The last thing on most teachers’ minds at the end of June is the thought of returning to school in August. In my first few years as a teacher I definitely tried to shut out anything related to education, I worked odd jobs, I hiked a ton, and I watched lots of summer sporting events, tennis, biking, anything really. August would sneak up on me and I would rush for a week or two to get my brain prepared for the next 9 months. In using this wait, wait, rush, method I found that many of the goals, reflections, and observations I had made about my own teaching the year before, fell by the wayside, and I didn’t really take any steps forward over the summer. Then I started to journal, while journaling I found that I could reflect freely on my teaching and it became easier for me to identify my strengths and shortcomings as a teacher. Out of one of these journal entries came my first summer plan, 5 steps to be a better teacher next school year, I have followed it, for the most part ;), each summer. Even if I am not a better teacher because of this summer plan (I believe that I am), I certainly am more prepared come August and it helps me to track progress. Want to know how to improve your teaching over the summer? Use the 5 items below as a guide, add to them, change them, make them your own.
1. Make a List at the End of the School Year
Make a list with any aha moments, tidbits, or advice to yourself for next year. Any time that you thought, “Hey, this could have gone better,” write it down. For me this became an ongoing process, not just an early summer process, any time that I felt like something could be improved in my classroom I would write it down. The list for me includes small day-to-day pieces related to specific lessons to larger philosophical ideas around my role as an educator in these students’ lives. Really it does not matter what you write down as long as you feel like the items you write down can be improved.
Once I have my large list (this year’s was 33 items long), I then pare it down to 10 items. Then I leave my list for 1 week and return to it once again. This time I cut my list down to 5 items and leave it for 3 days. After 3 days I cut 2 of the items leaving me with three areas for improvement. Keeping a balance within these items is critical. Try to pick one large item, one medium item, and one small item. Picking 3 big items like, start flexible seating, have monthly parent potlucks, and redo the curriculum for my class, is probably too much for one year. The idea behind picking just a few items is that you can focus your full attention on them rather spreading yourself too thin over 20 different ideas.
Armed with my list of 3 I can then set fourth with the rest of my summer planning. Many of areas of improvement that I will actively pursue over the summer and in the following year come from this list of three.
2. Read at Least 2 Books Related to Education
Knowledge is power, or so they say. Pick two books, try to find books that might help you with an item from your list of three. I usually read one book in June and one in July. As I read I usually like to jot down notes in my journal or just on a notepad, nothing fancy, just bullet points will work. I like to look back on my notes and pick out what I felt were the most valuable pieces of information. I also like to think about how I might apply what I learn from the reading into my classroom. I like doing 2 books because I feel it is manageable and not overwhelming, if I read just 30 minutes a day I can usually finish the book within the month. By the end of the summer you should have some new ideas that you could possibly roll out in August. If you need some ideas for books feel free to use the examples below as a starting point.
3. Attend at Least One Conference or Training
Picking at least one professional development opportunity in the summer allows you to connect with other teachers expressly to discuss education. These professional development opportunities are a great time to hash out new ideas to different teachers. I would pick a topic that relates to your interest but not something that you would consider yourself an expert in. Also, it never hurts to pick a conference or training that you can get salary credit for.
While at the professional development make sure that you have an open mind. So often teachers go into PD with an idea that they cannot learn anything and they see it as more of a chore, don’t be that person. Instead allow yourself to be curious, allow yourself to take risks, and most of all allow yourself to see the possibilities. You should leave a PD feeling excited and ready for the year. When possible I schedule some sort of professional development in early August or late July; this enables me to retain more of that excitement than if I did the training in June. Just like with my reading I make a point to take notes on ideas that I can use and areas of excitement. Recording ideas for later is such a crucial piece of retaining information over the summer.
4. Engage in Discussions on Education
I love to talk education, so this one is easy for me. If you have some colleagues who you can talk about education related things with, invite them over for coffee or lunch and talk. If you don’t want to see anyone from your school over the summer then use social media. Twitter has no shortage of chats related to all things education. A simple Google search can yield results based on whatever topic you like. The best part is that this is a great way to build your Professional Learning Community (PLC) online. Folks in these chats are often enthusiastic and willing to offer solutions to any problem you might have. Heck, you can even follow me right here!
Once again, when good ideas come up, write them down, nothing is worse than having great ideas that get lost in your brain! Also there is no shortage of resources that get shared via links in these discussions. Perhaps the most valuable piece of using social media is that it allows you to keep a finger on the pulse of education in different areas of the country and even different areas of the world. This has really helped me to realize that some problems are universal while others are simply a product of the location that I am in. Hint! Enjoying the post? Take a minute to share using the buttons below!
5. Reflect on Your Summer Learning
Finally, with around one week left before I report for school, I sit down with everything I have noted from steps 1-4. I look over every detail and make a plan. Sometimes I stick with my original 3 from part 1, sometimes I change as I see new needs arise during my learning each summer. I try to summarize 3-4 big ideas or key points from my work during the summer. If possible I make an action list of goals and then plan out how to incorporate these goals throughout the school year. Keep in mind that this list is fluid and can change as the year changes, what is important is that you start with a purpose in mind. Always let that purpose or “why” guide you, this keeps your focus away from shiny objects that might distract from your overall goals.
Hopefully you have found the information so far to be useful. My goal each summer is to end the summer feeling like I have grown and accomplished something without having to spend every waking hour thinking about school. I encourage you to comment below with any insights or tips for other teachers. I also encourage you to sign up for the newsletter! I will be sending out a copy on the first of each month.
English Language Development teacher attempting to bring some truth to the table.
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