By the time summer arrives, every educator needs to recharge. And while summer seems endless when it begins, the time evaporates quickly. So how can you get the most out of those cherished weeks of downtime? We offer three steps to recharging your practice so that you are prepped for re-entry, greeting your students in the new school year with energy, enthusiasm, and a renewed passion for teaching.
Take some time to reflect on your past school year. Write down what worked, what didn’t and what are your dreams for the next year. A sketchnote, bullet journal, or blog offer great forums for reflecting. If you need a bit of focus, Minds in Bloom offers 20 Teacher End-of-the-Year Reflection Questions to help you get started. Ask your students to fill out surveys or their own reflections before the end of this school year and incorporate their responses into your reflection process. Revisit it in the week before school begins as a reminder of where you have been and where you are headed.
Reflection doesn’t have to be an individualized process. If you have a co-worker or group of coworkers who you collaborate with, consider a group reflection before the year ends. Focus on what worked, what is still in progress, and goals for the future. Capture these thoughts before the last day of school and save them for future planning sessions or for creating summer goals to better prepare for the upcoming school year. Have a common planning space? Decorate your space with anchor charts featuring last year’s successes and next year’s goals. Just as we strive to make our student’s visible, we should use this practice in our own teaching and planning.
Summer is the perfect time to zero in on building and expanding your personal learning network. Join a Twitter chat to talk with other educators; slow chats offer a great way to stay engaged at a slower pace. Find a conference to attend or, if that’s not in the budget, use the hashtag to participate online. Several to follow:
- The American Library Association Annual Conference, Chicago, June 22-27, #alaac17
- ISTE, San Antonio, June 25-28, #iste17
- ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence, Denver, June 30-July 2, #ascdcte17
Another great way to connect with tuned-in educators is to find a local Edcamp! Unfamiliar with Edcamp? This participant-driven, unconference style of professional development is a haven for those who care about teaching and learning and want to talk others interested in innovating, problem solving, and sharing ideas. The best part: it’s free.
Or create your own programming by arranging a coffee hour or happy hour to connect with teacher friends (without the constraints of papers to grade or lessons to plan). Join (or start) a book club — focusing on children’s books or young adult lit is a great way to stay tuned in to the fun things your students are reading. Or how about a podcast club? Listen to a new podcast or a podcast series and discuss.
You can also reach out by taking a class. Look for online options or workshops to help you enhance your teaching and learning by building a new skill or mastering a new teaching technique. The best part, often these classes are free or low cost to teachers. ASCD hosts webinars across a range of subjects such as learning environments, homework, and differentiation — you can participate live or watch archived sessions. ASCD also has a huge catalog of online courses. PBS TeacherLine is another option for online courses, providing options on phonemics, literacy, problem solving, patterns, historical thinking, leadership and more. The Library of Congress offers free, self-paced “Teacher Modules” on topics such as inquiry and primary sources.
If you can’t commit to ongoing course work, attend a lecture or two at a local museum. Or head to a program at one of our national parks. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City regularly offers free lectures, as does The Getty in Los Angeles. The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia hosts a range of special events, as does The Smithsonian in Washington, DC. , The National Park Services allows you to search for events and activities across all parks. There are museums, historical sites, and parks throughout the country — what is local to you? Check their web sites to find out what summer special events can help you reach out and keep learning.
Re-imagine your classroom space. Have you been thinking about flexible seating or ditching your teacher desk? Read success stories and challenges that other teachers have encountered, browse furniture and seating options, look at images of classroom eye candy. Getting organized is a great way to re-imagine your physical space; toss out what you don’t use and to sort out what you do. Grab some boxes, fill them and head to your local charity to donate. Don’t forget to declutter your digital life. Delete files that you no longer use, back-up your computer, and to get around to making those photos books or video montages.
Re-imagine your instruction. Return to your end-of-year reflection and figure out how you can plan a lesson or unit differently, to better meet the needs of your students. Is there something new you would like to try next year? Learn about a new strategy, tool, or resource. Set a goal to incorporate different skills into your teaching and make some specific plans — add more reading into your content area and find texts, build reflective writing into your everyday instruction and draft some prompts, make a point to collaborate with your librarian and send a note with ideas.
Re-imagine yourself. Whether you’ve been thinking about creating a blog, an article, a book, a painting, a poem, a lesson, a website, a podcast, a new recipe, or an invention, now is the time to take your creative license and run with it. Perhaps devote a certain time of day or a specific day of each week for bringing creative projects to life. If you need the energy of a group, join a collaboration group for accountability and feedback.
Ready for Re-entry
Before you know it, re-entry will be upon us and the 2017-2018 school year will begin. We will walk into classrooms (and libraries) brimming with new students who are looking to us for leadership, knowledge, guidance and heart. Each of us carefully plans our daily lessons; it’s time to invest that energy in ourselves and plan our summers with thoughtfulness and purpose. By reflecting, reaching out, and re-imagining, you will be ready to greet your students with vision and energy. You deserve this time and your future students deserve an energized you.
Corey Thornblad is in her twelfth year of teaching social studies at Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, VA; she was recognized as the 2016 Fairfax County Public Schools Outstanding Teacher of the Year. You can find Corey on Twitter @coreythornblad. Gretchen Hazlin has been a librarian at Kilmer for the past eleven years and was selected as the 2016 Virginia School Librarian of the Year by the Virginia Association of School Librarians. Connect with Gretchen on Twitter @libraryms. Together they reflect, write, and share instructional ideas at BubbleUpClassroom.org.