something else we needed to do and trying to sneak that in by dividing our attention. When we walk, our focus is on the conversation. Side-by-side walking also creates a greater sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
Some tips that might help
If you’re a teacher or administrator who wants to try walking meetings with students or colleagues, here are a few practical suggestions to get started.
- Bring a pair of comfortable shoes to change into if needed. Birkenstocks are my absolute favorite pair of walking shoes, so I keep an old pair under my desk. Many of my friends keep tennis shoes.
- Discuss your idea with some of the colleagues you normally have meetings with and see if they’re interested in trying a walking meeting this year.
- If you are new to walking, start out with short walks and increase the duration gradually.
- If it’s possible, try a walking meeting with your students. When you have group work in the lesson plan, provide 10-15 minutes at the beginning of the project for them to take a few laps in their groups and discuss their ideas. Walk among the different groups and jump in on their conversations to provide feedback.
- Talk to your administration. Discuss your plan for incorporating walking meetings and seek their support. They may have guidelines or suggestions for helping you facilitate walking meetings within the school environment.
- Identify topics that work better for walking meetings and those that work better for traditional meetings. I find that brainstorming, problem-solving, and reflective conversations go great with walking. If you need to take notes, have someone do a voice recording that can be typed up later.
- Identify a safe and convenient route within or near your school.
- Schedule walking meetings strategically to plan for weather and make sure they don’t conflict with other responsibilities. In the heat of August, any of my walking meetings will happen first thing in the morning before it gets hot out where in the winter, I opt for afternoon times when it is a bit warmer.
Walking meetings may not be suitable for every occasion or individual, but they are one tool we can add to our toolkit that has the potential for increased wellness and productivity.
Kasey Short (@shortisweet3) is the Middle School Director of Studies and an 8th Grade English Teacher and Advisor at Charlotte (NC) Country Day School. Kasey loves to share ideas from her classroom and her leadership roles and writes frequently for MiddleWeb. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned a bachelor of arts in middle school education with a concentration in English and history. She went on to earn a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Winthrop University.