Offline & Unplugged Joy

  This weekend, something magical happened. I opened a box.

It is a cardboard box I had in my garage on my “evacuation shelf,” and had thrown in my car twice in the past two years when we evacuated from wildfires in my town.  

This pandemic is different from wildfires, as it has me home instead of running away.  Yet both wildfires had similar impacts on my nervous system. There is a cycle of reaction, recovery  and resilience I’ve come to know as how I process trauma.

Opening the box in my garage this weekend was a turning point, as it was the first time since this pandemic started that I really felt like I left the frenzy of the world beyond my home’s walls, to go inward for hours. By unplugging from social media and work for the weekend–and keeping social Zoom calls to a minimum–I created an opportunity to pause. I gave my nervous system a reboot, and discovered something unexpected.  

Forgotten Treasures

A note from my grandmother. A book I wrote in elementary school about dogs. A journal I wrote in the 8th grade. A photo of my brothers, sister, and me with Phil Donahue. Poems I wrote in high school. A journal I wrote in my 20s. Journals, journals, and more journals. So many journals in this box, and the ones beside it, I filled a table with stacks of writing I’ve done in my life.

Wow. I have always been a writer.

I didn’t believe it when I was a student. I didn’t believe it when I was a young adult. I didn’t believe it when I filled most of these notebooks. I didn’t believe I was a writer until I made a decision to believe it, and a daily practice to write. 

Reconnection with My Resilience 

Reading across decades of scribbled journals, I reconnected to my voice again–the writer unconfined by the lines of school. The adventurer more concerned with learning and social justice than stability. The wise soul who can weather any challenge, even this. 

I share this story with you for two reasons:

  1. To illuminate one screen-free learning opportunity that has made a tremendous difference in my life: journaling. When it’s not for a grade, when it’s an opportunity for self-expression, a journal is a scree-free tool for resilience. Give every kid a notebook and a pen or pencil to write or draw!
  2. To inspire educators and parents to take time to unplug from work and worries, even if just for a moment, to do something that brings you joy. Follow your curiosity, even if it compels you to do something random, like opening an old box in the garage.

Questions for Reflection and Action

  • What brings you joy? What brings you calm?
  • What will you do today for self-care?
I am a keynote speaker, author and educational leader helping educators teach and lead for equitable schools. My books include EL Excellence Every Day, Breaking Down the Wall & Opening Doors to Equity. I'm a descendant of colonizers and enslavers deeply committed to transforming my family legacy for healing.


  • Cristie M Reich

    March 31, 2020, 3:00 pm

    I truly appreciate everything you write about real world experience/ offline joy! I am bombarded with emails from education companies with free access to their tools and from my own kids’ teachers suggestions a multitude of online resources. So, thank you for offsetting the push to learn and connect online. There is so much to do, or simply nothing at all, right in front of us.


    March 31, 2020, 5:47 pm

    Thank you! Just reading your email and your blog was like a breath of fresh air. It was “calming” – we are all in this and we are all going through many, many, many, changes. It can be overwhelming – it felt great to unplug and disconnect, even just for a few minutes. Be safe.

  • Barb Berry

    April 1, 2020, 2:11 am

    Thank you, Tonya! I will be sharing this post with students, because journaling has always been a part of learning in my classroom, and the key to success is for students to see themselves as the writers they already are.

  • Catriona Moore

    April 1, 2020, 6:34 am

    I have been able to start my day every morning with a long walk outdoors- I listen to Podcasts and think about my day. Walking is part of writing for me, and it helps me “step” out of my typical thought patterns and approach challenges and obligations with fresh perspective and renewed energy. I have also been able to spend much more quality time with my teenage daughters.

  • Deb

    April 1, 2020, 9:09 am

    YES! I relate to this and have been finding treasures in my garage as well.

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